Not keeping enough of the right ingredients in the house. I’ve learnt that it’s really important to make a list beforehand of what we’re running out of, as well as what things we imagine we’ll be needing next. It’s an utter pain to traipse off to the supermarket and bring home all-new ingredients for potato soup, and start chopping and simmering the onions and what-have-you, only to find that you don’t actually have any potatoes left. Or whatever else you were quite sure that you had in the pantry.
Not only this, but lately I’ve started to keep track of what we’ve got in the pantry or fridge, how long it’s been there, and how long it’s taking for us to use it up. Because, like most families, we tend have ebbing and flowing eating patterns. One month we seem to be eating bolognaise every second day; but the next month we might not even think of it of at all, yet the sourdough pizza recipe is getting a flogging. I’ve tried keeping every single ingredient in the house at any one time, but this was a bit of a fail, because we simply don’t have enough room in our fridge and freezer for 1 meal’s worth of every kind of meat, for instance. Also, vegetables, fruits and other perishables like non-fermented dairy products don’t keep. However, I try and keep at least one of every kind of non-perishable ingredient in store that I’d aim for in my healthy meal plans – that we’d use over the course of a month or two.
Not putting the right ingredients within easy reach. Healthy meal planning so often means “getting enough vegies in”, and the best chance vegies have in this house is if they are placed right at the front of the fridge. Too far back and they risk getting neglected, taking on such alarming lost-vegie personas so that no-one’s brave enough to touch them anymore in case they have gone squishy and foul. Also, our fridge freezes the vegies if they are too far back in the compartments. At the front, I can see them, so I can cook them. Which brings us to…
Messy fridge. My bad. I added “clean out the fridge” to my list of weekly cleaning chores this year. It’s just so easily forgotten, probably because we use it so many times a day. A messy fridge is scary. It sends even the most enthusiastic would-be chef into depression. Lay-cookers like ourselves stand no chance. Dads fare the worst. Tackle the fridge regularly!
Plan ahead for the lag days between using up the last of the perishables and the next shopping trip. This one gets me all the time! The limp-carrot-and-greying-cabbage-soup-contemplation syndrome. These are the times when we buy takeaway in despondency, or we attempt to make a clever meal cobbled together from eccentric ingredients, which ends up going wrong because we left it too late in the day to try such things and we’re all suffering from low blood sugar and feeling cranky. And it really shouldn’t have to be this way. If only one (that’s me, folks, although you’re invited too!) could paste up a list of easy-to-fix meals which don’t require perishables and that can tie one over until the next shopping day, then one should be a merry little well-fed elf again. Check out my Real Food fast meal list. I add to it regularly.
Being stingy in the supermarket. Easy for me to do – and it’s usually about meat – I don’t know about you. We shop and cook within a budget, with a primary emphasis on nutrition, and a secondary emphasis on frugality. But sometimes this rogue stingy streak gets the better of me, and I wonder whether it’s really worth paying $x for a certain food. But as a general rule of thumb, if we’re talking about an ancient and nutritious wholefood, then it probably is worth paying for. A body well-fed on quality nutritious food won’t crave costly junk foods, but a body lacking certain key nutrients is quite likely to crave, and thus cave in to, junk foods – which ultimately cost more than the original healthy food, over whose price one was humming and harring.
Seems over-dramatic? How often have you skipped buying a tray of meat in the supermarket, because the price of meat seems to high, only then to find that at the end of the week, you’ve run out of ingredients to make a round meal – so you buy fish and chips? Or frozen crumbed chicken breast fillet? Or forgot protein-rich foods altogether and just served up a larger amount of potato wedges or pizza or nachos? (Maybe it’s just me, but I doubt I’m the only one who’s ever resorted to these things.) Eating too many carbohydrates is an easy habit to fall into when there aren’t enough good-quality-protein ingredients in the house. Also, this supermarket-stinginess can manifest in my buying cheap dairy instead of the local small dairy or organic dairy products. But then I remember how much cleaner and how much better-fed and grass-grazed the small farm dairy cattle are, and I feel silly. The small-farm dairy or organic dairy milks and yoghuts always taste better, and contain higher amounts of essential fatty acids, minerals and vitamins. Quality foods come from quality sources. You can’t feed a cow corn and scraps (cows are made to digest fresh grass!), pump it full of antibiotics, and milk it under dirty conditions and still expect healthy, nutritious milk. Nope, supermarket stinginess never pays.
*Note as of April 2011 – I have found a good butcher! I am no longer buying meat in the supermarket. My new pressure cooker has also enabled me to make a lot more foods from scratch, thus eliminating more “grocery items” from my supermarket list. Watch this space; I hope to ditch the supermarket altogether soon!
Failing to sit down each week and assess the coming week’s activities against a vague yet healthy meal plan. Healthy meals come most easily to this household if I make sure I’ve had a think beforehand. That seems simple, but I let it slip all too often. Also, sometimes I make meal plans, but they are absurd once down on paper – my ideas don’t come up to “healthy scratch” or they just simply don’t fill up the week. Pork roast with parsnips, custard, minestrone, berry and nut smoothie, soaked oats… OK, that’s cool. But it doesn’t make a weeks’ healthy meal plan… maybe a few days when you include lunches! Maybe I’ll start putting this on the calendar this year as an actual appointment with myself every week. Feels a bit like tying string on a finger to remind myself why I have string tied on a different finger, but I’ll keep you updated as to whether it works!
*As of April 2011, nope, I still haven’t tried this. However, our new pressure cooker is making life in the kitchen a whole lot easier of late…
Making over-rigid or elaborate meal plans. My buck-the-system instinct kicks in and I start compulsively sabotaging my own perfect plans!
Not making any meal plans at all. Um, yeah – pretty self-explanatory! I don’t function well within a highly rigid structure, but failing to give myself any structure at all never works for long. A few days here and there abdicating responsibility and eating scavenged leftovers or cheese on toast, I can get away with, but this just doesn’t work in the long run. For starters, I have a much higher tolerance for leftovers and cheese on toast than the rest of my family. 😉 Plus, sooner or later you inevitably run out of leftovers – and cheese!
Check out my Real Food fast meal list <– link broken but soon to be fixed! – for some fast ideas to add to your meal repertoire… for the days when your best intentions soared regally out the window… without you!