Healthy Eating on a Budget: Reign in Your Grocery Budget & Take Care of Your Nutritional Needs

This is something I’ve struggled with for a while. Actually, I’m still struggling with it. If you’ve read my post on “shopping from your pantry first“, you’ll know I’ve covered this topic before. In the above post, I went over ways to use what you already have in your pantry to eat fresher and save money in your food budget. But somewhere along the line, I’ve fallen off the wagon.

My Problematic Food Budget

I’ve been tracking my budget more closely lately and found that I’m consistently overshooting my food budget on a monthly basis. I may be setting my budget too low. But I don’t eat that much and I rarely eat out. And some months I’ve spent upwards to $750! That’s a lot of money on groceries no matter how you look at it.

So I’ve decided that it’s time to take a deeper look at my eating and shopping habits. Spending close to a thousand dollars a month on food just isn’t sustainable. You’ll be happy to know I have been slowly whittling down my food stores as I laid out in my post above. But I should be saving money, not spending more this way. So how did I get here?

What’s my Relationship to My Shopping Habits

Taking the deep dive for me, meant taking a look at how I was spending my money, where I was shopping and why I was choosing to shop this way. I’m still up to my neck in debt, so why am I spending so much at the grocery store? I have a feeling that it has to do with my upbringing, and some underlying insecurities.

You are What You Shop For

I was raised in a family that largely defined themselves by what they purchased. In my youth, we were constantly going from one store to the next. Shopping and looking for deals, that my caregivers called “running errands”. This is where I learned how to view shopping, and the foundation on which I developed my own shopping habits.

In my teens, I was attracted to the ideals of hippie culture. I believe this was in direct defiance to my family’s buying into consumer culture. And even with all the ways I saw my caregivers substitute what they bought for who they were, I was still hooked by the act of shopping. Even in spite of my teenage defiance. So how did I get hooked even though I saw the pitfalls?

Food Insecurities

For me, I think it has to do with security. I was so neglected as a child, when it came to learning how to take care of my nutritional needs, that when I started down the road of healthier living, I got caught up in the colors, tastes, smells and possibilities of the food I was buying. And if you’ve ever walked into a Whole Foods, you’ll know that the store is designed to lure you in and make you want to spend your money. It also helps that they kind of align with my hippie ideals.

So it was in this way that I was confusing the things I was buying for self-care. This was also what my care-givers were doing as well. It makes sense to me now. But when I was in the throws of shopping, I couldn’t see how it had come to define me. It wasn’t until I looked back and saw that I spent around $700-$750 on groceries a few months in a row, that I realized I needed to corral my spending habits.

What am I Buying and Why

While taking the deep dive into my food budget, I opened my Everydollar Budgeting App and took a look at the places I was shopping the most. The first thing I noticed was, there were a lot of entries.

One month’s itemized Spending list on Everydollar

And most of them were at local drug stores for between $10 and $30 a piece. This is when I realized I was in the habit of buying a lot of snacks before I was heading into my second job. So now I’m on the lookout for snacks I can take with me that I get at the grocery store. For when I work my longer days. These, along with the meals I’m bringing with me to work, will cost less than my frequent trips to my local drug stores for snacks.

The second thing I noticed about my habits were, I had a lot of entries for Whole Foods. And they weren’t small either. I was spending upwards to $70 dollars a visit some shops. I think this was directly related to me shopping for my self-care dinners once a week. Add all these to my two big shopping trips a month, at the less expensive grocery store for around $100 a shop and you have a pretty hefty grocery bill.

And all of these shopping trips are reminiscent of the shopping excursions of my youth. Where shopping was a value. So now that I know what my habits look like, and why I shop the ways that I do, what am I doing to change my habits?

Shopping to Fill the Need to Nourish, Not Belong

Now, my new focus is on buying affordable food that has a high nutritional value. I was buying all organic food on my big shopping days. This is fine, IF you have the money. And I most definitely do not. Something that Dave Ramsey says often on his show is, you can’t afford extras, because you’re broke. And owing as much as I do, I am definitely in the broke category.

So I’m making the switch to buying more frozen veggies and canned goods, as they’re cheaper then their fresh counterparts. It may not be ideal, but I’ll be able to buy what I want when I’m out of debt. It’s like Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else so you can live and give like no one else.”

For me this means going to Whole Foods only when I run out of something. And even then, there’s a Stop & Shop that is equally as close, and less expensive. This also means eating non-organic, frozen and canned veggies. The one saving grace is, that this won’t last forever. Once I’ve paid down my debt, I can add a little more to my food budget. Then I’ll be able to buy the things that look interesting. Or shop in line with my values.

And it’s also important to recognize that I’m in no way depriving myself of nutrients or flavor. The food I’ll be purchasing now will be just as nutritious, if not a little less so than what I’ve been buying. I’m also lucky enough to live near the 22nd most diverse city in the US. This means I have a huge selection to choose from, when I’m picking out my recipes for the week. So I’m not lacking in variety.

Shopping as a Pass Time

The other aspect of shopping for me is, that it’s something I enjoy doing. And while I’m paying off my debt, I haven’t been able to shop for myself in a long time, asides from the basics. So when I go food shopping, I’m also filling a desire to buy something new.

This is why stores such as Whole Foods are so appealing to me. They’re attractive, clean and their displays are set up to make you want to spend your money. And it feels like a treat when I’m buying something from their store. Also, there’s nothing quite like a good meal. So when we associate the pleasure we derive from the food we purchase, as well as their attractive displays, something as simple as food shopping can turn into a treat. Add a high price tag and we’ll be blowing through our budgets in no time.

So for me, it’s best to steer clear of stores like these altogether. Until I’ve made room in my budget by paying down my debt. Finding the places that you gravitate towards and like to spend money, may be helpful to identify if you’re looking to save yourself some cash.

Spices are the Spice of Life

And finally, if you want to make the most impact on the quality of your meals, investing in and learning how to use, spices will go a long way to boost the flavor profiles of your meals. The best part about using spice is, that for the most part, they’re a once every three or four month investment. If you buy a 10oz container of garlic powder for $4.50, it will last you a few months, while adding a lot of flavor to your meals.

If you’re new to the culinary world, and spices seem overwhelming to you, this post from Kitchn, about using spices in your daily cooking is a good start to familiarize yourself with your spice cabinet. And don’t be afraid to experiment. Look for new recipes and dishes that use new-to-you spices. These will help you to broaden your culinary repertoire.

Black Bean Soup:

Here’s a recipe for black bean soup I’ve been making for years. It has a lot of flavor for being only a modest bean, and you can make it on the cheap. You may not have all the spices on hand, and if you don’t, they’re good ones to buy in bulk. They are used in a lot of recipes, so having them available will help improve your cooking game. And check out my Community page for links to recipe sites for inspiration.

Black Beans Over Rice

“Black Bean Soup” by TheBushCenter is licensed under

Ingredients

  • 1 Pound dry black beans
  • 2 Med onion, diced
  • 5 Cloves garlic minced
  • 1 Small bunch fresh cilantro chopped, removing woody stems. Tender stems are desirable.
  • 2 Tble Neutral oil
  • 3 Cinnamon sticks
  • 7 Bay leaves whole
  • 2 Tble Onion powder
  • 2 Tble Galic powder
  • 2 Tble Coriander ground
  • 1 Tble Dried oregano
  • 1 Tble Cumin ground
  • 1 Tble Turmeric
  • 6-8 Cps Vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Your choice of rice cooked to manufacturer’s instructions (I use a mix of basmati and jasmine. Adding a stick of cinnamon and a few bay leaves to the water to give your rice an added boost of flavor.)
  • Fresh cilantro, lime wedges, Monterey Jack shreds, sour cream, avocado or guacamole, tortilla chips and fresh sliced white onion for serving (optional).

Method:

  1. Using a large stock pot, 12 quarts, heat oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add the onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes until onion is translucent. Add garlic and spices and cook for another 1-2 minutes until the aroma blooms from the spices and garlic
  2. Rinse the dried beans and pick out any stones or dirt clods. Once clean, add dried beans to onion, garlic and spice mixture. Stir to coat.
  3. Add the vegetable broth, just to cover the beans. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the beans to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook uncovered. The beans will take between 1.5 to 2 hours to cook, so keep the remaining vegetable broth near by and add to keep the beans submerged throughout cooking. The broth will thicken and turn black from the beans, creating a rich and thick broth.
  4. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add salt and pepper to taste and the chopped, fresh cilantro. Also taste and adjust spices here.
  5. Serve beans over rice, discarding cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, with desired toppings and tortilla chips on the side. Best when eaten fresh, will stay in the fridge in an air tight container for up to 5 days.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and it aids you on your culinary and budget journeys. It isn’t always easy, reigning in our spending. Especially in a category as primal as our food budget. But with a little will power and know-how, we can eat healthier while saving money. If you make this recipe, let me know how it goes in the comments section below. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Health Tips…Drink Liquor Responsibly….Eat Fruits Liberally…Remember Both Comes From Same Source…..VeG….” by Sunciti _ Sundaram’s Images + Messages is licensed under

Updated: 11/27/22

Living Your Life: Self-Care

Self-care is something I’ve written quite a bit about on this blog. And fortunately, there are a bunch of ways to practice it. But finding healthy routines that are sustainable and not getting caught in the trap of finding what just feels good for the moment is difficult. And unfortunately, our unhealthy habits are usually ones that are passed down by those closest to us. There was no class, in my in high-school anyway, for teaching us self-care or how to take care of our needs.

This is an unfortunate truth for those of us who didn’t have the support to find out how to practice self-care. It is also at the core of how we grow and become the best versions of ourselves. That’s why I go over it so frequently in this blog. Because I believe the more we take care of ourselves, the better we our at taking care of our environment. Immediate sure, but also globally. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at some of the ways I practiced unsustainable self-care, and the healthier habits I’ve picked up in their stead.

Learning to Disconnect & Protect

I think the first ways I learned how to practice self-care was by playing video games and watching T.V.. These aren’t inherently bad habits in anyway, but they are ones that I definitely used in unhealthy ways. I was using them, video games especially, to dull my senses. To “zone out” my surroundings so I didn’t have to interact, be a part of what was happening to, or around me. But I was also introduced to video games shortly before some traumatic events in my past took place. So in a way I was playing them to escape the chaos of what was happening in my life. It was a defense mechanism. Something unchanging in a chaotic world.

But they were something that I did for decades. And to avoid those closest to me. I was well into my thirties and still playing games like World of Warcraft for up to 4-5 hours a day. If I had gotten a second job and worked as many hours as I played, I’d have a healthy retirement fund by now.

It also took a toll on my marriage as well. I was spending more time with a video game than connecting with my then wife. This makes me sad to think about now, but I also recognize that I was still in protection mode. I still hadn’t realize that I wasn’t able to trust those closest to me and that I was perpetuating the cycles of my past. Looking back, there was a lot of pain that wasn’t being recognized. Or that I even knew about. First by me, and secondly by everybody I was pushing away with my arrogant disposition.

But that’s the nature of what happens after you experience trauma. You go into emotional shock and dissociate. I was definitely dissociated from all of my emotions. Save for the very strong ones such as pain and anxiety. The times I wasn’t feeling these emotions, I was doing whatever I could to numb myself incase they came rushing back in. T.V. is another good example of dissociation in my case. I spent so many hours watching others live their lives out on the screen, only to avoid what was happening to and around me. Another way for me to zone out, aka dissociate.

Different Methods of Dissociating

But again, I was still only trying to protect myself, the best ways I knew how at the time. Using this method, I could still be around those closest to me, without actually having to connect with them in a meaningful way. I could be around them, and keep up the appearance of being a functioning member of my community, while still keeping largely to myself.

And the same was true of alcohol and medication. For me, being numb was safer than being present. This was because there were so many ways I was afraid of being hurt.

But all the while, using all the different modalities I could find to dissociate, I was really seeking to numb the fear of being with those closest to me. But also with myself. The relationship I was most frightened of was of being with myself and the ways I had picked up the habits and ways of abusing myself, as I was abused and how I saw my caregivers abuse themselves. Because these were the ways they, in turn, abused me. Like a cursed family heirloom being handed down from one generation to the next.

Waking Up & Finding Resources

And while I was avoiding and numbing my relationships and my feelings in my other relationships, what I didn’t realize was that I was numbing the most important relationship, with myself. I had no idea outside of alcohol, video games and T.V., what brought me a sense of joy. I had no idea what I liked as a way to treat myself. Asides from the unsustainable methods. This was a shock. When I realized how disconnected I was from who I am.

Luckily I wasn’t completely in the dark, or without resources. I know that I like music. Still a great source of comfort for me. Also one that has been there for me, in one form or another, for most of my life. I can remember the first time I ever heard and loved a piece of music. I was probably no more than four or five years-old and I had just gotten my first alarm clock-radio. Not that I had anywhere to be back then. But I remember scanning the stations and exploring my new musical gift. I came across a piece of classical music and was mesmerized. The violins in particular were what struck me. From that day on, I knew I loved music.

Becoming Re-Acquainted with Myself

But it was exactly these types of memories, this type of intimacy with myself, that I had lost or forgotten. The moments of, “I enjoy this, this makes me happy”, was something I had lost touch with shortly after my trauma. And then again when I was actively seeking to numb myself with whatever I could. AKA, video games, T.V., drinking and medication. It was definitely not easy to come to this realization and account for my neglected emotions. I usually felt as though there were some unattended emotion, just waiting around the corner to make me feel anxious or fearful if I stopped my methods of numbing them.

And there were lots of neglected emotions. I still hadn’t dealt with my abuse and the trauma I endured. How could I have, when I was actively seeking to numb them for so long! So it wasn’t until I stopped my numbing methods that I truly began to feel and understand my emotional life. The one I was neglecting.

How I Got to Know Myself, Alcohol

I first started with lessening my alcohol consumption. This was a difficult task. Seeing as how I was drinking five to six drinks a night just to wind down. But I gave it up save for a beer with my self-care dinners. And as a bonus, I’ve felt healthier ever since. I’ve replaced my nightly beers or mixed drinks with a few cups of herbal tea. This way I can relax and unwind without being intoxicated. I can stay present in the moment instead of zoning out.

It’s important to remember too, that this is a big transition. Or it was for me. I sometimes feel as though I’m drinking too much tea. This is where it is important to reality check myself. Having three, sometimes four cups of herbal tea is not the same as having four mixed drinks. I like to think of this part of me as Freud’s classic super-ego. This is also incidentally the part of me that is a perfectionist. The one that sets unreasonable standards and then will beat myself up for not achieving them. This can be dangerous if left unchecked.

How I Got to Know Myself, Healthy Eating

I’ve also been eating healthier overall, leaving one night a week where I make a special meal for myself. This way I am eating healthier foods and making healthier nutritional decisions. But also treating myself to something tasty. Something that I can look forward to making for myself. I also plan a dessert into my special meal. Something I feel is a break from the norm, a treat.

When I was drinking as much alcohol as I was at night, I was 80 pounds overweight. Also the meals I was eating were definitely not planned in regards to their nutritional value. I was overweight and felt unhealthy. So the time I spend on taking care to nourish myself brings me a sense of satisfaction. A sense that I’m looking out for my health. But also finding foods I enjoy cooking and eating. I’m happier knowing that I don’t have to sacrifice the things I like, in order to take care of my nutritional needs. Such as flavor or the act of cooking for myself.

How I Got to Know Myself, Yoga & Exercise

Yoga is another way I incorporate self-care into my routine. With the amount of T.V. and videogames I watched and played, I needed to get my body moving. Also to reconnect with the parts of me that had been stagnant for far too long. And it’s worth mentioning that it took me a while to figure out a routine that was healthy. One that took care of my need to move and connect with my body in a healthy ways and not over doing it the ways I had with TV and videogames.

For example, when I first started doing yoga, I was going to two 60 minute classes a week. On top of that, I was running 10 to 20 miles a week as well. Until recently, I was also working out three days in a row. Two days doing yoga and one run day, without a rest in between. My cycle was three days on, four days off. This was tiring and it left me feeling depleted, drained. I enjoyed the workouts, but the intensity of doing it all in one block was too much. Again with the super-ego : )

I’ve since switched to a workout every other day. I now take two days off in a row at the end of my week to get some much needed rest. This way I have a chance to relax a little between workouts while also not feeling as tired on a workout day. I also look forward to my workouts more often. Knowing that I’m taking care of my need to rest between workouts is a huge step towards me being able to listen to and care for what my needs are. Learning how to listen to what my body needs and is telling me.

How I Got to Know Myself, Rest

I’ve also been paying attention to what my body needs for rest more frequently as well in the name of self-care. I used to stay up late. Two or three am. And for no reason other than to watch more T.V.. Or I would play videogames for stretches of 4-5 hours at a time. Now I go to bed when I’m tired. Or at very least I recognize when I’m tired without trying to cover over those feelings with alcohol or caffeine. It’s amazing what your body will tell you when you’re not trying to drown out its messages with something stopping you from listening.

How I got to Know Myself, Budgeting

Another way I’ve been trying to implement some self-care into my routine is in an unlikely place. Though it’s one that needs some attention nonetheless. My budget. I got into a lot of debt when I was in my twenties and thirties. Credit cards, student loans… If it was money someone was willing to lend me, I was willing to take it. Now that I’ve been paying off my debt, I’ve kicked it into overdrive and have been going hard. Again with the Super-Ego.

I picked up a second job/side hustle and am funneling all available funds towards my debt. I’m using the Dave Ramsey method to get out of debt. I was going so far as to not buy a cup of tea or coffee on the mornings I was working 18 hour days. Including a three hour commute! This was going a bit too hard.

You’ll be happy to know that I now buy myself a tea once and a while. But I also plan on budgeting a treat for myself while I’m paying back my debt. I plan on treating myself to a massage for every 10k I pay off in loans. This way, I’m still focused on my goals, but also have something to look forward to in the self-care department while I’m in the mists of working two jobs and doubles. This can be stressful incase you’ve never been in that boat. : D But also necessary to keep some balance and not feel completely burnt out.

Self-Care, Get Involved : )

These are a few of the routines I’ve developed in helping to live a healthier, more balanced life. I’ve stopped watching T.V. almost completely. But plan on watching again, as I don’t want my super-ego to get out of hand. Having healthy habits isn’t always easy. But it’s possible and also rewarding. So if there’s a habit that you feel you’ve been leaning on too much, that may be unsustainable like watching too much T.V., maybe try replacing it with a healthier hobbie.

Exercise is a good one to start with for self-care because a lot of what you need to start is free or cheap. Yoga with Adriene is a great resource if you’ve been thinking of yoga as an outlet. And if running is something that’s piqued your interests, all you need is a pair of shoes! And keep in mind, you don’t have to make major life changes all at once! Living a healthy life takes time and practice. And if you’re an over achiever, don’t give into the super-ego. : ) Take your time and you’ll be in good shape. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Juicy Mountain Retreat (Göcek, Turkiye 2018)” by paularps is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 10/24/22

Living Your Life: Nutrition and Your Health

Healthy eating and nutrition. This was something I struggled with for a long time. I’ve written about my experience in other posts on this blog. The road to healthy eating habits has not been an easy one. It all started when I was very young. I was raised on hamburger, rice and ketchup, with the occasional trip to McDonalds sprinkled in. We also ate at our local pizza shop quite a bit. Fried and fatty foods were mainstays in my diet as a child. As well as sugary sodas and drinks. There were few whole foods and leafy greens found on a younger self’s menu.

A Rough Start

It’s not as though I was seeking out healthy versions of the foods I was eating either. If I had any money, I would most likely be at the corner store buying candy bars and soda. But I was also too young to be making informed decisions about what my diet should look like. I definitely needed guidance in that department as all children do. And in my caretakers defense, they did the best with what little they had. There was always some type of meat at dinner, with a starch and a vegetable. But asides from providing us with the basics at meal time, this was the extent of my nutritional knowledge.

As for meals other than dinner, I was pretty much on my own. There was always soda to drink. I never drank water, but neither did my caretakers. But I don’t remember being shown how to make or prepare breakfast or lunch for myself. Or even what to make these meals with. I was clueless when it came to pretty much all things domestic. And the one time I tried to take food from the freezer to make lunch for myself, I was grounded for using something intended for another meal. I didn’t know there was a plan, let alone that I was supposed to adhere to it. These were confusing messages to be given as a child.

A Rough 20 Something

So under these conditions, it was no surprise that I was never shown how to cook meals or grocery shop. Fast forward to my late teen years and I’m on my own, living in an all but empty apartment. My fridge’s sole purpose was to hold 40s, and there were few if any meals cooked in my first apartments. But there was loads of drinking. And surprise, surprise, more fatty takeout. The two ways of being that were modeled for me in my youth. I also worked at a Mexican/Asian, fusion, takeout place where the head chef was using Northern Indian cooking techniques to prepare the dishes. This was where I was blessed enough to begin to learn how to cook for myself. Though I didn’t realize it at the time. But more on that later.

Time moved on, I got married and was taking the long way around to getting a degree I would later have no idea what to do with. And I was still almost completely in the dark on how to take care of my nutritional needs. I was still drinking loads of beer and eating takeout maybe four times a week! We never had any money because we were spending it all on eating out. And our refrigerator was mostly used to keep beer and leftovers cold.

I feel like if you don’t have basic nutrition down by the time you’re in your early thirties, someone should pull you aside and send you to a special program on the things you should have learned by now! This however is sadly not the case. I was in my early thirties, married, had been working in the food industry for most of my adult life. And I still had no idea how to cook for myself. Or how to take care of my nutritional needs.

Things Changed

If I stop to think about it too much, it scares me a little. Who knows where I would be had I kept on the same path I was heading down. But luckily for me, things did change. Unfortunately my marriage ended. And I was jettisoned into a life where I needed to focus on what was most important. And for a while, my focus was on the skills I needed to survive. I began cooking and meal planning for myself. The first time I had ever attempted such a task.

Meal Planning

I was still eating meat at the time and this is when I had started buying and roasting whole chickens and using the meat throughout the week. This is one of the few things I miss about eating meat. It’s also surprising how many meals you can get out of a four pound chicken! This is also about the same time I started to really focus on my budget. Also how much I was spending on groceries. I learned a lot of life lessons shortly after my divorce. But they were already on their way and had been coming for some time. I had just been avoiding them for a very long time.

So my chicken roasts were the beginning of me learning to meal planning. I remember watching an episode of “Extreme Couponing” and being fascinated by the idea that you could be paid to do something that you needed to do to survive. The organizing and planning part of my brain lighted up. And this is where my organizational skills met my culinary abilities. I have yet to attempt an extreme coupon go, but it’s still on my bucket list : )

I had a dog at the time too, so I was coming up with a plan to not only take care of myself, but also the woman I was with as well as our dog. It was motivating. Knowing that I was taking care of more than just myself. But when my relationship eventually failed, I was left by myself again. To focus on the relationship I had been neglecting the most. The one with myself.

Mending My Relationship With Myself

But now I at least had some of the basics down. I was cooking for myself and doing my own grocery shopping. These were big steps in leaning to take care of my nutritional needs. I was starting from zero too, so any progress was big progress. This was around the time I chose to go vegan as well. Thinking back on the decision, I’m glad I chose the meatless route. But I did make the decision almost on impulse.

Going Vegan

Had I to do it over again, I would have done more research on my choice. As I’ve said, I’m happy I made the decision, but I would have taken care to look up how to hit nutritional goals. I went to the Boston Vegetarian Festival and heard Dr. Colin T. Campbell give a talk about how eating meat is most likely linked to many types of cancers. So I went full vegan then. I also read that eating a plant based diet will regulate your body weight due to the nature of eating healthy whole foods with the optimal ratio of fiber to carbs to proteins to fats. Both these seemed like goals I was willing to get behind. And made making the switch that much more appealing.

As I said, at first I went full vegan. But as I started living my new lifestyle, I found that it took a great strength of will to adhere to my new diet. I slowly started eating dairy again, but in moderation. I still mostly cook vegan for myself. But will eat vegetarian when I’m at a restaurant or when I’m out. Mostly because it’s difficult to find vegan food options at restaurants. And this is how I’ve been eating ever since.

Finding Pleasure in a Healthy Balance

I find that my appetite isn’t as big as it used to be before either. I mostly buy and prepare whole food meals. My weight is in a healthy range now and I eat more frequently. And with all these changes I’ve made to my diet, I feel better about myself. I have more energy and my weight has been as consistent as it has ever been. And coming from where I was, with absolutely no idea how to care for my nutritional needs, this is a complete 180. And it feels good : ) So let’s take a look at how I got there.

The Process

I started by changing the ways I was shopping for food. When I used to go food shopping, I would buy what I thought I would make during the week. I didn’t really have a plan. Just a list of things I knew I liked and a few recipes I made when I would cook. Recipes like black bean soup or a chicken curry. I made these mostly because I didn’t know what else to eat or make. This left me with cabinets full of food I never used. So, I started using the ingredients I had on hand.

Finding Recipes I Like

If you’ve read my post on “shopping from your pantry first“, you’ll know I started looking up recipes that utilized the ingredients I already have on hand. I would head over to my favorite recipe site and type in the main ingredient I wanted to use. I would do this for a few items in my pantry a week. Coming up with a shopping list based around these recipes I had planned to make. Not only did I save money from using up what I had on hand, but I was also planning my shopping trips according to what I needed for the recipes. And all while staying in budget most of the time. Win win.

My plan for the week usually consists of, looking through my pantry to find items that have been sitting around for a little too long and round up two or three recipes that utilize these ingredients. I also pick a self-care Sunday dinner for the week. This is a dinner that is a break from the norm. And something that gives me a chance to explore new recipes to maybe put into rotation. Speaking of, I also have a list of standby recipes that I make fairly often. So if I’m looking for something quick, I can take a look at my list and add recipes to the meal prep plan.

I also try to utilize as much produce as possible from my garden. If kale is coming in, then I make some curried greens as a side that week. This way I’m eating as fresh as possible as well. When all my recipes and groceries are gathered for the weeks meals, I pick a night and cook for the week ahead. I’ve been working in the food industry for a while, so meal prepping is something that is second nature to me. But it is completely doable if you are just starting out or learning how to cook for yourself.

Make Cooking an Event

I like to make the setting more comfortable by lighting a scented candle and turning down the lights. This brings a relaxing air to the process. Something that can be stressful if you aren’t used to spinning so many plates at once. Even if you are, it can still be stressful! The key is to take it slow. I try to cook one recipe at a time. So I’m not piling up too much on myself at once. It may take the entire night, but I’d rather take my time in a relaxed setting with dimmed lights, a scented candle burning and a cup of herbal tea than try to cram three recipes into the space of 45 minutes with all four burners going and something in the oven! Life can be overwhelming enough. No need to put ourselves through that kind of stress ; )

Nutritional Needs

As far as macronutrients go, I don’t count my calories. I know a majority of my protein comes from grains, beans, pasta, nuts, seeds and tofu. My carbs come mostly from, well just about everything I eat. Since everything that is grown has carbs. And my fats usually come from oils, nuts, seeds and avocado. Here I intuitively eat what I feel is right. I’ll usually have overnight oats for breakfast with maybe a muffin or cheese snail at work (if you haven’t had a cheese snail, do yourself a favor and go get one because they are delicious). Beans, avocado and rice for lunch, with a curry or some type of buddha bowl for dinner. If you’re not familiar, a Buddha bowl is just a mix of vegetables and grains, usually topped with a sauce.

Wrapping up Meal Prep

All of these meals are super easy to meal prep at the beginning of the week. I usually have the recipes picked out ahead of time and open in tabs on my browser. So when I’m ready to start cooking, I have my recipes at hand and waiting. All I need to do is pack up my breakfast the night before for the morning to come, dish out dinner that night and I’m done. Easy peasy.

While Eating Out

But it’s not always easy to find places to eat that are healthy while you’re out. Eating out can be a challenge. I try to get foods that are as close to whole as possible. This means protein bars made mostly from nuts and a little sugar. Maybe a burrito with tofu, veggies, rice and beans. Once you know what to look for, it gets a little easier to find things to eat.

Ready for Pickup

And that my friends, is how I made the transition from unhealthy eating habits, to healthful ones. And it takes some will power. But once you make the change, the foods you’ll be cooking are so much tastier than their processed, fatty counter parts. You’ll wonder why you ever used to eat them in the first place!

If you’re trying to make the change to a healthier lifestyle by changing your eating habits, know that it is doable. You just need to put the work in. It is not easy at first. There are a lot of adjustments to make and depending on how unhealthy your habits were before, maybe a steep learning curve. But be patient with yourself. The longer you keep after it, the easier and better your food will taste. This is where I leave you amigos. If you’re looking for some inspiration, head over to Minimalist Baker’s site to help get you started. I’m eating this Green Curry and Chickpea recipe right now with some greens. And as always, peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Nutrition • Vegetables • Peas” by Living Fitness UK is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Updated: 10/15/22

Clean Your Plate!: How Healthy Boundaries With Food Can Help Us Heal From Old Wounds

Every Tuesday night, I make a special self-care dinner for myself With the types of food I know I’ll love. Usually I’ll search for a recipe, something that has caught my eye during the week. Then I’ll go shopping for my meal that night and take my time while cooking my meal. I do this to really savor the time I take preparing something I know I will enjoy. I even had a co-worker make a special bowl for my weekly ritual. And I usually make a large batch of what I’m making, so I have leftovers to eat during the week. And last Tuesday was no different.

Clean Your Plate

However, there was something different about my meal last week. I made a tortilla soup topped with corn chips, cilantro, avocado, cheddar and sour cream. It was tasty, but that wasn’t what was different. What had changed was, by the time I got to the end of my bowl, I felt as though I was forcing myself to finish my meal. I had at some point stopped enjoying my meal and began forcing myself to finish.

This was confusing. I make these meals so I can enjoy and connect with the experience of cooking something I like, while also nourishing myself in the process. Why am I now forcing myself to enjoy something? After I had already enjoyed the process and what I had of it?

The more I think of it, the less sense this made to me. The bowl I had my friend make was the second bowl she made for me. The first one was too small. I wanted something I could fit a lot of food in. Additionally, I usually make and served myself way too much food. while having three to four drinks and a dessert to follow and a tea to round out the meal. I wasn’t concerned about my portion control, only how much I could consume.

What’s on Your Plate

This switch, from a ritual I created to forge a new and soothing relationship with the food I’m making, to something that was not as enjoyable as I had initially planned it to be, had me feeling uneasy. Then I realized there was more beneath the surface relating to my food consumption than what I was experiencing.

What I started to notice first was my portion sizes. I was serving myself way too much food. So much so, that I felt as though I was muscling through my meal rather than enjoying the experience in a relaxing way. I was using my experience with food, the joy I received from making the meal, to sitting down and relishing in the flavor combinations, like a drug. And from this perspective, more equals better. But I was also covering over some other feelings that had been left unattended. The feelings of how I learned how to relate to my food.

Digging in a Little Deeper

When I was growing up, my experience in relating to food was not an enjoyable one. I do have some fond memories of holiday meals being prepared. The smells of rosemary and roasting meats wafting through the house as family gathered to celebrate. But a majority of my time spent with meals was not so steeped in revelry. I would often hear from my caregivers, “clean your plate” as a way to say finish the food that was given to me.

I also spent very little time with my caregivers during meals. And the time I did spend with them, was filled with petty arguments and cutting insults. A thousand tiny cuts. They would prepare meals for me, but family mealtime ended for me by the time I was 12-14 years old. My caregivers were gone until 2am most nights. Leaving me to fend for myself when it came to nourishment. It felt more like survival most nights. This is a bit of exaggeration, but the loneliness mixed with not knowing how to cook for myself or how to pick healthy meals that would leave me feeling my best was anxiety provoking and confusing.

Mixed Messages

And when we were together, my caregivers referred to me as a “human garbage disposal”. This was also confusing and a direct contradiction to my prime directive which was, “clean your plate.” I was confused. Paired with no direction on how to please my caregivers, it seemed that everything I was doing was somehow wrong or unacceptable.

And to further drive home the ire my nickname carried, my caregivers were more than a little intolerant of overweight persons. This was also confusing. Because my caregivers and I were also overweight. There was literally no sense to be made from any of these interactions.

One of my caregivers went so far as to offer me money to lose weight. I believe the arrangement was 40$ to get down to my ideal weight. I agreed, but what 13 year-old wouldn’t want 40$? Though with no support on how to lose weight and being fed the same foods that got me to my then, current weight, I didn’t stand a chance. This left me feeling like a failure.

Past Lessons Inform Future Food Choices

Fast forward to my mid twenties and I was overweight and had zero boundaries with the food and alcohol I was consuming. But I stayed faithful to my caregivers instructions of wanting to be thin and to look good naked. I chose Brad Pitt’s character from the movie, “Fight Club” as my role-model. This was how I thought I should look… What hurts so much now thinking about all of this is, that I had no idea how unreasonable these standards are and were. I thought these were perfectly normal and reasonable aspirations. Mostly because they were expected of me by my caregivers.

I should also mention that one of my caregivers top values is being attractive. Which, unfortunately for me growing up, was reinforced time and time again. So I wasn’t aware of how unreasonable their standards actually are. And to add to the confusion, these standards are backed by a society that is equally image obsessed. It took a great strength of will to even see past the idea that looking thin and attractive was not the most important aspect of life.

All of these unhealthy messages I received growing up left me feeling confused. Angry with myself for not being able to live up to these unreasonable standards and highly judgmental of others who couldn’t live up to my and my caregivers standards. As well as just plain unsatisfied. By the time I hit my early thirties, I was overweight and angry about it. My diet was the most unhealthy it had been at any point in my life. I also still had no clear direction on how to make healthy, lasting changes. Something needed to change.

Making Lasting Changes

Exercise

I started with exercise. I ran two miles every few days in the local commons. At the time I was going through a divorce and there were other major shifts happening in my life as well. One of the ways I was able to take some steps in a healthier direction and take control of my life was by getting out on the road and hammering out a few miles. This was the start of me making more health conscious decisions that would directly affected my life for the better.

Food

After I got into a routine of regularly exercising, I shifted my focus on what I was eating. This was particularly difficult considering the environment I was in. I was living with a woman who was in her early twenties, living life the same ways I was at that age. This should have been an indicator that I was moving backwards with my life choices. But I was under a considerable amount of stress and dealing with a life’s time worth of unchecked emotional baggage. I understand why I made the decisions I did, but would not make them again. Needless to say, our eating habits were not ideal.

I was, however, able to make healthier food choices and change my habits while I was living in less than ideal circumstances. I began grocery shopping as I would for a family. Planning and preparing meals for us for the week. I was roasting whole chickens and preparing other whole foods. Straying away from fatty and sugary prepared and processed foods of my past. I was taking control of our nutritional needs and moving us in a healthier direction.

Coffee & Alcohol

This was also around the time I decided to reduce my alcohol intake as well. My change stemmed from me taking a conscious effort to part ways with the habits and patterns of my caregivers.

And as soon as I stopped drinking so much alcohol, that’s when my health really started to take shape. I was less sluggish. I was losing weight due to the sudden decrease in caloric intake. Not only from a lack of the unhealthy foods I was eating, but also the empty calories in the beer and mocha-lattes I was drinking. And speaking of coffee, I also lessened my caffeine intake. I was drinking around 4-5 double or quad shot mochas a day! This was excessive by any standard. Not to mention the money I was saving!

So in the course of two years, I had turned my eating habits from something unhealthy, to exercising regularly, watching my alcohol and caffeine consumption and eating healthier in general. All in all I had made some pretty remarkable changes in my personal life. So fast forward a few years and I’m still defaulting to some of my old habits. Why was this so?

Revisiting the Past

From what I am able to tell, my patterns stem from avoiding my old feelings of not adding up to my caregivers growing up. I was still looking for the external validation by living up to my caregivers unreasonable and contradictory standards. The ones that I adopted as my own that told me to clean my plate but be thin. All the healthy eating and diet changes were a way of trying to live up to my caregivers impossible standards. The difference now is, I have tools, such as drive, that I never had before. Now I know how to please my caregivers by putting a plan into action.

But this is still an unhealthy way of living. Trying to live up to impossible standards is exhausting and dangerous. One night, after working a full shift (10 hours) without eating breakfast or lunch, I ran three miles and did thirty minutes of yoga as well. I was so exhausted, that when I got out of the shower and bent over to towel off, I passed out on the bathroom floor. One of the people I live with, came into to the bathroom to see if I was okay. I clearly was not.

So I’m still holding on to these conflicting and unhealthy messages from my past. Which all stemmed from, “clean your plate”. Even after all this work, I’m still holding on to some of these lessons. Why?

What am I Holding On to?

From what I’m able to tell, I feel a sense of accomplishment from “cleaning my plate”. This is the external validation I am looking for. Validation that I never received from my caregivers. So how do I change this unhealthy way of relating to myself and these unreasonable standards I’ve adopted? How do I learn to be okay, just as I am, while still striving to be the best version of myself in a healthy way? I think it started, for me anyways, with my meditation practice.

Meditation

During meditation, I recite a set of affirmations. Ones I’ve selected that help me to be the version of myself I want to be. One of the lines is, “it’s okay to be me, just as I am”. I need this constant reinforcement. To help to break the old patterns of not feeling as though I’m adding up. And to me, not adding up meant feeling like I didn’t belong to my caregivers. This made me feel unsafe. Add some early childhood trauma to the mix and you have a recipe for difficult patterns and expectations to break free of.

This affirmation also helps to let me know I’m not perfect. And that that’s okay. When I was younger, I really thought my belonging hinged on the good opinion of my caregivers. But when you’re a child, what else do know but the approval of your caregivers. Now that I know that my caregivers are just people, it’s a little easier to forgive myself for not living up to their standards. I no longer view their words as absolute law.

Kindness & Patience

Also, being kind and patient with myself is an important aspect I learned from my meditation practice. When I was forcing myself to finish my meal a few days ago, I was feeling uneasy and a little sad. I needed self-care then more than ever. Because there was and still is confusion and mixed messages around my food intake and sustaining myself. And my younger, emotional self is still holding out for that chance to make my caregivers proud of me. For doing what they asked. But this will take some time, for my emotional self to feel better and heal. And the most direct way to come to terms with my hurt emotional self is through kindness to myself and my feelings as they arise.

Exercise and healthy eating are still integral routines to my lifestyle choices. But for different reasons than they were before. It’s still okay to want to look and feel good physically. Only my perspective has shifted from looking and feeling good as being my top value, to being a means to living a healthy and active life. Because when I was living a sedentary lifestyle, overweight and drinking too much, I was unhappy.

Finding Satisfaction

I was drinking caffeine and alcohol to numb my emotions while watching T.V. and playing video games to avoid living my life. I was also overweight and unhealthy. And most likely, I was headed for some health complications due to my lifestyle. So knowing that I’m living my life, to be the best and healthiest version of myself, is now my number one value when it comes to health choices and making value based decisions. And this makes me feel healthier. My values are no longer set at how good I look naked. And that feels good : )

Perfection is not Prerequisite for Satisfaction

And finally, knowing that we are not perfect. This one was a difficult one for me to come to terms with. My caregivers focus on perfection was omnipresent. I felt as though, if I didn’t get that A, or wasn’t the perfect image of what my caregivers wanted of me, regardless of how impossible the image was (see Brad Pitt’s character in Fight Club for example), I was unsafe and unloved.

I went so far as to study Val Kilmer’s, Jim Morrison from The Doors, because they liked The Doors. Also Jim seemed to be living life like my caregivers. I had no idea how unhealthy this dynamic is and was. But what I do remember is how lonely it was for me growing up. with no one around and not feeling loved or some type of belonging. Now I’m realizing that I don’t have to be somebody else. That “it’s okay to be me, just as I am”, has done so much good in remembering I don’t have to add up to someone else’s standard. That it’s okay to be me, flaws and all.

Practice Practice Practice

And it takes practice. Sometimes I’ll still try to conform to someone else’s ideal of what it means to be loved. Or to feel belonging. It’s in those moments that I remember the things that I’ve come to value. The friends I have who know and love me for me. The activities I find joy in. Like yoga and hiking. And the plans I have for my future. These all help to ground me in who I am outside of somebody else’s standard.

So know if that if you’re struggling with a set of unreasonable standards you were presented with before you were able to form your own healthier standards, you are not alone. And also, it’s not too late to change these standards. Be persistent. Take the time to learn who you are. Your likes and dislikes. What are the moments that bring you joy? Maybe there’s a song that you like to play. Do you enjoy a certain meal? Or maybe a treat you make for yourself on special occasions? These are the pieces, that when added up, make you satisfied in who you are. Be faithful to those and you will find your way : ) And as always, thanks for reading : ) peace.

Image Credits: “Clean Dishes” by Geoff LMV is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Updated 10/13/22

Shopping From Your Pantry First: Save Money, Eat Fresher

The Problem

I’ve recently been looking at my cupboards and pantry lately with some concern. I have rows of dried goods stacked neatly in mason jars. Bottles of tea, 18 of them, lined up neatly next to one another. They sit below the mason jars and next to the large collection of cooking oils I’ve collected. There are also the usual suspects. Bags of sugar, flour, pasta and sauces. Shifting focus to my pantry and things aren’t much better. There are stacks of partially used grains and beans. Back ups of what’s stored in my rows of mason jars in my cupboard. It’s a mess. Something needed to change.

What’s more, some of those grains and oils have taking up residency in my pantry for years! Sure, all the beans, grains and teas look good displayed in the glass jars, but this is my cupboard, not a museum! I’ve been thinking about what’s brought me to this place and I vaguely remember shopping for the groceries in question. Picking up bags of beans and pasta, “staples” that I thought I would need to make meals. Only those meals never came and I am left with a cupboard full of food that has been neglected for nearly half a decade. No bueno.

I’ve come to realize that I’m treating my food stores like you would curate pieces for a museum. But this is no way to nourish yourself. Eating hoarded goods that are that old is unnecessary. And more to the point, it tells me something about the ways I’m relating to my food. Why am I holding on to these items? Why am I massing these foods to begin with? The answers to these questions were directly related to the ways I was brought up and how I learned, or rather didn’t learn, how to nourish myself and my body.

Lessons on Nourishing Our Bodies

I was brought up in a house that was barren of a lot of things. Mostly love, but food was a close second. We always had enough to eat growing up. But there was no deviating from the plan my caregivers had mapped out. We had the same five or six meals on repeat. There were always boxes of cereal and bottles of soda in the cupboards and sometimes leftovers in the fridge. Not the healthiest foods, but we were also unaware of the health risks that came with some of these foods.

I was often uncertain of what I was able to eat. This was due to my caregiver often saying, “there’s a house full of food, I don’t know why you’re hungry”. Though I was severely scolded when I attempted to defrost pork chops one day in an attempt to make a meal with the house full of food I was in. The messages I received were mixed and confusing around food.

The Basics

And to add to the confusion, I was never taught the basics of how to take care of my nutritional needs. I was never shown how to budget for groceries, taught how to cook meals for myself or even that I should eat when I’m hungry! I skipped breakfast and lunch for decades because of these lessons. One of the lesson being, coffee was a meal substitute. I also didn’t start grocery shopping until I was in my late twenties. Or really cook meals for myself until about seven years ago! This is crazy to me thinking about it now. But food, along with a myriad of other topics, just didn’t get discussed.

If you’ve read my post on rotating your food stores, I go over the ways I was taught to neglect my nutritional needs in a bit more detail. You’ll also find some suggestions on how to change old habits that you’ve cultivated. If like me you’ve suffered from a life’s time worth of feeling a drift in a sea of food insecurity. But I’m back with a plan and want to share with you what I’m doing in my kitchen. To help change my relationship to food and how I care for my nutritional needs now. Let me show what I’ve come up with!

The Plan

As the title of this post suggests, the beginning of my journey starts in my pantry. Among the bottles of carefully curated seeds, grains, beans and flours, this is where I had amassed a large quantity of food items. To give you a sense of scale, I have close to thirty bottles of dried goods on my shelf! So the first step was to take stock of the ingredients I have on hand and do some research on what types of recipes I would be able to utilize the ingredients in.

Using What I Have

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, Minimalist Baker is a great resource for using the ingredients you have on hand. Because a good portion of her recipes use ten ingredients or fewer and most of them are pantry staples like onions and garlic. She also has a great post on how to stock a pantry here. But you can use whatever site you enjoy the recipes from the most. Most sites will have a search bar where you can type in an ingredient and do a quick search for recipes that include that ingredient. Minimalist Baker has a search by ingredient filter which is ideal for this situation.

So after I’ve taken stock of what I have in my pantry, I choose three or four ingredients to focus on for my meal prep. Let’s say I’ve chosen the five pound bag of cranberries that has been collecting dust, the jar of kidney beans that are old enough to eat solid foods, the two bags of black beans that are surprisingly young considering their shelf mates and a half of a jar of yellow lentils.

I take these four ingredients and do a quick search on my go-to recipe website. I find that I can use the Kidney and black beans in a chili with onion and sweet potatoes I already have. So I put the few items on the shopping list that are missing from my pantry that are in the recipe and move onto the next ingredient I’ve chosen.

Overnight oats are already on the menu for the next few weeks. So adding the cranberries to the mix with the seed and nuts I pick up from the market was an easy match. And the ingredients for the curried, lemon lentils I planned for, I already on hand. I put a few more ingredients on the shopping list, staples and some items for my self-care Sunday dinner and my shopping list is complete. I only have about a dozen items on my list and even though I’m shopping at Whole Foods, my grocery bill was still only 45$ for two weeks!

Save Money Use What You Have & Stay Organized

If you use the grocery store for supplemental supplies to your pantry, and you shop mostly whole foods, i.e. fresh produce and unprocessed meats, generic brands, bulk section items like grains and beans and staples like butter and milk, your grocery bill is surprisingly light. You also have the added benefit of eating a healthier diet full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. And the fresher the better. The longer your food sits around, the less nutritional value it retains.

Simple But Effective System For Grocery Shopping

I’ve also come up with a way to organize my shopping list so I can easily scan my recipes and know which ingredients to purchase. First, I make a list of the recipes I’ll be cooking. Second, I make a list of all the separate ingredients from all of the recipes I’m using. So I have two lists, one list of recipes, and the other a list of grocery items that are ingredients in the recipes on the first list.

Next, I assign a different symbol to each recipe. For example, if chili is on my recipe list, that recipe has a symbol such as +. Then I go down the list of ingredients and put a + symbol next to any ingredients that are in the + recipe.

I repeat this process for each recipe, adding ingredients to my items list. This way, when I choose the recipes I’m cooking for the next few weeks from my recipe list and place the recipe symbol next to the corresponding item, I can quickly see how much of an ingredients I need.

This works particularly well with double batches of recipes or multiples. For example, say I’m making three recipes that all use garlic and one of the recipes I’m making is going to be a double batch. On the ingredients list, garlic may look like this, “% + 2* Garlic”. The symbols “%+” represent the recipes I’m making, with a double batch of *, so I put a 2 before the symbol to modify the amount. So when I add the symbols together, “+ % 2*”, I know I’ll need enough garlic for four recipes. And when I put garlic on my shopping list, I put it on as “garlic x 4”. This way I can purchase just what I need for the recipes I’m cooking without buying too much. This also helps to keep my food stores fresher.

Save Money by Growing Your Own

Speaking of fresh stock, if you have a green thumb, this is a perfect opportunity to shop super fresh, real local and on the cheap! I’m lucky enough to have a sizeable vegetable garden. Last year we didn’t need to buy garlic until about a few weeks ago. And for the cost of a few packets of seed, your return on investment is ridiculously high. It does require planning and maintenance. Also to plant vegetables that you will actually use in the recipes you choose.

Planning is important in that if you like cucumbers, but don’t know that they are prolific producers, planting too many and you’re going to be swimming in brine from all the pickles you’ll be making. So when planning a garden, do the research and know how many to plant. Knowing when to plant is equally as important. And you don’t need a lot of space to grow your own. Container gardens are popular in cities where green space is limited. Maybe start with growing a few of the herbs and spices you use most frequently. This way, you’ll have a fresh selection on hand when it comes time to cook. And how do you know what to cook or grow?

Choosing Your Recipes

This was something I struggled with for a while. That is until I read this post on how to set up my pantry. Dana from Minimalist Baker suggested to pick ten or so recipes that you cook often, buying your pantry staples from that list of recipes. It made so much sense to me that I immediately got to selecting the recipes I liked and use most frequently. Then I put them in a bookmark folder labeled as such on my browser.

The only problem with this method is, that for me, there is a lack of variety. And I’m not cooking the same meals in the summer that I am in the winter. So I decided to create four folders with ten recipes each. They correspond to each season with ingredients that are available during that time of year. This way I’ll have three months to use up whatever food I have from the list of ingredients I use. And I always have something new to choose from. Paired with my self-care Sunday dinners, where I chose a new recipe to try each week, I won’t be short on new recipes to try.

I also batch cook my meals for two to three weeks ahead. This way I know I’ll have what I need to make my meals well in advance. Because I already have my recipes picked out. This way my shopping list is only a matter of quickly scanning my pantry, to see what I’m missing.

And Take the Time to Plan It All Out

This may seem overwhelming at first glance. And it can be a bit much to take on. What I find works best to help ease some of the tension of preparing meals is, giving myself plenty of time. I usually sit down at some point during the week and plan out what the next three weeks menu is going to look like. Here is where I also plan for the day to day stuff. Exercise, appointments and general domestics. Like when I’m cooking and shopping for that day.

This takes the stress out of not knowing when I’ll have the time to fit it all into my schedule. It also gives me plenty of time to plan for my upcoming shopping trip and cooking day. I’ll start by picking a day to shop and cook. The night before, I’ll check to see what I have for ingredients for the three or four recipes I’ve chosen. I’ll shop from my pantry first, then add the items I’m missing to the shopping list, along with what I’m getting low on. Like nut milk or margarine and I’m ready to shop the following day.

Shopping Day

On shopping day, I take my list and usually shop after work. When I get home, I set the tone for the night by getting my area clean, ready my recipes, light a candle and play some soft music. I turn off the harsh over head lights and then start my cooking process. Making sure to go as slow as I need to so I don’t feel rushed. Meal prep has become an integral part of my self-care routine and something I find great joy in. Being in the food industry as long as I have been, it’s important not to rush yourself. Feeling that pressure leads to stress. It was fun in my 20’s, but not so much now.

And with the ingredients prepped before I jump into cooking, the recipe comes together in no time. And the stress is nearly non-existent. I also keep my meals for the next few weeks in glass Mason jars in the fridge. Seeing them lined up on the counter to cool before they go into the fridge with the relaxing environment carries with it a sense of accomplishment.

And this brings us back to the starting new, healthier habits surrounding our food choices. Now that we’ve cleaned out the old items, and made room and space for new and fresher ingredients to be rotated in and out of use, the new question is, how much food do we really need to keep on hand?

Evaluating Your Needs

This answer will be different for everyone. I know that my food needs are different from a family of five’s. But where do we draw the line on what is enough? For me, a goal of having enough staple ingredients for a month’s worth of staple recipes is optimal. This way, my food stores stay fresh and I can incorporate new recipes into my meal plan as I see fit. Also I’m not holding onto items I don’t need because I’m afraid that if I don’t have them, something terrible will happen.

And that is the main goal. To take the fear and anxiety of preparing meals out of our food and the ways we nourish ourselves. It’s a little different if you’ve had negative experiences with and around food. But eating is so closely linked to our safety and well being. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you were left in the dark as I was, fumbling around trying to understand how to care for yourself without guidance, it can feel scary to go it alone.

I hope sorting through my pantry has been helpful to you in some way. If you have any comments or methods you use that you’ve found help you in the kitchen, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Spice Management” by Sharon Drummond is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 9/16/22

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