“no groceries” update 1: planning ahead

On my mind a lot is the point when I will have no more fresh produce. I’ve been anxious about it. I almost cooked the spinach I have, though it will last a while so I’ll leave it be.

IMG_3108In the name of not letting things go bad, I decided to make one of our favorite soups (Rosemary Red Soup) for dinner on Tuesday night. Already, I’ve noticed how much more I think about advanced preparations. It’s not as if I was leaning on prepared foods or takeout, but, knowing that it “won’t be an option” to pick things up at the market, it all seems more weighted. I want to use everything, I want to waste nothing. I had everything needed for this soup (wrong kind of lentils and wrong kind of miso, but that didn’t matter) and we all love it. The recipe would make plenty to freeze for another day when I didn’t have time to cook. So, great, right?

IMG_3109I got to work. I’m chopping away, proud of myself for gathering the ingredients first as I have a tendency to find out 3/4 of the way through I’m missing something essential. And, well, it turned out I did miss something essential. “Lower heat and simmer 40 minutes.”

I needed this soup for the table in a total of about 30 minutes, including prep time. Duh. It’s not a long-simmering soup, but getting it ready in time for dinner wasn’t going to happen. I kept on with it and will use it for our next meal.

This left me without a dinner plan, so I scrambled and came up with this:

That’s leftover salmon, a tortilla with melted cheese and salsa, carrot sticks, and some Romaine lettuce with mayo. It’s a little embarrassing laying out for all the Internet what I gave my daughters for dinner. But, sharing this is part of what I want from this experience.

“Coming up with dinner” takes mental energy and planning. It’s not a simple thing that takes no time. Add the stresses of bills barely paid, health problems, and work deadlines (let alone more significant issues I don’t face, like violence in the home, children struggling in school, or active addictions, etc.) and “coming up with dinner” is a major emotional drain.

Why do people make unhealthy or expensive food choices? Convenience is my first answer. Second is “I know my kids will eat it.” I happen to have children who are relatively great about eating, but, at the end of a terrifically long day, spending time cooking food knowing the children may find it inedible can feel overwhelming.

So, the bits I’ve learned already:

  • every trace of food seems more important. I have half-drunk cups of milk my daughters didn’t finish sitting in the fridge to use for my coffee, for example, that probably would’ve ended up down the drain last week;
  • planning and deciding what to cook and how to best use the ingredients on hand takes time, and that’s not just time in the kitchen, it’s throughout the day as meals approach or planning for the days ahead;
  • I already made an exception and let my parenting partner bring oyster crackers, ginger ale, and pedialyte popsicles to our daughters because they were sick. It felt a bit like a cheat, as I would’ve gone to the market for those things if I could’ve left the girls at home to do it. I have a supportive ex- and that means my daughters don’t have to only rely on me for their love and care, and for extra food when the need arises;
  • I’m out of coffee and haven’t yet decided if getting more coffee counts since I generally get it at Starbucks and that purchase goes toward my credits for an eventual “free” fancy drink. We’ll see… I did put together fixin’s for chai tea concentrate, so, maybe I’ll get my caffeine there.

I’m barely a couple days into this and already I feel hurried and worried. Trying to stay in the present moment (where we have plenty of food) is already a challenge. My refrigerator and shelves are full to bursting, but instead of just feeling grateful for that I feel especially stressed about making the best use of all of it so it will last as long as possible and will be the most healthy and delicious. I’m living in a deeper awareness of the time required to manage food and sustenance.

4 thoughts on ““no groceries” update 1: planning ahead

  1. This is an interesting trial for you and – as always – I marvel at and learn from your open sharing about your life and struggles and joys. Here’s a new perspective on your week. We live aboard a boat in the Caribbean, but we are on a limited budget. Believe me, I know I’m very, very fortunate — so I would call my meal challenges in this environment a First World Problem. I do not have to contend with the highs and lows of struggling with less money, building a new career for the future, while nurturing and parenting two little girls. However, I did realize how much food we toss because it spoiled before we ate it, so I have started buying less and making do. We call the making do nights “boat meals” in that I prepare a dinner from what’s on hand and many ingredients are substituted for what’s called for. We spend less, eat well, and it works. This is sort of what you are learning to do this week. I challenge you to take some of these lessons forward, stock up on healthy dry, canned, and frozen foods, and see have a “boat meal” once or twice a week. It works for us — we are saving money, not wasting as much food, and finding new recipes to enjoy.

    • Ah, Barb, what a great way to think about it. It feels just right. By saying “no shopping” for however long I can make it work, it’s a bit like being out on an ocean. I don’t have limited space, but, I will definitely be relying on the pantry and frozen foods as the days go on. This morning I’m organizing my fridge so I don’t forget anything that might spoil. It takes time to be organized, especially because it doesn’t come naturally for me. Thanks so much for the perspective. It’s going to help!

  2. On the days when the girls are with their dad, have you considered setting aside one of those times to devote to meal prep for the week? Since you have a freezer and space, it may be worth it. Also if you have a crockpot, it might be a good thing to use to ensure that you have a meal on the table at dinner time.

    Lastly, on a day when time gets away from you, it sounds like you need to be a bit more forgiving of your own standards and just feed the kids something. One thrown together meal a week in a fit of tiredness when balanced against the other healthy and nutritious meals of the week is better than mentally taxing yourself over dinner. Not sure what your go to meals are but I am a fan of smoothies, salads and granola when all else fails.

    • Thanks, friend. For what it’s worth, when I said I was embarrassed to show the food I gave the girls, I wasn’t ashamed. I feed them well. I just felt vulnerable sharing publicly something as intimate as food, know what I mean? :-)

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