Monday, November 7, 2011

Minimalist Food Challenge (Day 8)

The contents of my pantry before the challenge
The minimalist food challenge is going very well so far! We've been making a dent in the foods we have, and we ate at home every single meal last week.

The Budget:

As far as money goes, I spent $57.09 on food this week, and most of the items I bought were to replace foods that we finished off during the week (milk, peanut butter, etc.). I'm a little embarrassed to admit that the $57.09 includes $14.67 I spent on a frozen turkey breast, because I was nervous that I might spend too much money and not be able to buy one when Thanksgiving rolls around. Whether or not this is giving in to my food hoarding tendencies, it made me feel better about my holiday meal plan, and the turkey is safe in the deep freezer. I'm only a little ahead of budget even given that large purchase. If I put the turkey in the last week's budget instead, I only spent $42.42 this week!

Thoughts & Reflections:

I'm surprised at how much food costs. I've spent a lot of my time since college (when I was on a very tight budget and often eating beans and Ramen noodles) disregarding the numbers on the cash register because I've (blessedly) been in the financial position to do so. Jaymz and I have never been that great at sticking to a budget, but we try to save in smaller ways. However, when we were doing our taxes last year, we discovered just how much we spend on food and I was shocked. I hope to carry the food budget and meal planning aspects of this experiment on past this month and into our regular routine.

I have to say that I'm surprised at the prices of various foods in both directions (pricey and inexpensive) now that I'm paying closer attention. For instance, this week I purchased 10lbs of potatoes for a mere $1.98. Does that seem ridiculously low to you, or is it just me? I spent more than that on one jar of peanut butter ($2.16) and the quantity of food doesn't even come close enough to compare. One of the things I think will be helpful for me through this challenge (and in the future) is to make a point to visit the grocery store less frequently. I only went once this week, and I felt like that one trip was a much more efficient use of both my time and money (as opposed to my usual several trips per week). I also went to the cheaper grocery store, so I wasn't tempted by a gorgeous loaf of gluten free bread or any other goodies that cost more than I'd like and aren't part of my plan.

The other thought I have for this week is that I'm proud of myself for preparing all the meals for everyone every day, and totally sticking to the challenge. I had worried it would be more difficult, but so far, the key has been simply being more intentional about food preparation.

The Adjustments:

The first change we made that affected our first week of the challenge was something we did a few days before the challenge officially began: We cleaned out our pantry cabinet. (The "before" photograph of the contents is at the top of the post, and the "after" photo is to the right.) We needed to move the pantry cabinet in order to put the new freezer in, and for us to do that, it needed to be emptied. I was embarrassed at the many multiples of things that I found in there (which is one problem with keeping shelves constantly full). I was newly motivated to check thoroughly for ingredients before purchasing more.

The best side-effect of this organization is that I now know what is in the cabinet and where to find it. In fact, it was this organizational task that renewed my motivation to take on this challenge in the first place!

The second change we've made mostly affects my partner. Jaymz is (once again) taking his lunch to work every day. This is something we've tried doing intermittently in the past with mixed results. He's very particular about the types of foods he is willing to take to work (specifically, how much effort it takes to reheat, if necessary). He's also very bad at remembering to make his lunch the night before (as in, if he was going to take a sandwich or other cold food item) so that is a huge factor in our previous failure rate. In any case, previous successes at him taking his lunch to work involve preparing a hot dish completely separate from our other meals and pre-packaging it in five (workday) servings. This week, he stayed home on Monday (so he ate leftovers), then he took leftovers from Monday's dinner for Tuesday and Wednesday, and a pasta dish that he prepared for Thursday and Friday. I'm not sure yet how we're going to solve this problem sustainably, but I'm sure we'll think of something!

This Week's Tasks:

  1. I'd like to get better at advanced menu planning, so I'm going to work on that.
  2. We need to come up with a long-term strategy for Jaymz's lunches that both of us can be happy with (not too much work for me with good results for Jaymz). He will be home most of this week, so it'll be a good time to troubleshoot this issue.
  3. We're going out of town for a couple of days this week, so we're planning to spend most (if not all) of our weekly food budget on eating out during those days. This is definitely going to throw a monkey wrench in the routine I have going so far, but I'm pretty sure we can still make it work.
Here we go, week two! 

I was inspired to start this challenge (in part) by Momma Jorje: Monday MinimalistMomma Jorje's Monday Minimalist series. I'll be participating in Monday Minimalist for these Mondays in November, giving you updates on the progress of our minimalist food challenge.

Go on over to Momma Jorje and grab her brand new MM button!


  1. You're amazing! I was just telling my husband about this and how you're doing it. We really should do it too. It's such a good idea. I'm too scared still, but maybe....
    There were really cheap potatos at our market too. The only thing is that from what I know, potatoes are one of the Worst things to get not organic. They use serious chemicals into the groung to grow those guys. I don't mean to be a buzz kill and maybe I should keep my mouth shut. those things just really spook me.
    I'm really impressed with your month. Major props!

  2. Great job! If you can keep your pantry organized, it should be a lot easier to keep aware of ingredients you have on hand.

    My mother used to take inventory of her freezer every time we'd reorganize it / clean it out. That made it a lot easier for her (she couldn't access it herself).

    As for lunches, have you heard or seen anything about Bento lunches? It might be just the fun needed to help Jaymz take more interest in lunches from home. You can use anything, it doesn't have to be Japanese foods. I used to make myself Bento lunches even though I was coming home to eat. It gave me a little bonus to look forward to each day.

    Just google Bento for examples and don't be intimidated by the fancy ones!

    I'm so glad you're participating and using my button! Thanks again!

  3. We've been working on this same idea for the past 5-6 months, and in terms of packing for work, we have found a few strategies that really work. We have three people in our household that needed to take food to work, so I began cooking a huge meal on Monday nights, with plenty of leftovers intentionally. Both David and Cam would take those to work and Linda would have leftovers after work when she got home late. I would make some sort of new meal on Tuesday night that uses leftover individual ingredients from Monday's meal. On Wednesday, I make another large meal and the leftovers provide people with lunches on Thursday and Friday.

    We have been eating ALL of our meals at home, for the most part, unless we order take out, which we only do if we have coupons AND if there will be enough leftovers for a lunch the following day. That little rule keeps us from spending on overpriced food that only lasts for one meal.

    I have been trying to cook a lot of meals that can be altered and changed for variety. For example: if I make a pasta with a marinara sauce one night, I make enough sauce (home made) that all I have to do is add meatballs and the guys can take meat subs to work. I'm using almost all of the same ingredients, and they're getting variety.

    I've loved doing this. I love knowing what's in my pantry, I love making a huge meal and knowing that it is going to feed several people for several days. That is the best feeling. And for some reason, I LOVE the feeling of throwing a leftover ingredient (especially if it's fresh produce or meat or something more spendy) into a new dish and seeing it transformed into something we haven't already tried that week.

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