I’ve read plenty online about minimalist home, fashion and lifestyle in general, but one thing I noticed that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention is the role of food within a minimalist lifestyle. A quick googling yields a few articles here and there, but nowhere near as many results as minimalism’s more popular subject areas. We spend a considerable amount of time shopping for, preparing and eating food, after all, so I believe it’s an important aspect of minimalism to consider.
So why adopt a minimalist cooking routine? The way I see it, the benefits are the same as any kind of minimalist undertaking, whether that be keeping one’s home simple and tidy, reducing the amount of clothes we own or ditching those stressfully elaborate holiday plans. The key aim with all these kind of projects for me is reducing overwhelm, being able to stay present in the moment and leaving space in my life to work on my relationships with those around me. Our society tells us to do more, be more, have more…and, unsurprisingly, we end up collapsing in a heap. Not fun! So if you feel like food is just one more of those million-and-one things that are stressing you out, let me share with you a few of the ways that we have simplified the cooking routine in our household, saving money and reducing food waste in the process.
1. Focus less on recipes and more on meals.
I used to freak out about what we were going to eat – especially for dinner – until I realised that it just wasn’t necessary. I would stress myself out trying to find recipes, I would waste time, money and energy on procuring ingredients that I wasn’t likely to use again, and then I wouldn’t end up overly impressed with the food anyway. I now rarely follow recipes, and I’m pleased to report that we are saving a lot of money while still enjoying a wide variety of different foods.
One way in particular I have really embraced not stressing about trying new recipes is that I have donated all my cookbooks. Every. Single. One. This was a big step for me, as I was a major cookbook hoarder, but I am much happier for having done it! Instead, I now keep a lever arch file in the kitchen cupboard with copies of recipes that I would like to try one day.
The key here is to just work with what you have – meaning with your culinary skill level, as well as with the ingredients that are available and affordable to you. And just remind yourself that it’s ok to let go of your expectations surrounding the ‘perfect’ meal. The perfect meal is nothing more than consuming something tasty and nourishing in a relaxed environment. It doesn’t matter what the food looks like or how the table is laid!
2. Get into the habit of buying the bare minimum.
When I started really looking at our food habits, I noticed that we weren’t necessarily buying only what we needed. We were buying what we needed and a bit more just in case. For example, if a jar of peanut butter was only half full, I would put it on the shopping list and buy a new one the next week…only for the unopened jar of peanut butter to sit there for several weeks before it was actually needed, creating more clutter in the pantry and representing an unnecessary cost. Once I realised what was going on, I started making a mental note of the quantity of staple foods we consume in a week and sticking to these. Shop for only what you need, and you will notice that your pantry and fridge feel so much less overwhelming!
3. Put together a meal plan each week.
Meal planning seems to be the topic du jour of the internet, so there are plenty of resources out there which could be of help. In our house, again, we focus less on trying out fancy recipes and more on practical meals that fit in with our level of skill, time available for food preparation, budget and available ingredients. Having a planned set of meals for each week saves money, avoids food waste and impulse buying, and most importantly, avoids the overwhelm associated with having to come up with something on the spot.
Here are a two ways I suggest you could meal plan, minimalist style:
- Spend some time making a comprehensive list of meals that you usually eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, then choose from these when meal planning. When you find a new recipe you enjoy, or you notice you have started eating something new quite regularly, just add it to the list so it can stay on rotation. If this seems a little limiting, commit to trying something new out every few months, or dine out every once in a while to change things up. We make an effort to go out for dinner once or twice a month, which provides more variety in our routine, allows us to spend some quality time together and is a great way to discover and support local businesses.
- Build a list of meal components rather than meals themselves to help you plan a series of flexible meals throughout the week that you can get creative with. This works best for dinner, I find. I like to do this by breaking a potential meal up into three basic components: base (eg. pasta, brown rice, soup, salad), protein (eg. meat, tofu, eggs, legumes) and extras/sides (eg. salad, roasted vegetables, steamed vegetables, bread). Make a list of each component based on foods you usually use throughout the week, then to create a meal choose one option from each list and brainstorm to see what you can come up with! I love that this type of meal planning can be flexible to fit in with the specific vegetables or leftovers I have on hand, as well as the seasonings that I usually use or might be wanting to use up, rather than giving me a specific meal I have to make.
4. Leave one night a week for eating leftovers.
We usually make this Friday, Saturday or Sunday night in our house. We instigated this about a year ago and I never cease to be amazed by how many meals we can make out of what appears to be nothing! It turns out that when I think there’s really nothing left is the best time for creating inventive and surprisingly delicious meals!
5. Do regular pantry and fridge clean-outs.
Similar to eating up leftovers, but on a much larger scale! We did a major clean-out of both our pantry and fridge earlier this month; for almost two weeks we bought only milk, cereal, fruit, vegies and a select few other things that we go through quickly. Everything else had to already be in the house. I suggest scheduling a clean-out week at regular intervals each year (in our house every six months works well), then when the time comes around, dedicate some time to doing a thorough inventory of both the pantry and fridge. Write down a list of foods that need to be consumed in priority (items that are about to go bad as well as items that are in date but that you haven’t been using), then start brainstorming what you’ll be making with them. Also make sure all priority items are in plain sight when you open the pantry and fridge – that way you can’t get out of it!
What are your thoughts on the role of food in a minimalist lifestyle? Is there anything else you would add to this list?