One topic that is not widely talked about in the minimalism world is food. We organize, cull, and downsize our things – but somehow forget about the most important item in life, food.
Food is, of course, a necessity.
Why do we place more emphasis on external items and forget about the building blocks of our day?
The secret in successfully minimizing wasted food is meal prepping. I’m sure you have seen those crazy meal prepping photos showing perfectly portioned food in Tupperwares. While the idea is the same, I’m not suggesting that extreme of a change.
If you are new to this habit, it helps to start with packing lunches. Oftentimes we eat lunch away from the home – which is a disadvantage in itself because you cannot freshly cook your own purchased groceries when you’re away. This practice will help you, not only cut costs, but also work towards building a healthier lifestyle. If you’re very new to the game, you can make a large soup/stew, and divide up the leftovers into individual portions. Cooking one time can provide lunch for the rest of the week!
Whenever I share my habits with strangers, I always seem to get the same wide-eyed, alarmed look. I am sure they think I spend hours slaving over a hot stove every weekend – but you’d be surprised how quick it is to prepare meals for the week.
Think in terms of reheating. Before you choose your meal, think about how reheating affects your food. While chicken breast and fish might dry out after a minute in the microwave, stews do not. Find something that is slightly covered in liquid to help prevent next day dry meat. This tip helps me stay excited, and therefore motivated to stay on track. I’m not saying to never eat fish or chicken breast – but I suggest making them fresh for dinner when you have some time.
Finish out ingredients. The biggest tip in cutting wasted food is using the same ingredient in multiple meals. For example, if I have a kale/spinach/chard frittata for breakfast, I make sure my lunch can use the same vegetable so I use it up before it goes bad. This also works for the week after. Sometimes, a recipe will call for a stalk of celery. Instead of tossing out the rest, I look for recipes that incorporate celery the week after. If all else fails, I cut it up and use it as a snack with hummus or peanut butter.
Figure out the shelf/fridge life. There are some things you cannot prepare ahead of time – or should not. Smoothies will separate the next day if you blend and leave it in the fridge. To prevent this, I suggest cutting up each item ahead of time. Come morning, you can just dump, blend, and go. Additionally, some salads should not be made ahead of time for fear of the greens wilting. Pro tip: Use mason jars for salads. Put the items in from wet to dry. Add a little square of paper towel at the top before sealing the jars to soak up moisture. This trick works for salads up to 4 days, but best for 3 days.
Review your fridge and pantry prior to grocery shopping. A lot of us like to shop in bulk from CostCo, or really anywhere when sales are involved. This habit is wonderful – if we actually use the items. I used to have a bad habit of forgetting what I have and rebuying it when I need it. If you forget long enough, you might miss the expiration date and that is money out the door. Before you choose your meals, look at what you have to work with. Oftentimes, I have extra bits of broccoli, bacon, or spinach I can incorporate the week after.
Only one elaborate recipe a week. I define elaborate as something very hands on. To some people, this might mean multiple pans. To others, this might mean more than 5 ingredients. Whatever elaborate is to you, only choose one. Meal prepping is sustainable when it feels less like a chore. Let’s say your breakfast will be smoothies, your lunch will be chicken stew over rice, and your dinner will be a copycat Chipotle bowl. Smoothies require you to cut up ingredients. Stews and rice require you to dump everything in a large pot and simmer. Pro tip: Get a rice cooker – total timesaver. However, the copycat Chipotle bowl requires you to marinate meat, wash and cut up lettuce, sauté slices onions and bell peppers, and make two different salsas. This is your elaborate recipe. Because there is only one, you can work on this while the stew is simmering and the breakfast ingredients are already stored. Imagine if you had two elaborate recipes a week; you’d get discouraged and probably give up after the second recipe. Make your food easy for you!
Choose the right time to cook. While there is no magical hour when your cooking comes out better than others, you should work your meal prep around your other weekly chores. I choose to do mine on Sundays because I need the Saturday to unwind from the week. On Sundays, I run my laundry while I prep my food. There are times when I know I will be home cleaning or watching Netflix, so I will have food simmering or baking in the background. While you wait for things to finish cooking or cool off, you can use the time to clean up after yourself.
I know this all sounds daunting, but it gets easier with time. It will become as second nature as washing dishes and folding laundry!