January is always about resolutions, new goals, and fresh beginnings. Although I’m actually a big fan of resolutions, I did not make a formal list this year. Yet regardless of resolutions of not, in January, I find myself succumbing to an invisible pull, creating the need to purge, clean, organize, plan.
Maybe because the cold and wet of outdoors forces me inside and the normal levels of clutter make me claustrophobic. Maybe my mind is tired and does not want to be burdened down by the pages and pages of recipes I saved and piled “to make one day”. Maybe the blank slate of the coming year is overwhelming, and I need to create order by coming up with plans and lists.
So yesterday I killed 4 typical New Years Resolutions with one stone: organized, purged, planned, and saved money. Chances are, your list of resolutions includes the exact same things. Here’s how I did it, at least in one aspect of the homestead: food.
My family isn’t a big spender on “stuff”, so when we need to save money, the first thing we cut back on is our food shopping. Cooking what’s on hand is not a hardship for us, certainly not for most of the month. I keep a well stocked pantry, plus I have my garden. My mom keeps me supplied with random cuts of beef, lamb and pork depending on who got butchered at their rural hobby farm. There are almost always a stewing hen or two from my birds. At any given time, I have enough ingredients to feed a neighborhood. Yet with no plan, I often resulted to “easy”, which means buying new ingredients.
GOAL: Save money by cooking what I currently have in the house, organize the freezers, purge and organize the piles of recipe cutouts I’ve saved, and create a meal plan.
First order: organizing and inventorying the freezers. In the garage, we have 2 chest freezers. In the kitchen, we have a small bottom freezer on the fridge. I’m pretty great at not forgetting about what’s in the fridge, and some frozen things, like chicken stock and beans, make quick rotation. But otherwise, the freezers may as well be a black hole. Things go in, they rarely come out.
The first step to figuring out exactly what I had, and make a list of what the discoveries were. If you’re bad at labeling, this also becomes a game of “what is this???” I’m pretty lax about the “use by” guidelines, so other than a bag of berries that spilt everywhere, I kept it all. But that’s just me, make your own call. There are lots of resources available if you are concerned about food safety.
Some of the fun things I found were: 2 partially full jars of peas (which got consolidated into one damn jar); 16 half pints of pomegranate juice, labeled from 2014 and 9 jars without labels that I can only assume were from 2013; 4 cups of pitted plums; a gallon sized bag of cherry tomatoes, and a jar of something green that I’m 90% sure is tomatillos.
I didn’t bother to inventory my pantry, because I’m pretty well versed in what’s in there, but now would be a great time to check yours or your cabinets if you
tend to forget about things also have black holes in your kitchen. I typed up my inventory list, and intend on crossing off items as I use them.
Second Order: organize, purge and plan. Now, armed with my inventory list, I sat down in front of my stack of recipes. I’ve written about this before: I have serious hoarding problems when it comes to recipe cutouts and printouts. Not as bad as I’ve been in the past, but I still have a lot. I went though both the stack of “recent” pages and my binder, and pulled out anything that didn’t sounds good anymore or I know I won’t ever make. I also pulled out anything that used one of the ingredients that was on my freezer inventory list. The goal was to plan for as many meals that I had stuff for, and try out as many new recipes from my stack as possible.
Now this is impossible for me to do during summer, because what the garden provides is different each day, but in winter its totally feasible. I have limited options: kale, chard, spinach, arugula, lettuce, bok choy, carrots, beets, last remainder of fall broccoli. From the pantry: winter squash, onions, garlic. I also don’t have any of the urgency that summer produce causes: as in, OMG I HAVE 25 POUNDS OF HEIRLOOM TOMATOES THAT WILL GO BAD IN 5 MINUTES. Winter basically suspends everything in slow motion, so it won’t really matter if I pick beets tomorrow or next week.If you are new to meal planning and trying to prevent food waste, the key is to think about how much of an ingredient a meal uses. If you know you won’t finish something up, use it in another meal within a few days. For me, feta, milk, and (if I didn’t have it growing) cilantro are my downfall. By the time I thought of another meal, they usually had spoiled. To prevent this waste, I make sure I have at least two dishes that use up a highly perishable ingredients.
Third Order: save money. Now that I had a meal plan together, I made a grocery list for any fresh or new ingredients needed. For my 14 nights of dinner, which will inevitably stretch for longer because of leftovers, I only needed to buy 7 new items. If I don’t have a giant shopping list, particularly without expensive cheese, I will guaranteed save money.
In case you’re wondering what my dinner meal plan looks like for the next two weeks? Here it is, and what I need to purchase:
- broccoli-quinoa salad with buttermilk dressing (buy buttermilk, use extra for blackberry and peach scones)
- tandoori-spiced leg of lamb, with chard and naan (buy ginger)
- udon noodle bowl with bok choy, ginger, and fish
- leftover lamb, arugula and roasted squash salad with pomegranate molasses dressing
- barley bowl with roasted cherry tomatoes, kale, avocado and poached egg (buy avocado)
- burritos with beans, salsa, corn, charred cherry tomatoes, avocado and cheese (buy tortillas)
- quiche with kale, feta, sun-dried tomatoes, and bacon or sausage (buy milk, feta)
- mustard crusted rack of lamb with pomegranate glaze, polenta and green salad
- chickpea and bulgar soup
- beef shank chili and cornbread
- chicken pho
- leftover lamb, lentil and chickpea salad with feta and tahini
- curried meatballs, naan, beet and carrot salad with curry dressing and pistachios (buy yogurt)
- pasta with greens, beans, and sun dried tomatoes
Do you have resolutions this year? What steps are you taking to make sure they are fulfilled?