Happiness is a Warm Bun

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As a follow-up to the last blog post, I wanted to delve a little bit more into meal planning and prep as a means to save money, since this is one of the main ways I have impacted our overall budget this year. I oscillate between hating and loving preparing meals for all the reasons you might imagine, but I really got a bee in my bonnet after reading the myth of easy cooking, where author Elizabeth Dunn keeps it real, saying, “Promises of ease in the kitchen took hold in the 1940s and 50s, thanks to the flood of women entering the workplace, a newly industrialized food supply, and the invention and marketing of a whole range of timesaving kitchen gadgets. Before that, books about cooking largely admitted what every homemaker knew to be true: that feeding people was backbreaking work, and then you died.”

I immediately discussed this with all working mothers I knew, and got some valuable feedback from one of my sanest friends:

“I like the Atlantic article but its pretty negative.  I think a main problem is food snobbyness in our generation.  Also, if someone cooks dinner five nights a week for years and years, they will get really fast at cooking what they like.  I mean, with [kids and a husband] to feed, I’m just going to cook so fucking much in my life. I’m going to be amazing! I’m a much better cook than I was three years ago… before that I could afford to buy more ready made ingredients and we ate out.  Now I just cook, cook, cook, and meals really are quite fast. Fast but humble meals.”

How beautiful and sanity-preserving is that sentiment? Helps me keep my ego in check while planning family meals. I also find that these ordinary tasks are imbued with more meaning when I see them in context of the narrative they play in my life. I find a greater sense of purpose and peace in attending to my daily chores, such as making a grocery list, shopping and making meals, when I see those activities as a fulfillment of one of the main, basic tenets of my life I care about–nourishing myself and those that sit at my table, in more ways than one. MFK Fisher always says it best: “…but I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.”

On that note, and without further ado, the following are  a couple of ways that we have significantly pared down our grocery bill (and our eating out bill, since we’re prepared for dinner at home!):

– the number one, most important of all thing, is that on Saturday I plan out 6 dinners for the coming week and write down all of the ingredients I will need to make these meals. As per the above discussion, these are HUMBLE meals, and yes, doctored frozen pizza is ALWAYS on the menu one night per week

– I buy produce in season (seems like a duh point, but didn’t always do this–it’s easy to get stuck in a rut with your grocery run)

– buying things in bulk (beans, oatmeal, cereal)

– buying the crappy coffee (wah wah! but still has caffeine…)

What about you guys? Do you have a set budget for weekly groceries? Do you make a meal plan? How many times per week do you end up cooking? Would love to hear!

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P.S. As per the usual, a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

 

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Author: Diana Boss

I am a resident physician in dermatology, living with my husband and our two little ones in the southern USA.

6 thoughts on “Happiness is a Warm Bun”

  1. I love that your humble meals are what I aspire to as my fancy meals. Tofu/veggie yakisoba? Ratatouille? YUM! So inspired that you plan out 6 meals per week, but my question is: when do you prep them? Every single day? 6 days a week? Do you have little food prep/efficiency secrets as to how you make the most of your time after work? My partner and I are trying to ramp up the frequency of meals at home, but with at least 1.5 hours devoted to working out 5 days a week, it’s been hard for us to do anything besides shower and rest in the evenings! Thanks for all that you share and all the lovely quotes. Your blog warms my heart and definitely does NOT make me feel unreasonably guilty about my spending habits (; So please don’t shut it down!

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    1. There ain’t nothing fancy about these meals, trust me. The ratatouille is from my sister and is simple, healthy, easy and cheap: https://abbysveganrecipes.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/ratatouille/, and I’m always on the lookout for quick, healthy recipes and try to test them on the weekend when I have more time so I can whip them out when I need to. Your questions are good ones, and so hard to answer, because the truth is every day and every week are different since, as you know, life in medicine is unpredictable. I cook much more on lighter rotations, and rely on leftovers and more pre-prepared foods during heavier ones. My goal is to someday be organized enough to do a lot of prep on the weekends, but I am usually mostly just enjoying my kids and plowing through Bolognia. I’ve gotten a lot faster at making a lot of staple dishes, and I use my crock pot a lot, which I sometimes prep the night before. I always have “emergency” whole wheat Mac ‘n’ Cheese and frozen pizza stocked in case I’m too tired to make what I had planned, and serve it with finger veggies on the side. And when I can’t even muster that? Cheese, crackers and fruit. It happens. I should also mention that my husband has really been stepping up to the plate in terms of meal prep, too, which is amazing.

      And, holy catfish, working out 1.5 hours five days a week? Can’t wait to see that six pack! Thanks for the sweet comments! XO

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  2. My plan is very similar to what you do Ashley. I have a question for the group, do you have advice on how to keep track of your great meals so that in a few weeks you don’t forget about that option? I feel like i need to make a cookbook and compile my ideas in one place, but that feels like a lot of work. Is there an app for that hahaha?

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    1. So, I love that you asked this question, because I was going to include this in the post but felt like it might be a little information overload OR allow everyone to see how OCD/crazy my brain is. I have two word docs on my computer and the first one is just tons of easy, healthy recipes I’ve found from different sites, and I add to this as I find more dishes I like and can pull off. I’ve toyed with getting the most commonly used ones printed out on magnets to put on the fridge, but haven’t done that yet. The second document is my grocery list–I literally write out for every week all meals planned and their ingredients. For example: “Meals for week of 10/23: ratatouille, salmon and veggies, edemame wild rice salad, etc / Ingredients: salmon, red bell peppers, wild rice, miso, etc” And the magic of this is that on weeks when I’m too busy to do meal planning, I can look back at weeks prior and I already have my grocery list already made and can also see which dishes worked and which didn’t.

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  3. Wow. I read the “myth of easy cooking” article you linked, and I am quite shocked! I don’t think I’ve ever heard (or at least read) someone call out all the claims that cooking is easy. It is soooooo true that it is advertised to be easy but it really is not at all! I have definitely found that whenever I decide to make a supposedly “quick” or “easy” meal, it NEVER is. Getting the ingredients, prepping stuff, the actual cooking, and then cleanup always add up!!!! Now, I know I am not a working woman with children so I really have no room to talk, but during the week I get so exhausted by the end of my days that I can barely find the energy to make myself a substantial meal. The thought of cutting up vegetables sounds torturous, and even worse is thinking of the dishes I’ll make.

    Anyways, this week I actually meal prepped a bit on the weekend. I made some blender salsa, a huge batch of baked sweet potato fries with lots of spices (that I have been bringing to school every day), I prepped a bunch of carrots and celery for a quick snack, cooked up a big batch of rice, and grilled some zucchini that was about to go bad. It has made my week a lot better (or at least cheaper). Normally I just pack a cliff bar or forget to pack anything at all, then end up spending money I don’t have on food from the shop in the commons. This week, I haven’t spent a dime. And for that, I am proud.

    Anyways, I just wanted to say how much I look forward to your posts each week! I learn something new every time I read, and I ADORE reading the comments!! Your blog is so interactive which I think is amazing!

    One more note. Your post totally inspired me to start a series on my blog of actually easy (or at least easy-ish) meal ideas. Normally I post stuff I make on the weekends, so the recipes are complicated and require too many ingredients, but I’d like to test out recipes and find ones that are easy, healthy, and delicious for people who don’t have hours to spend cooking. Just a thought!!!

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    1. I found the Myth of Easy Cooking both so validating (yes! even those easy recipes take for fricking ever!) and a little discouraging (how will I ever achieve the life I want, where I am actually cooking meals on a consistent basis for my family?), but like my friend said, maybe the secret is in preparing (extremely) humble meals. Good job on the weekend meal prep! I love how that lets you get in lots of good veggies during the week without having to do all that onerous prep. I have packed a lunch for years and always pack a PB&J (natural peanut butter on Dave’s Killer bread) and a piece of fruit. It makes it easy to grocery shop for lunches, and is cheap and quick to prepare–also filling. Probably not as great in terms of how nutritious it is, but oh well. Win some, lose some. I’m so excited to check out your blog for more ideas! The garbanzo curry and ratatouille have been game changers for us!!!

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