Present Kim is high-fiving Past Kim in a big way this month, and all because I put the effort into planning out an entire month’s worth of food and sundry consumption for my household. This version of No Nonsense isn’t exactly new to me – I used to do this type of thing back when I worked more regular hours and had more grading to do during the day – but I haven’t done it in years and am realizing how much it eases the mental, physical, and financial load. The result is my having more time to concentrate on building up my blog and putting my house in order, as well as slowly replenishing our savings account after our Year of Large But Necessary Expenditures, all of which contributes greatly to the heightened happiness of this fine Lady.
But back to the food. The DASH Diet is actually a really good system of eating because the rules are simple: eat tons of veggies, eat plenty of good, lean protein, and eat frequently (3 meals and 2 snacks a day). Easy peasy, right? But to eat good, clean food, you have to acquire and prepare that good clean food and keep it readily available so you aren’t tempted to eat crap food, and that takes a lot of time, energy, and planning. I have had food on the brain since February of 2017 – how much to eat, what to eat, how to cook it, what I need to prepare, how much of each item I need to have to get through the week, etc. It is a constant process. During the summer, I had fun experimenting with all the fresh herbs and veggies available and trying new recipes to keep the diet varied and interesting – and it worked, well. My husband and I have both lost over 40 pounds and are still going. However, now that school’s started and I want to turn my mind to other pursuits besides making food, I’m remembering how nice it is to have all the meals planned out and supplies ready to hand without having to spend half my day in preparation.
To start out with, I sat down and planned out, day by day, what the three of us would need to eat, starting with the easiest meals and snacks. Luckily, we are people of simple tastes and don’t get burned out on repetitive food choices very easily – this made planning out breakfasts, lunches, and snacks particularly easy. For example, my child has eaten a pop tart for breakfast every morning and had string cheese, Cheez-its, dried fruit, and chocolate milk for lunch every single school day for 4 years running and has no plans to change his habits in the near future. The Husband and I agreed to stick with our overnight oats for the month of November, in limited flavors to streamline grocery shopping (berry for me and mocha for him), and we make up 10 jars of these every Sunday to have them ready made for the week ahead. I made sure the Husband’s and my snacks are DASH compliant (cheese sticks, veggies, and peanut butter) and that we have plenty of them. For our lunches, we’d already gotten into the habit of having DASH Extra Veggie Chili every day, so we decided to alternate between that recipe and using leftovers from our week’s dinners to make a big batch of soup on Saturdays that would last us through the week as well.
The harder part was dinner, because while I wanted simplicity, I also wanted variety here. My boys will put up with sameness during the workday, but when it comes to suppertime, Mom better produce some magic. I pulled out our calendar and noted the holidays and nights when the Boychild had late practices and the Husband had late meetings first, so I could plan easy or leftover meals on our special and time-crunch days. We eat dinner with my parents every Sunday, so that was one day off the list right away. I also planned to have pizza every Friday night (with storebought crust for the Boy and green pepper crusts for the Husband and me) so my son would have at least one meal he really, really loves every week and so we’d have something nice and easy to start the weekend off right. We have a tradition of having pasta on Wednesday nights as well for a mid-week infusion of goodness for the kiddo, so I planned those meals with an Italian feel and usually involving red sauce, even if I did cut the carbs for the most part. For the rest, I tried to stick to the rule of having one beef or pork and two chicken or veggie-based meals per week to spread the love and keep the cost down a bit. I looked through our 5 favorite healthy cook books (see below) for recipe ideas and used a few from Pinterest as well. For this first month, I wanted to stick to my year’s goal of trying a new recipe every week, but also not go too far off the rails so I wasn’t buying a lot of expensive ingredients and spending more money than we needed to on food. I think I came up with a plan that suits all three of us pretty well in this respect.
Once I figured out what we wanted to eat, I had to figure out what we needed to make it. I took a full inventory of our fridge, freezer, and pantry, even going so far as to make an Excel spreadsheet so I could sort it by type of food as well as name. (Yes, that may be a bit much for some, but if I plan to do this regularly, it will really come in handy.) I made columns in which I could note what we already have, what we’ll need for recipes, and the difference between so I’d know how much of each item I needed to buy. From this list, I formed a Master Shopping List for November that included all the nonperishables and the perishables needed for Week 1 only. I also formed future lists for the remaining weeks of the month that included only the perishables needed for each week, such as bread, milk, eggs, and produce. I purchased everything on the Master List in one trip to the store at the beginning of the month. This did require a bigger investment of time and money than usual – I spent about twice as much as a normal week in our household, and it took me about twice as long to store everything properly (wrapping the meat to freeze in usable portions, etc.), but spending one long day laying in provisions was well worth it. Each week thereafter, I have stuck strictly to the Weekly Lists. And thus far, it’s worked swimmingly – I’ve only found 4 items that I forgot or miscalculated the amount needed and have had to add very little to my cart other than what I’d planned for.
I’m also finding that this type of shopping is helping me keep our food costs down significantly, in large part because I am simply buying less stuff. Since I know I laid in what’s needed to begin with, I have stayed out of the middle aisles of the store and just skirted the edges where the perishables are displayed. I’m also in the store less often to see new stuff I want to try or think we need more of because I know we have enough of everything already. The first grocery bill of the month was high, but not exorbitantly so – again, it was about twice as much as much as our normal weekly grocery bill. I’d expected it to be higher since I was shopping for 5 weeks, so this was a pleasant surprise. Now I did already have some staples, of course – I didn’t start with an empty pantry – but this still was a significant cut.
We are just beginning Week 2 of my No Nonsense November initiative and I have wobbled a little already – I broke my minimal-spending rule by buying some hygge lights because HYGGE, and the Boychild just needed a damn Arby’s sandwich one night after school rather than coming home to Spaghetti O sadness, but I’m hopeful and determined that I can do an imperfectly adequate job of saving time and money this month all the same.
Our favorite cookbooks are The DASH Diet Weight Loss Solution by Marla Heller, The Everyday DASH Diet Cookbook by Marla Heller and Rick Rodgers, Everyday Instant Pot by Mama Under Pressure, The Whole30 Cookbook by Melissa Hartwig, and Thug Kitchen by Thug Kitchen
Dinners (since the picture is hard to see):
Week 1: Pork Roast with Roasted Root Veggies, Little Caesar’s (Halloween!), Chicken Parmesan Casserole, Soy Glazed Salmon with Veggies, Pizza, Pork Posole Soup (with leftovers from Pork Roast). (This was the week the kid had Arby’s as well – baby steps.)
Week 2: Meatloaf with Mashed Cauliflower and Gravy, Crock Pot Chicken Ranch Tacos, Veggie Lasagna Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms (Lasagna Rolls for the boy), Leftover Meatloaf, Pizza, Mexican Tortilla Soup (with leftovers from Chicken Tacos).
Week 3: Pork Chops with White Beans & Veggies, Sweet Potato Squash Enchiladas, Chicken Parmesan Casserole, Burgers & Veggie Tots, Pizza, Pumpkin Chili.
Week 4: Mongolian Beef with Stir-Fry Veggies, Roasted Salmon Caesar Salad with Parsnip Croutons, Veggie Lasagna Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms (Lasagna Rolls for the boy), THANKSGIVING, Pizza, Beef & Noodles (and will make Extra Veggie Chili for lunches)
Week 5: Autumn Hash with Pork Chops, Moo Shu Chicken Vegetable Wraps, Chicken Parmesan Casserole, Burgers & Veggie Tots, Pizza, Sweet Potato Bisque