Being sustainable is being able to do as much yourself as possible. Cooking our own meals is fairly simple and makes a big impact on our sustainability. For us, being sustainable also means being on a tight budget. A home cooked meal is better for your wallet and your health. Unless going out to eat at a pricey, organic only restaurant, the ingredients used to prepare your meal are also suspect. Since there really isn’t an organic farm-to-table restaurant available to us, we have decided to do most of our cooking at home from scratch. We try really hard to avoid processed foods, although with young, picky children sometimes we give in to an occasional chicken nugget or hotdog, but still trying really hard to make both organic. When Paul and I got married four years ago, we got a menu board firmly attached to our kitchen wall and it has been heavily used.
We do eat out still, especially when I am pregnant and nothing except pho sounds good to me, or as a treat and excuse to get out of the house on the weekends. Sometimes I forget to formulate a menu and I suffer the whole week not knowing what to cook, nor having a recipe for “ I don’t know, what do you feel like, honey”.
On our board, I usually only have dinner planned out. Lunch is usually leftovers or sandwiches. Breakfast tends to be repeated circulation of hot or cold cereal, toast, eggs or pancakes. On weekends if we are not too busy we try to get creative and throw in some bacon, waffles or Paul’s favorite, hash browns, which I have not had luck perfecting. If anyone has suggestions for the perfect hash brown, PLEASE leave a comment.
Just planning the dinners can take a significant amount of time. I put effort into including a grain/starch, vegetable and protein with every meal. I like to think that most of the time it works, but sometimes pizza with canned olives and spinach is a combo of all three.
We do a grocery store run once a week for fresh vegetables (mostly greens and broccoli in the damp, dark NW winter), fruit and dairy. Costco is our choice for “bulk” buying. We go once a month or every other month if we can manage, to stock up on whatever organic foods they have to offer us, along with pet supplies, diapers and toilet paper.
A couple of months ago Paul and I decided to go back to good old fashion “paying with cash”. It is a challenge to make a list and stick to it (especially at Costco!) when paying with a credit card because you don’t feel the damage right away. We used to make a list and come home with ten other items that appealed to us while at the store. Paying with cash took care of that issue, particularly when you have a budget! I am sure I shared this with some of you, but my first time paying with cash at Costco went a little bit like Whoopi Goldberg in the following scene from the movie “Ghost”:
As time went by, it got significantly easier to pay with cash. It is so nice to get a small or zero balance on our credit card!! I highly recommend everyone to take the cash challenge. Initially it is scary. Before too long you realize how scary it is to be so attached to a card. Then comes the feeling of liberation, freedom from the plastic world! Seriously, if you are reading this please try! Maybe don’t start with Costco but give yourself a weekly allowance and be realistic! Stick to only using those funds for Starbucks or lunch or whatever fits your fancy. A few days into it, you will realize that paying almost $6 for tall hazelnut mocha is absurd! If you are reading this and thinking, “old news lady” then kudos for you!
Another way to add more sustainability to cooking is eating what you have preserved and what is currently in your pantry. Every Sunday evening I start to prep and partially cook /defrost meals that we will eat through the week. I try to use what I preserved as a means of designing the meals; canned bean, beets, soups, meats, whatever is left at this point.
Last week, it went something like this for us:
Monday-Quesadillas: I had a limited supply, a semi empty fridge and a lot of hungry people, so I had to think fast. I used beans, cheddar cheese and baby greens mix (kale, chard and spinach) as the filling and my home-canned salsa, which was to die for. It was a sad moment since I used up the last jar. I like to make my quesadillas on a griddle. I placed all of the ingredients between two tortillas and ten minutes later, we had a delicious home cooked meal. Next time we are hoping to make them with homemade tortillas.
Tuesday-Spinach-Noodle Casserole “Thingy” with sausages: Basically, fridge-clean out meal. I had angel hair pasta with homemade pesto. I freeze the pesto in small jars from 5lbs of basil that we get from our CSA. It keeps incredibly well. I add the cheese after thawing it. I added more of the baby greens mix and eggs that our wonderful chickens gave us. I mixed the pesto pasta and egg and cooked it on a skillet until the egg was done. Then I boiled the sausages and arranged everything on a bed of baby greens. I wish I had a picture to show for it, but we were hungry and there was not enough time for that. Small children can be very demanding. The 3.5 year old turned her nose up against the “green” noodles but happily ate the sausage and the plain pasta I made her. The one year old on the other hand, happily wolfed it down.
Wednesday-Squash, Potato and Coconut soup: Sounded delish but it was a disaster. I take full blame for that, because I was trying to use two different recipes and a bit of imagination. First mistake was using delicata squash versus butternut squash. I did not realize how much they differ. I roasted the squash (on Sunday, when I do most of my prep work), pureed it in my blender with chicken broth and added the coconut milk and garlic…that was it. A taste test proved it to be kind of, well, gross. I started adding all sorts of spices and still failed to mask a weird after taste of the delicata squash. I told Paul that today’s dinner was not going well. As usual he insisted that he will “eat the rear end out of a dead rhino” so I proceeded to assemble the soup. I chopped up roasted potatoes and poured the soup over them the presentation was very lovely but the flavor was lacking. We both ate as much as we could. Thank goodness the girls had dinner at their grandparent’s home. This will not be a repeat!!
Thursday-Eggplant Lasagna: I substitute the lasagna noodles with eggplant. It contained ground beef, ricotta mixture with egg, basil, salt, pepper and mozzarella, and tomato sauce that we canned. That turned out really good and we enjoyed it for two days.
Friday-Lasagna again, and tea with my family, since it was my birthday.
Saturday and Sunday-Clean out the fridge days: we eat sandwiches, left overs or make a pizza…something easy so we don’t spend majority of our time in the kitchen but rather playing with the girls or doing family activities. Paul also brewed a new batch of beer last weekend. So we all had lots of fun.
On Sunday, I come up with a menu for the following and try to do all the prep work and cooking for the animals. I also do baking and snack making for the week. Our eldest daughter enjoys participating in the baking, especially if icing is involved. I try to make sweet bread or muffins. Last week, I made granola-muesli as a snack.
As for the animals I mix my own chicken scratch and bake egg shells from the previous eggs for the girls to snack on. We sprout mung beans and wheat too. For the dogs, I make sure we have cheese or some sort of protein to add to their food, since the little Chihuahua will not eat plain dog kibble. We have been saving all the meat trimmings in the freezer with hopes of making our own canned dog food. I have no clue when that will happen, but I will document it once it does and once the dogs approve of their food.
This system of menu planning really works for us! It makes shopping easier and cooking a lot more enjoyable. My next goal is to have a monthly menu so we can make a really efficient list for our monthly Costco trip.
Thanks for reading!