Before I started eating primal, I used to sit down with my cookbooks on the weekend and plan out each meal for the upcoming week. I would make a detailed grocery list that included every ingredient I didnt already have. Then I set out on a mission to buy everything I needed as cheaply as possible. In retrospect the meals seem disjointed. They were not only disconnected from each other but totally irrelevant to the season: chicken enchiladas on Monday, stir-fry on Tuesday, spaghetti on Wednesday, etc Furthermore, it was exhausting! I mean, some Sundays I just didnt feel like spending hours planning meals and buying food. Then, despite all my preparations, at some point in the week the inevitable happened: take out. Chicken ceasar salad night would be pushed to some indefinite future date so we could collapse on the couch with a pizza after the kids were in bed. Come Saturday Id throw out a crisper full of rotting vegetables and start the whole crazy cycle all over again.
Im doing a lot of things differently these days. Obviously, vegetables are the foundation of my diet and I dont include grains and starchy vegetables in my usual fare. But aside from (although perhaps as a result of these dietary changes, my entire approach to daily cooking and meal planning has changed.
First of all, I make it a point to buy and enjoy quality foods. Americans spend proportionally less of their income on food than any other industrialized nation. Since the money we spend on groceries is one of the most flexible portions of our monthly expenses, we naturally appreciate the idea of getting a bargain on food. Unfortunately, coupons and store discounts are oriented towards the sale of processed food products. And, as you might have heard lately, the meat from your average supermarket is of questionable quality. I know most people just arent used to thinking about it this way, but it does seem a little strange that we would care so little about the substances we are literally putting inside of our bodies throughout the day. I think this comes from a lack of understanding about the impact eating real food has on your health. Id rather live in a smaller house, drive a cheaper car, and forego a lot of comforts before Id resort to feeding myself whatever is on sale that week at Kroger. Oddly, I dont spend that much more on food now than I used to. This is mainly because I buy less and dont waste as much. I also stock up on good quality protein when I see an opportunity.
Second, when you pay $6 or more for a pound of beef, or get the red peppers yourself from an organic farm just outside of town, dumping a jar of Ragu Light Parmesan Alfredo Cheese Creations Sauce all over it just doesnt seem right, even if you do have a coupon. So, I end up making my meals from scratch, and an alfredo cheese sauce creation, under normal circumstances, is more trouble than its worth. Instead of fussing with lots of different recipes, our meals tend to be simple, and focused on a few great-tasting components. Steak, fish, shrimp with whatever vegetables we received that week from our CSA, some butter, some salt and pepper, a spice or herb, a simple sauce or pesto. Its good, its simple, and it never gets old because it is limitless in possibilities. Eff you, Ragu.
Finally, I dont do big weekend grocery shopping trips every week because if I want to do something else on Sunday afternoon, Im not setting our family up for a week of drive-throughs and pizza delivery. Luckily for us, our freezer currently contains 20lbs of ground moose and even more halibut that Daves parents killed and butchered themselves and sent us from Alaska. But even in the absence of such a windfall, theres usually some meat in the freezer. For 5 months of the year, I get a lot of produce from our CSA farm share. If weve got a pound of moose, a head of cabbage, and a few staples on hand, we can have a pretty good dinner.
In summary, here’s a rundown of how my old routine compares to my new approach:
Then: I wasted a lot of weekend time that could have been spent on more interesting activities.
Now: I go to the supermarket irregularly and less frequently and make quick trips to the little market in town when I run out of something. I get to take my kids to a farm on Wednesdays to get our produce.
Then: Instead of having fun and being creative with my cooking, I was boring myself to death by executing recipes.
Now: We seldom eat the exact same meal twice. Perhaps contrary to what one might think, making use of whatever we have on hand and keeping our meals focused on a few key ingredients allows me to be more creative and innovative in my cooking.
Then: In order to spare myself more boring time in the kitchen, I would buy processed convenience foods which werent healthy for me or my family.
Now: I can spend as little or as much time in the kitchen as I feel like because I am not beholden to a weekly plan that requires I make enchiladas on Tuesday no matter what.
Then: I was buying cheap food of questionable quality in order to compensate for having to buy such a huge diversity of ingredients.
Now: I buy higher quality food and I buy less of it.
Then: I was wasting food because I didnt stick to my plan or the recipe didnt call for all of what I had bought (green onions, anyone.
Now: I waste less food because I dont rely on recipes to use the food we have.
Now that Ive said all this, let me be sure I am not giving the wrong impression of myself. I probably sound more organized than I really am. Sometimes I dont feel like cooking and I give my kids cottage cheese and deli turkey for dinner. Sometimes a bunch of green onions still rots in the crisper. Sometimes I bust open a packet of McCormick Bearnaise Sauce Mix just because I cant resist the yummy MSG. My point here is that overall Ive found a way to not only eat healthier foods but also increase the enjoyment I receive from preparing and eating while greatly simplifying related processes.
I believe that a lot of people will find familiar elements in my old routine because it is a common approach to mealtime management. To be fair, my heart was in the right place. I wanted to make delicious and interesting meals for my family every night. I was making reasonably nutritious food and was trying hard not to rely on fast food or take out meals. Turns out, theres a better way.
That said, I am not interested in living up to an impossible ideal of healthy kitchen efficiency and I hope youre not either. What works for me might not be the same thing that works for you. For that matter, I’ll likely be doing things somewhat differently five years out. If Ive given you an idea or two, then Im happy. Likewise, if you have tips or an approach to weekly meal planning (or un-planning as the case may be, leave a comment, Id love to hear from you.