I shared recently that I'm noticing how my lifestyle is evolving all in good time. I've got a set of methods I use in my daily routines. They're constantly changing and improving. Nothing is nailed or mastered. Yet, as I look at where I started, I'm happy to see things have come a ways since then. My hope is that method posts like these offer you a starting point from an ally in the fight to do things a little better. Take them, adapt them, and notice the progress as it happens. Then let's compare notes. I'd love to hear your stories along the way.
Eating well at home is a multi-step ordeal for me. It wasn't always. This happened slowly, and not all in order.
Step 1: Budgeting
We use Mint.com and the Mint app to track our spending in the Budget tab. Since I buy food from several sources, the app makes it easy to track and organize all the food spending. It motivates me to eat at home when I pick an amount we want to spend in advance, and then do the shopping pretty quick. Then the money is spent, and I want to eat what I've already bought instead of going out and spending double.
Step 2: Planning
I use this little Meal Calendar and Shopping List pad that Mitch got me. I take stock of what I've got that needs used up, search Pinterest or my own recipe box for for recipes with those ingredients, and build a menu from there. I only really plan dinners, and just stock up on the same things for breakfast and we lunch on leftovers. Once I've got the dinners picked, I make a list of what I need to make it all.
Step 3: Shopping Consciously
Sourcing - This will come up again, but basically being willing to buy from multiple vendors is key. I buy produce, bread and eggs at the farmer’s market (local, decent pricing, usually organic, unpackaged). I get our meat from a farm that treats the animals humanely and feeds them naturally. Then I rely on conventional groceries or our health food co-op for the rest. I don't have to buy EVERYTHING local, unpackaged, and organic, but I can get a lot of staples that way. Plus, I make the farmer's market a social thing (usually going with another gal, and getting breakfast after).
Ingredients - I'm not a huge label-reader. Mostly, I just check the ingredients list and keep a few things in mind: the fewer the better, whole food is good, stick to what I can pronounce.
Cost - Again, I source from several locations less often instead of doing one-stop shopping every week. Sticking to list helps too. When I plan, I find recipes with similar ingredients to stretch them further, and I use leftover ingredients for snacks and lunches.
Environment - I use my own bags, and pretty much refuse to bag all my produce separately. I store food in class jars and containers, buy less packaged food and in bulk when I can. It's little things. I'm hoping to add composting to my routine eventually.
Step 4: Cooking
The more I do it, the better stuff tastes. I've learned similar dishes require similar measurements and ingredients, so I can apply what worked with one sauce to another, and one vegetable dish to another, and so on. I've also learned what flavors complement each other. (i.e. garlic and lemon, cumin and chili powder, rosemary and thyme, oregano and paprika.) I've also kind of picked up on how long things take to cook, and what cooking method works best. (i.e. potatoes boil for about 20 minutes when they're quartered ahead of time.) I stick with one or two methods for awhile to master them (i.e. stovetop, baking, crockpot, etc.)
Step 5: Cleaning
The mess used to be the worst for me. This is where having an ally makes it way easier. I like to listen to music or a podcast, or have company in the kitchen to make it fun. I also clean as I go.
Step 6: Avoiding Waste
Composting is on my radar. For now, I focus on buying what we'll actually eat, eating leftovers for breakfast or lunch, recycling, and buying fewer things that come packaged.