Originally Published January 25, 2022.
Last week I said I was going to be posting about Tyler's family, but Tyler's parents are setting up on a long adventure of their own and have packed away all their family memorabilia. I couldn't possibly write about Tyler's family without adorable and awkward photos of Tyler included, so stay tuned for that in the future.
Meal Planning & Reducing Food Waste
A few months ago Tyler and I drew some attention at the local grocery store because of the way we do our grocery shopping. There's me, with my phone whipped out and walking a little ahead and Tyler pushing the cart close behind. We're chatting back and forth reminding one another what we need to put in the cart like it's a competitive sport. We are both joking around, high energy, fully engaged, and just present in our task.
This IS a little unusual for a grocery store, so a fellow shopper comments to us that she wishes she was so organized. We laughed a little at it and said thanks, but you know what? We ARE organized. For the last two years, we have been following the same simple routine for our meals and we are pretty happy with it. It has helped us stay on budget, eat yummy and healthy food at home, reduce food waste, and not lose time with meal planning or meal prep.
Tyler and I are pretty simple people. We both like to cook and bake and we have the capabilities to do pretty much whatever we want (maybe I am a little better at cooking and Tyler is a little better at baking). But just because we CAN cook whatever we want doesn't mean we should. Here is why:
1. Eating a wide variety of foods is expensive because of the variety of ingredients needed in recipes. It is difficult to take advantage of bulk purchasing in a household of two.
2. Constantly looking for new and exciting foods is laborious. Especially when you work all day and then have to come home to cook said new and exciting recipe.
3. Constantly using new recipes means you don't fully use all the food you buy. Food waste in Canada is astronomically high because recipes may call for just a small portion of a very specific ingredient and then you never have to use it again. We can compost the food, but it doesn't feel good to see your money get composted.
So, we decided to take the concept of meal planning to a different place. I was tired of constantly asking Tyler what he wanted to eat for dinner and Tyler always recommended one of a few dishes he liked the most (I cook and Tyler does the dishes and takes out the compost...for the record). So instead, we just have a regular roster of weeknight meals. These meals have enough variety in them that we don't feel our meals are repetitive, and over time the recipes have become so tried-and-true that we know exactly how it'll turn out every time. When we get tired of a meal, we just swap it out for a new rotational dish and keep that new dish on the roster until the next one is ready.
Our Weekly Meal Schedule
A word on breakfast: Tyler doesn't usually eat breakfast. Instead, he injects himself with about 15 cups of coffee. I do eat breakfast, but I am typically content with a hot cup of tea and toast with peanut butter and jam, eggs, or oatmeal. We keep these staples on hand because Tyler likes toast as a regular snack. On the weekends, Tyler usually makes breakfast for us and we enjoy a breakfast skillet or pancakes (from a mix...it's just easier).
Tyler is mildly obsessed with Split Pea and Ham soup so I make this recipe almost every week, if not every other week. We have soup/stew or chili for dinner on Sunday so we can just relax on the weekend and then we eat leftover soup all week for lunch. Lately, we have been running out of soup mid-week so I have started making it twice a week- which is nice for me because I don't like Split Pea and Ham THAT much.
I have also gotten better at using the electric pressure cooker (read: off-brand Instapot) for more than just split peas. I have started to pre-cook a 3-mix of beans (black, pinto, and kidney) in some water and beef stock to make chili and it has really improved the texture and flavor (and healthiness) of my chili overall.
I make our pizza dough from scratch using my kitchen aid blender and this recipe. I roll it out by hand using our two 8- inch cast iron pans. If I remember to make the dough in the morning on Saturday before we go out for our daily adventuring, it cuts the prep time down substantially and makes pizza a no-brainer for some "healthy" junk food. I also love using the cast iron skillet in the oven for making a really crispy, golden crust.
I introduced Tyler to udon noodles when we first started dating and he quickly became obsessed with them. So this was on the roster but has recently had to change to a stir fry with rice because I often can't find the noodles at the grocery store. Udon is a delicious alternative to rice and it is very inexpensive (a $1.50 pack will last us two weeks). It feels like the kind of Thai food you would get for take-out which is nice when you live rurally and don't want to drive somewhere to satisfy a craving for Thai food.
We use the Arroy D Yellow Curry paste that I have from a massive shopping trip to the Asian supermarket "T&T" in Ottawa. This stuff lasts a long time and is consistently awesome. Maybe someone can recommend a good local store for me to buy noodles and curry paste from...and maybe I can get some steam buns there too!
I should have written about Huevos Rancheros first because it is Tyler's absolute favorite food. He would eat it every night of the week if I was okay with it. It is a super simple take on a traditional Mexican dish that takes naan bread, refried beans, eggs, cheese, and fresh salsa and turns it into a masterpiece.
One of the notable things about all these recipes is that they all taste great when you change up the seasonal vegetables (except Huevos, we don't change perfection). Our weekly pizza and soups often use up the remaining leftovers or tidbits from whatever meat or vegetables we picked that week.
Food Costs: Ontario vs Nova Scotia
I do the meal planning once a week using the monthly view in my agenda. I fill in the days of the week with the normal roster of items and then quickly check the pantry, fridge, and freezer for what we have and what we need.
I use the Flipp app on my phone to make my list, which typically auto-populates what I normally buy. If you are an enthusiastic coupon clipper, Flipp is great for clipping e-coupons and using your phone to get savings. I don't price match anymore but Flipp made the whole process a bunch easier and it's free! Another great feature is a shared shopping list- so I can make the list and it will show up on Tyler's app on his phone, so I don't need to send it to him by text if he is doing the shopping.
We typically add in a few snacks and we do indulge in pop (our one guilty pleasure...we don't really drink alcohol or smoke anymore!). Our budget for our weekly groceries is $100 per week for everything, including toiletries and cleaning supplies. I have noticed since moving to Nova Scotia we have actually seen a pretty large DECREASE in our weekly spend, hitting more often around the $75/week mark than $100. We also only eat out on our date night on Friday, which is a very affordable affair at between $20-$50 for both of us. So all in all, moving to Nova Scotia was actually better for our wallet when it came to groceries.
Weekly Date Nights
We have consistently been going out for weekly "date" nights as a way to get out of the house and focus on relaxing. Living in a camper in the winter (especially) is demanding and it is nice to remember we used to be normal people once in a while.
Date night isn't fancy or very expensive. We usually go somewhere simple like Charlie's Pizza in New Germany or Swiss Chalet in Bridgewater if we are feeling fancy. We go for a soak in the hot tub at the local recreation center and then grab some food and head home to watch a movie. I think a little dose of normal is good for us and it's fun to appreciate the small stuff.
Homesteading to meet your needs
The other unseen benefit of having a meal routine is to better understand what foods we regularly consume. Starting out as homesteaders, every step you take to self-sufficiency comes with a price tag and a load of time to implement it. We know now exactly the foods we need to grow to start subsidizing our food budget and how much of each we go through on an annual basis. A little "food for thought" (I kill myself) for those who are trying to reach self-sustainability on their own farms. I will post more on this later this spring when we start working on our garden and canning plans for this year.
I wonder whether you think it's too repetitive to standardize your meal schedule like this. I am surprised we don't get more bored, but honestly, I just prefer having an easier time cooking and not spending ages planning out my shopping list. Less time planning = more time playing!
Thanks for reading 2 Kids Off-Grid! Next week I'll be sharing a different kind of post that tries to address all the hard stuff we have experienced in 2021 and how we dealt with the unexpected. Subscribe to get new chapters weekly by signing up for our newsletter below.