I always felt I should make elaborate meals. And then… I would get so stressed and upset when Henry wouldn’t eat them. I grew up eating 3 sit-down meals a day, 3 complete meals with protein, starch/carbohydrates and vegetables. Sometimes a dessert and fruit too. So, this is how I tried to handle food in our house for 2 years. HOWEVER, I stressed so much over how I ‘should’ be cooking that I HATED cooking. HATED the kitchen. HATED shopping for us. HATED planning meals. HATED anything to do with food. I was wasting time and energy AND money trying to keep up with the cooking and planning. Who is with me on this?
Okay, so I knew something had to change. The food issues were controlling both of us and I was sick of it. Here’s what finally worked for us. It has prevented stress, bitterness and eating out so much. In 1 sentence- we had to STOP PLANNING! I know, it seems that excessive planning is the only way to figure out what to buy and how to cook, but try it for a week before telling me it won’t work. Here’s how I think you can stop planning your meals and actually begin to enjoy taking care of your family…
Only Buy Predictable Groceries.
If it doesn’t get eaten, it gets thrown out and should not be bought. Simple as that! So look at what you buy frequently, for instance – how many eggs do you actually eat a week or do you buy them because you ‘should have them in the ‘fridge?’ Only buy what you eat. Guess what? We don’t eat broccoli, it always goes bad. Crackers and chips go stale, hot sauce molds. These items are no longer bought, even if in my mind I feel I ‘should’ be stocked up on these.
What do we eat? Here is our staple grocery list for a week – 7 boxes of tofu a week, beans, all types of frozen and mixed veggies, bananas, apples, 2 jars of peanut butter, avocados, almond milk and bread. That’s it! These are the items we use most consistently. Everything else was being bought out of habit and because we shopped while hungry. So we started only buying these items every week. It helped the stress so much!
Now notice – you are not cutting out what you DO eat, just what you DON’T eat. You are looking to cut out what is bought out of habit, or ‘in case’ you need it, or because you ‘might’ want to cook it. These items can create clutter and stress. If your family eats ice cream everyday, then buy it. If your family doesn’t eat ice cream every day, wait until the day you want it, and only buy the smaller sized containers instead of a gallon. The goal is to cut out clutter and waste. Simplify by just finding which items you are buying out of habit or that you buy ‘in case you need them,’ and cut those out
Make a Staple Pantry.
The stable pantry is items you can use repeatably in different ways. One way to embrace the minimalist mindset is to find 1 item that can be used 5 ways. This is how the no planning can work. You buy the most versatile items and mix them up by prepping and flavoring them differently. You don’t need lots of options, you just need to make a few things work in many ways. So what is your favorite protein that can be cooked several ways? How about chicken? I always think chicken is the easiest and most versatile protein. It can be boiled in a soup, or baked with corn flakes, shredded for tacos/fajitas, used in Chinese cuisine or it can be nuggets on a no cook day.
There you go – I just gave you 5 meals with 1 item. You do not have to buy 5 different types or cuts of meats for the week (oh the cost of such an idea!). Just buy 1. What about other items like frozen veggies, pasta or rice? You can cook all of these in multiple ways. This is how easy it is to cut down on shopping time and meal planning stress, you just have to be creative with how you implement your staple pantry items into dinner each night. When you use an item multiple times in the same week, make sure it has lots of flavor! Trust me, bland leads to kitchen revolts.
We have a staple cooking/spice pantry that includes olive oil, butter, salt/pepper, soy sauce, onions, garlic (powder), bell peppers, cilantro, ginger, turmeric, curry, parsley and sage. We use these items all the time to bring variety to our staple items.
Using this method of buying only your staple items, you are also automatically limiting choices, which helps to decrease the kitchen chaos that normally goes on. If we have to choose between fruit, cheese, crackers, leftovers, sandwich, chips and who knows what else, that increases stress for everyone. Give a few options by only buying the predictable and staple food items. That’s it. If that doesn’t work, …
Let Someone Else Shop.
This is what helped us start working out our kitchen stress and food issues. I needed to go shopping… because I had planned the meals… because I knew what we SHOULD eat… and I knew the budget… and I had stressed out, upset, breakdowns EVERY TIME I SHOPPED, COOKED and PLANNED. What changed this cycle? My husband decided he didn’t like what I bought and went and bought salad stuff and stuff for subway-style sandwiches. I threw a fit, he made his own salad. Yes, this lasted several weeks or a month, but you can chose not to have it last that long for you.
Family doesn’t like what you bought? Think simple – they can learn, they can go shopping, they can cook. What they aren’t allowed to do is control your peace or be rude about what you cooked. But, heck, it isn’t SUCH a big deal to let them take part in it. Say they don’t want chicken today, next store trip, hand them $10 and teach budgeting and what it actually costs to buy dinner and how far food can go. Teach them why chicken was the choice this week. Yes, it can work, but you have to give up a little of the control to get it to work. And, Yes, I had to teach my husband to shop for groceries on a budget, because I was used to controlling it, but now that he has the hang of it, he is really good at it.
Along the same lines, only cook what you WANT to cook. My stress left when I started cooking what I like. And he cooks what he wants. Sometimes we both cook on the same night, because we want whatever sounds good to us, which may be a sandwich and pasta. If the other person doesn’t like it, then we get leftovers, but hey… no stress! Simple! We threw out perfect for simple, and we are hardly ever have kitchen stress anymore.
Create Easy Dinners.
Look, I get being busy and tired. I mean I work 45 hours a week and commute about 45 minutes to get home. This means I get home late everyday, and I am NOT wanting to cook. BUT, because we have simplified, I now think ‘how can I combine the staple ingredients in the easiest way to make a quick dinner?’ My go to – stir fried tofu with some kind of veggies. Henry’s go to – subway sandwich, no tofu (it’s kinda of a salad on bread, but he loves it). Here is a week’s worth of simple meals that we tend to make –
- Cauliflower and Tofu Curry
- Asian stir-fry tofu w/ veggies
- Scrambled tofu ‘eggs’
- Lentil soup w/ barley or bread
- Cajun Red beans and Rice
- Beans and rice
- Subway sandwiches
- Mexican Bean salad
Other options ( which require more time and are outside of our staple pantry) include – pasta w/ peas and carrots, chicken spaghetti,pasta w/ Asian stir fry veggies/tofu, Asian top ramen w/ Tofu and mushrooms, burritos, fajitas and enchiladas.Even with these option meals, I barely went outside of our staple pantry. And yes, I use canned beans or my husband makes them. That’s our system. Yes, I use frozen veggies, it is easy. For snacks and lunch – it is leftovers or fruit. So we never have food go bad and we eat ALOT of fruit! It’s a win-win-win situation.
That’s it! The entire ‘formula.’ It is all we did/do to go from over-stressed, anxiety filled shopping/cooking with too much waste to a simplified approach to meals and groceries. See, what you need in your kitchen is a new system, not more planning or better meals. The method you are using to do shopping, planning and cooking IS creating more stress and that leads to more frustration. It is using up precious time that can be better spent. If you buy food you don’t use, you are forced to create dinners you hate, which causes stress because family is not eating them. Why do that to yourself? Just simplify! Buy what is eaten, get help shopping, cook what is easy and what you like and all of a sudden you may find that you actually enjoy taking care of your family in the food department.
Oh and just to let you know what my husband thinks on this idea to fix the kitchen stress... Henry just came in and asked what I was writing on. I explained it was about how we simplified the kitchen. He sorta just smiled at me, with this ‘yep, we finally got through that one’ smile. I asked what helped the most to stop our fights. Without hesitation, he replied “when I started buying food I wanted (salads!) and when we started buying more veggies/beans as our staples.” There ya go – simplifying works, and even the husband has seen enough change lately to know exactly what we did to fix our problems.