It may sound repetitive, but it makes meal-prepping simpler and more reliable than constantly seeking novelty.
Welcome to the latest instalment in TreeHugger's series, "How to feed a family." Every week we talk to a different person about how they approach the never-ending challenge of feeding themselves and other household members. We get the inside scoop on how they grocery shop, meal plan, and food prep to make it go more smoothly. This week you'll meet Megan and Tim, two young professionals who realized years ago that eating the same thing would make life much easier. In Meg's words, it takes getting used to, but "we have come to love the simplicity, reliability, nutritional benefits and energy provided by our diet routine." Read on for more inspiration.
Names: Megan (32) and Tim (37)Location: Ontario, Canada
Employment status: Both full-time workers
Food budget: US$114 (CAD$150) weekly on groceries + $114 monthly on seeds and nuts + $38 monthly on coffee. We add an additional $45 for dining out on weekends when staying home, or $150 when staying in the city for a weekend. This works out to US$200 (CAD$260) per week total for 2 adults when staying home, or US$300 (CAD$400) when we're in the city for a weekend.
1. What are 3 favorite or commonly prepared meals in your house?
- 3-egg omelettes (individual)
- Some type of meat with vegetables and grains
2. How would you describe your diet?
Clean and routine during the week, but anything goes on the weekend.
Our breakfast and lunch during the week are consistently the same, and have been for more than 10 years. Eating the same thing every day takes getting used to, and we try to make minor variations to keep things fresh, such as changing the veggies in our salad and snacks to keep them more seasonal and the flavours fresh. Over time, though, we have come to love the simplicity, reliability, nutritional benefits and energy provided by our diet routine. We have also come to find a good division of work for food prep that highlights our individual skills and shares the workload. Megan does the veggie chopping and Tim does the assembling.
Every Day: We drink about 2-3 coffees each per day and try to have a minimum of 2L each of water per day. We take turns making the coffee each morning and store it in hot flasks for drinking during the day. We steer clear from juices, fizzy drinks and alcohol completely unless we are in social settings.
Week Days: We do food prep for the upcoming weekdays on Sunday afternoon or evening.
Breakfast is prepped by Tim during Sunday food prep and consists of Greek yogurt, frozen mixed berries and goji berries, seeds and nuts (walnuts, chia, hemp hearts, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pepitas) and occasionally cooked quinoa. (Quinoa inclusion really depends on how much time we have during food prep on Sunday since the quinoa has to cool prior to adding.) Tim eats at home as part of his morning routine and Megan eats at work after she's had some coffee.
Snacks always include a bag of veggies (Megan likes hers with hummus), roasted unsalted almonds, or unsalted mixed nuts, and fruit. We both try to eat every 2-3 hours. We keep jars of nuts with us at work in the event we need a pick me up between meals. Megan prepares the veggie bags and fruit if preparation is required (e.g. pomello) during food prep on Sunday.
Lunch is prepared by both of us. Tim gathers the required containers for yogurts and salads and puts in the spinach, kale, or spring mix. Megan chops the veggies, adds beans and/or quinoa if available, and cuts up roasted chicken. If there are no roasted chickens available when grocery shopping, we add tuna to the salad, or Megan will not add meat at all. The meat for the salad is always packed in a separate container. Tim adds the same seeds and nuts to the salad as are added to the yogurt.
Dinner cooking is generally split with Tim making about 2 dinners per week and Megan making the others unless the dinner plan is to eat leftovers. (Tim supports our household in other ways to help make the workload more equal.) We integrate a large portion of vegetables into our dinner and try to cook any meat separately so it can be added into dishes or left out unless that isn't possible (e.g. meat lasagna, beef stews, etc.).
Our go-to for weeknight meals is some combination of veggies (usually steamed, but sometimes stir-fried or roasted), meat (or an extra veg and/or legume for non-meat days for Meg) such as pork/chicken schnitzel, fish, steak, lamb or pork chops, beef/pork ribs, sausage, meatballs/kofte, and grain such as quinoa, bulgar, rice, or fresh focaccia. We eat pastas, soups, burgers, curries and stews. We try to avoid sweets, snacky, fried and processed foods.
On weekends we are much less structured and eat whatever we feel like when we get hungry. If we stay home, Tim makes a yogurt and Megan usually sleeps in past breakfast and starts her day with lunch. We eat leftovers if there are any, and may make a big batch of soup if there are veggies left in the fridge that need to be used up. On weekends we are away we either go out for breakfast or go to the grocery store, grab some combination of prepared Greek yogurt, almonds, veggies and fruits such as berries, snap peas, grape tomatoes, mushrooms, clementines, etc., and other ingredients to contribute to communal meals with friends and/or family.
We enjoy eating clean, but don't limit ourselves from eating anything. It isn't uncommon to go out for a nice dinner, snack on candy or nachos, eat fast food, and enjoy drinks if we are socializing. We work hard during the week and celebrate our previous week's willpower by indulging on weekends.
3. How often do you shop for groceries? Is there anything you absolutely have to buy every week?
The bulk of our shopping for the week is done on Sunday afternoon. We may go again at some point if needed, but aim not to. We also make a monthly trip to Bulk Barn for our seeds and nuts. Staples are 'salad stuff,' 'yogurt stuff,' and whatever dinners we planned for the week prior to heading to the grocery store. Our schedule and diet is so consistent that grocery shopping is a chore we can do in autopilot.
4. What does your grocery shopping routine look like?
We try to do groceries together whenever possible. To minimize time in the grocery store, we divide who grabs what for the cart. Typically Megan grabs the fruit and veggies 'salad stuff' and Tim grabs the ingredients for 'yogurt stuff', along with any other eggs or dairy we may need. We rendezvous in the meat area or in line, usually deciding where to meet when we are heading into the grocery store together.
We buy coffee online, at Winners, or when out of town. The coffee beans available in our small town are either not very appealing to us or really overpriced, so we tend to buy it monthly depending on brand and pricing availability. We typically do not buy takeaway coffee unless we are socializing or don't have access to make our own when we are on the go. We bring coffee with us when going out of town for the weekend.
Once per month, we also make a run to Bulk Barn to replenish our seeds and nuts. We try to time our replenishment for when we have mail to pick up since they are next to each other and on the other end of town from where we live.
5. Do you meal plan? If so, how often and how strictly do you stick to it?
Sort of – our breakfast, snacks, lunches and dinners are all planned during the week, but specifically what we eat for dinner on what night of the week will depend on our evening activities and are subject to change. We don't usually plan weekend meals. Our weeknights are typically very busy as we are active members at a local gym, take music lessons and practice, and tend to a side business during the week nights. We try to give ourselves flexibility with timing and may move dinner plans around to accommodate our schedules and eating constraints. Megan stops eating on weeknights at 8 pm, so if schedules don't line up on a given day meals are eaten apart or plans to eat leftovers are made the day before.
6. How much time do you spend cooking each day?
Less than 30 minutes per night during the week.
7. How do you handle leftovers?
Tim eats meat everyday and Meg is meatless at least 2 days per week, so we try to be strategic about leftovers. For example, we plan to make enough food on a Monday to eat leftovers Tuesday if Tuesday night is too hectic to cook. Additionally, Tim may add leftover meat to a meatless dish the next night. Our kitchen is tiny, so to reduce congestion in the kitchen on Megan's meat-free days, the dinner prior to Meg's meat-free days tend to be larger batch so Tim can have the meat-inclusive leftovers.
8. How many dinners per week do you cook at home vs. eat out or take out?
Unless there is a planned get-together or date night where we dine out, we generally never eat out during the weekdays. If staying locally on the weekend we will usually order pizza, and if out for the weekend will eat eat about 2 meals out and the rest with family or friends in their homes, going to the grocery store to grab food to contribute and snack on. Dining out in the city is usually more expensive, but we plan for one nice dinner out (to try a type of food we can't get locally) and one on-the-go meal.
9. What are the biggest challenges in feeding yourselves
Food waste and plastic use are both areas we are actively trying to work on, but are also constrained with solutions. Part of how we we are trying to tackle reducing our food waste is staying home for more weekends, so that we can finish up the week's leftovers.
We are gradually making the switch from plastic to glass containers for salads and yogurts, and buy a few more glass containers when they go on sale, rotating the older plastic ones out of rotation and into the recycling. We are also trying to drastically cut single-use plastic from our household as a goal for 2019, and are finishing up the Ziplocs and plastic wrap left from last fall's Costco visit before moving to alternatives. (If there's a better alternative to plastic garbage bags for an apartment with a chute I'd really love to cut those out completely but don't know how yet.)