This week’s guest blog is brought to you by my former professor and dear mentor, Suzanne Rumsey.
I have found that one of the main challenges of adulting is feeding myself and my husband at regular, repetitive, annoyingly predictable intervals. At first, you could probably exist on Hot Pockets, Lean Cuisine (for the “health conscious”), the ever-present ramen noodles, and eating out. But you’re a real grown up now, right? At some point quick, packaged foods leave you hungry for more, literally and figuratively. So what do you do? You learn to cook. And just as important, although for most not nearly as interesting, you learn to plan.
For learning to cook, I advise beginning small and simple. Even though I knew the basics and could follow a recipe, most of my cooking experience leaned toward, well, cookies and coffee cakes. Chicken, wild rice, and a vegetable were kind of a mystery. And fish? Clueless. And there was no Google. And we walked up hill both ways. When I was first on my own, in (gulp) the late 90s, I found a great little cookbook called Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen Cookbook by Kevin Wells and Nancy Wells. It got my over the first hurdles in my tiny first apartment in college.
Then in graduate school, I was completely on my own in an even tinier apartment. I had no one to eat the food I prepared but me, so I began to experiment a lot more. Only one dish ended up in the outside garbage can (it smelled too bad to throw away inside). I also lived on a verrrry tight budget. That is when I began meal planning.
Meal planning, for me, is based on a few foundational premises. First, I have a financial budget to follow. Second, I don’t like to waste food. And third, I try to eat healthy, when, let’s be honest, pre-packaged foods are often cheaper.
First, planning for me is key. I make a list (I loooove lists) in my bullet journal (see also Carrie Crista’s “Beginner’s Guide to Bullet Journaling” for a great how to videos) of the menu for the week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My husband and I typically eat the same things for breakfasts and lunches during the work week. Dinners are varied, and then we have leftovers and meals out sometimes on weekends. Here is what my bullet journal list looks like for this week:
Next to my plan of what to eat, I make a list for shopping and a list for cooking. Shopping with a list is crucial to sticking to my foundational premises of budget, low waste, and healthy. If I shop without it, I tend to splurge on shmancy oils, blue cheese stuffed olives, or something from the bakery. My cooking list is one that helps me plan ahead for the work week. I cook and prep for 2 or 3 hours over the weekend so that feeding my face is simplified when I’m tired and grumpy during the week.
A simplified menu is one that will likely be less expensive because you buy more of one thing. It will also tend to be less wasteful. And it is easy to make it healthy. You could, for example, buy lentils, brown rice, eggs, sweet potatoes, and frozen vegetables and live extremely, vegetarian-ly, frugally. Add to that a bag of frozen chicken breasts, canned crushed tomatoes and other staples, and you’ve got yourself a lean, mean, budgeted machine. Each week splurge on a new spice blend, infused oil, or other “flavor punch” and the possibilities of your menu are simple, but endless (e.g. one week get Garam Masala or basic curry powder and enjoy chicken, sweet potato, and cauliflower Indian curry over brown rice, or get fresh ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and fish sauce and escape to Thailand).
Another trick I use is “rolling forward” with food prep. For example, if I’m using sweet potatoes in two dishes, I’ll cook extra the first night and save the others for the next meal. Or on my prep day, I’ll chop all the onions (while weeping… and singing My Heart Will Go On, of course), carrots etc. for several meals. Chicken, when cooked simply with salt and pepper, can go in just about anything.
Another thing I do is bulk cooking. During my prep times, sometimes I prep for much further in advance than just the following week. I might cook a double batch of brown rice then portion it into plastic baggies, flatten them, and freeze them in a stack. Or I might make a monster batch of chili (really, is there any other kind?) and portion it into freezable containers so I’ve got quick meals some week when things are crazy. This past week, my bulk cooking looked like this.
Also, buying in bulk, when things are on sale, helps stretch a buck. Your freezer and your crockpot are your friends.
So there you have it. Feeding yourself like an adult doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. But planning really is key to doing so. Plus, when you plan ahead and have real food your body will thank you, your wallet will thank you, and your friends will be totally jealous and confounded by your supreme adulting prowess.
Interested in writing a guest blog for The Newbie Nesters? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org!