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

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

Expiration Dates: Rotating Your Stores to Eat Fresher & take Care of Your Nutritional Needs

We all have it. That can of tomatoes that has been in the back of the cupboard for way too long. The one that has seen one too many a day in the back of the cabinet while a few other staples get rotated in and out of use. This has been the case with my cabinets. If you’ve read my post on “Building Shelves, Building Community“, you’ll know that when I was cleaning my parents food pantry, I was throwing away food items that were over half a decade old! Some of it was an issue with ease of access for sure. But there was more to it than not being able to see behind a can of peas or a bag of pasta. So for us, eating fresher means keeping our cabinets and shelves clean and organized to take better care of our nutritional needs.

Nutritional Needs & Food Insecurity

For us, it is food insecurity on some level. We need to feel as though we have enough food to last us months in order to feel safe enough. But safe enough for what? For me, it was from roaming around my childhood home, looking for something to eat that was quick, easy and loaded with sugar. Not because I was lazy, though I played my fair share of video games. But mostly because I just didn’t have the life skills to be able to provide for myself and my nutritional needs.

In later years, my cabinets would be filled with foods I could make meals with. Ingredients to have on hand to make something to eat whenever I needed to. Aka, staples. I almost never ate vegetables and most of what I did eat was either meat, or some form of starch and fat mixed with a sugary sauce. I was unhealthy, overweight and pretty unhappy overall. Food in general was a mystery to me and something I wasn’t given any direction on how to approach or prepare for myself.

Putting the Pieces Together

And this was how I ate for years. My habits were unhealthy and I had no idea how to take care of my nutritional needs. And that wasn’t including the large amounts of beer I was consuming on a nightly basis. Which is ironic because I had worked in the food industry for most of my life.

This was, I think, a way to feel as though I was always covered when it came to food and feeding myself. If you’ve read last weeks post on “Food & Family”, I go over this in more detail. I needed the security of being constantly surrounded by food in order to feel as though my needs would be taken care of. But that was the key. I felt as though I needed to be taken care of.

Being Taken Care of & Seeking Approval Instead of Caring For Myself & My Nutritional Needs

Instead of caring for myself and my nutritional needs, I passed that job onto whomever I was living with at the time. Or outsourced the job to greasy takeout places. As far as I was concerned, that was someone else’s job. I’ve since come to realize that I was just reliving the patterns of my past. By looking for someone else to do the job that I was never taught how to do. And it wasn’t until I went vegan (vegetarian now) about five years ago, that I really started to learn what it means to take care of myself in regards to my nutrition. But it all stemmed from my food insecurity.

And this is an insecurity that still persists. Even though I’ve wholly changed almost every aspect of my diet. Some of the reason for me changing was due to me being called a “human garbage disposal” as a child. But I also did it for the health benefits. Kind of. I read that if you eat a vegan diet, you maintain a certain body fat percentage. And sense I was likened to a garbage disposal for the better part of my youth, I thought this was a perfect solution and path to finally feeling accepted for my physical appearance.

Learning to Care for My Nutritional Needs Wasn’t Easy

But I was still collecting foods just to have them. Dried beans, grains and other items such as flours, oils and teas that were taking up space in my cabinets. And they held residency for long stretches of time too. Without a plan for their ever being used, they sat there collecting dust. It felt like I was holding onto food for the sake of holding onto it. I had no plan or purpose for it other than to look at it every time I opened the cabinets and to feel like my shelves were full of food. I was safe.

It was a strange feeling when I realized what I had been doing. The lack of knowledge of what to do with what I did have, due to the neglect in my early domestic education. There were no family recipes handed down. No helping with cooking family meals. Or even the basic understanding of how to grocery shop for myself. No following a list of ingredients made up from recipes that I was going to cook. And only shopping from that list of planned menu items. I was left in a lonely place. One without any direction on how to move myself forward.

Care Taking for Another

I remember when I first understood that taking care of my nutritional needs is something that is an important aspect of life. I was living with a woman who I was deeply smitten with. We both had no understanding of how to take care of our personal and physical health needs. However, I was shown how to take care of others at the expense of my own needs. So it was only natural that I take care of her as though she were my charge. As unhealthy as it was for me at the time, this was the catalyst for me to learn how to care of my own needs. While caretaking for another.

I drove her and her family to doctors appointments. Ran errands for her, all kinds. Cleaned our apartment weekly. This was quite the feat, considering we were living with three other people, two cats and a dog. But when I was grocery shopping and cooking all our meals for us, that was when I really began to understand what it means to take responsibility for our nutritional needs.

I would buy and roast whole chickens, to eat the night of and also for future meals. When I went to the grocery store, I had a plan and a list and came in under or at budget. I had even thought about opening a brewpub with her. And had gone as far as to start planning what would be on the menu. It was an exciting time. One full of possibility for our future. And it was this time that I spent taking care of another that would later gave me the confidence to finally take my own needs into account.

Finally Focusing on Myself

After the woman I was taking care of had left me, I was left alone. This was when I turned my focus inwards on how to care for myself. But as I mentioned above, these were not tools and resources that were modeled for me in my youth. So I did some research. When it came to my nutritional needs, I looked for and researched recipes to build a small clutch of foods for meals I knew I liked. And finding out what I liked was definitely a big step toward learning how to take care of myself.

Knowing that I’d enjoy the food I was cooking for myself made meal prep something to look forward to. And the more I cooked these meals, the better I became at it. This had the added benefit of building my confidence. In being able to have a sense of mastery over the ways I was taking care of myself.

Also, my self-care Sunday meals became a resource for me as well. This was a time where I would select a new recipe, something that looked interesting and branch out a little from my usual go to meals. Trying new foods and recipes, being creative in the kitchen and liking what I was making made me enjoy the process. And later adding these recipes to my meal rotation helped to keep some variety in my diet as well.

Eating Fresher Means Eating Healthier

I was also using fresh vegetables from my garden as well. This brought a feeling of each meal being special. Eating the freshest possible produce while cooking meals that I curated specifically for my taste and nutritional needs, was something that gave me a sense of being able to take control of my ability to take care of myself and my nutritional needs. Also enjoying the process along the way.

While I was learning my new skills in self-care and nutritional needs, I was also friends with a woman who had given me a book called, “The China Study”. The premise of the book was that most cancers are linked in some way to the consumption of animal protein. And the lack of plant based foods in our modern diets. After I read that book and went to the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival and also knowing that a vegan diet would help to maintain a healthy percentage of body fat to muscle, I went full vegan.

Going Vegan Without a Plan

I didn’t try to take meat out of my diet a little at a time and replace it with plant based options. I jumped in with both feet. Looking back now, this wasn’t the best decision. After going full vegan, I was still feeding myself the same ways I was when I was eating meat. And I was skipping meals, reducing my caloric intake without replacing them elsewhere in my diet.

I would often miss breakfast and lunch completely. Having only small pieces of whatever was leftover from the morning bake or an extra pastries at work that weren’t vegan. I was mainly restricting what I was eating because I was trying to stay true to the vegan ethos. But this was not a sustainable way to live.

I knew something was wrong with how I was feeding myself when; one day I had woken at 5am for work, worked a full shift in front of an oven, came home and immediately ran three miles all on only a few cups of green tea, then did yoga for 45 minutes. When I got out of the shower at 4pm and stood up after drying my feet, I passed out on the bathroom floor. Luckily I wasn’t hurt too badly. But I realized then that something needed to change.

Making a Plan to Eat Healthier & More Frequently

This was the time that I decided that I needed to really focus on getting, not only healthy foods into my body, but I also needed to make it a priority! This is what was so dangerous about the legacy of neglect that was handed down to me.

Mostly because I didn’t come to the conclusion that I needed to eat three meals and not one a day on my own. Those closest to me had to tell me that they were concerned with the ways that I wasn’t taking care of my nutritional needs. It was only then that I realized that, yes, skipping two meals is unhealthy. And that I also needed to make and bring my meals with me to work. Otherwise I would continue to skip lunch and breakfast.

So this has been my journey thus far in concerns to taking care of my nutritional needs. It’s been a bumpy road. And the journey isn’t over yet. I’ve begun making both breakfast and lunch as part of my meal prep routine. I usually make a large batch of dry oats mixed with nuts, seeds and dried fruits and berries. I make overnight oats with them the nights before I work. And I’ll usually make a large batch of something like chickpea “tuna” salad for quick lunches throughout the week.

Nutritional Needs are Met But Trouble Still in the Pantry

So now that I have my nutritional needs in mind, things should be okay, right? But when I was going to the grocery store and then returning to my pantry, I was realizing that I was buying food I already had. For example, I would buy dried chickpeas to make chickpea “tuna” salad, then would find I already had a quart container full, sitting on the shelf in my pantry. So as I was buying new ingredients, the food I already had was just sitting on the shelf. Waiting for it’s turn to be used.

Organization Helps Only if You Have a Plan

About two years ago I started storing my dried goods in quart sized Ball Jars. The idea was to use what was on the shelf in the jars first, then refill with what I had left in storage. Only I was buying more ingredients that I seldom if ever use. And they were taking up storage space on the shelves instead of being put into rotation to be cooked in my recipes. So instead of having a jar that was constantly being filled with AP flour, I had two or three jars half filled with flours I never use. Like quinoa or chickpea that I got for a recipe I made once.

Looking at the shelf with a fresh pair of eyes, I could see the items I purchased for specific meals and never used again. The jar full of shredded dulse seaweed I used to top a buddha bowl I made, then completely forgot that I had. Or the couscous I never got around to making that I bought for a recipe.

Now that I’ve identified the issue, I’m working to resolve it. “I shop from my pantry first”. An old bit of wisdom that I’m not sure where I heard. But now when I put a meal plan together for the next two weeks, I go into my stores and see what I have had for too long and research recipes around those ingredients. I then build my shopping list from there.

Planning to Shop From my Pantry First

For instance, I have half of a jar of dried lima beans that I’m not sure how long they’ve been in my pantry for. So I looked up recipes that use limas, which for this week happens to be succotash. Then I add the ingredients that I don’t have to the shopping list. I did the same for a jar full of great northern white beans while using up a quart of breadcrumbs that have been cooped up for a bit too long.

My new goal is to have a steady rotation of fresh ingredients that I use frequently. So I always have a fresh store of whatever I need to replace what I use to eat as fresh as possible. This way, I’m more aware of the ingredients I have on hand and I produce little waste when it comes to left over items. And it feels good knowing that I’ve used up items that were otherwise sitting around without any intention of being used.

Using What’s in Your Pantry Means Being Organized

It’s also worth mentioning that taking care of your nutritional needs is no easy task. It takes a lot of research, planning, budgeting and cooking knowledge to make this come together in a way that’s manageable and effective. So if you run into roadblocks on your path, don’t be discouraged! Or maybe you know someone who takes care of these responsibilities in your life. Ask them if they need a hand. Because they are most likely juggling a lot of responsibilities just trying to get dinner on the table!

It can seem overwhelming at first. But you don’t need to change everything all at once. Start slow. Say you have seven or eight boxes of pasta collecting in a corner of your cabinet (we have 17!), start there. Find out what you have and research recipes utilizing these ingredients. If you have lasagna noodles, this is a no-brainer. Look up recipes for lasagna. Once you find one that looks good, check for other ingredients in the recipe. First in your pantry and fridge, then put what you don’t already have on your shopping list.

But Go Slow

Pick two or three ingredients a week from your pantry. This way you can utilize your old ingredients slowly while also deciding if it’s an ingredient you want to keep on hand in your pantry. All depending on how you feel about what you make that week with the ingredient. And it’s easy to add new ingredients and use them as you go. Just pick a new recipe and whatever the new ingredient is and add it to your pantry. Just remember to make sure to add it to your future meals list.

Don’t Forget to Enjoy the Process

And this may seem like a no brainer, but enjoy your meals. It’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by the process of feeling like this is one more area of your life you need to perfect. It isn’t. When in doubt (or panicked or feeling overwhelmed), go slow. Nothing bad will happen if you leave that jar of black beans in the pantry for another week!

I hope this has been helpful in some way. I find that the more I take an active role in rotating and using the foods that I already have, the more comfort I feel from knowing that I’m eating as fresh as I’m able. Using my ingredients consistently while also caring for a part of myself that has been neglected for far too long. And life’s too short to not feel good about what you eat! We literally eat everyday, multiple times a day. If you’re looking for some new recipes to try out, I’m a huge fan of Minimalist Baker. This Rawsome Vegan Life has some good recipes too. Thanks for reading, bon appetit and peace : )

Image Credits: “What hides in my cupboard” by WordRidden is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 8/28/22

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