Minimalist Meal Planning

One of the first things everyone does when adopting a minimalist lifestyle is to declutter, and one of the first places we start this process is in the closet. We get rid of everything we can’t, won’t, or don’t wear and give all that stuff to someone who might. What we’re left with is a wardrobe that consists only of items we love (or at least like) and in most cases, each remaining piece can be mixed or matched rather easily. So why do we almost always start with the closet? Because having too many choices in clothing complicates our ability to…well, choose…and doing something as basic as getting dressed becomes an ordeal.

The same holds true in the kitchen. We all need to eat and we should be eating foods that are good for us, but with more than 42,000 items in the average grocery store, making the right food choices can be tricky. How many times have you been lured in by a “new” or “improved” product strategically placed right in your line of sight? And how many times has said product sat in your pantry uneaten because it really wasn’t all that great? It used to happen to us all the time, especially when we were clipping coupons, but now we have adopted what we like to call minimalist meal planning.

Step 1: Declutter the Pantry

Just as we decluttered our closet, we now need to declutter our pantry. Get rid of anything and everything that you know you are never going to eat. And by get rid of it, I mean donate it, give it to a friend, feed it to animals (if possible), or compost it. If you have to throw it away, at least recycle the packaging. Most importantly though, write down (or remember) what it was that you gave away because from this point forward, you’re never going to buy that item again.

Step 2: Make a Favorites List

Next, make a list of meals and snacks that you and your family enjoy eating. This is going to be a flexible list. As you try new foods or get tired of old ones, it will change. Angie and I made our list about a year ago and have since made several changes. Our dinner list now consists of 12 meals that we could eat all the time, including homemade pizza, steamed veggies with rice, mini tacos, our own version of a Chinese noodle bowl with a veggie eggroll, and soup or chili.

Step 3: Create a Staples List

After you have completed your Favorites List, look at each recipe and jot down what ingredients you need to have on hand to make it. Also look in your pantry to see what items you use regularly, though not necessarily in one of your favorite recipes. Oatmeal, dry cereal, dried fruits, granola, rice, dry beans, bread, crackers, condiments, spreads, cheeses, popcorn, coffee, tea, honey, flour, cornmeal, and spices are always on our Staples List.

Once you finish your list, you may notice that many of your favorite meals are just a different combination of the same ingredients. This is great because it can save both time and money. We use a lot of ingredients for multiple purposes. For example, we use whole wheat spaghetti noodles for our Chinese noodle bowl as well as our pasta dishes. We use black beans in our mini tacos and in our chili. Because of this, we buy dry beans in bulk. We buy rice in a 25# box. We buy spaghetti noodles every time we see them on sale for less than 50 cents a box.

Step 4: Set up a Weekly Meal Calendar

A few years ago, we bought a magnetic chalkboard calendar for our refrigerator. Last summer, I spent a week cutting pictures of food out of magazines and laminating them to make our meal planning more of a visual experience. Usually on Friday afternoon before we head to the grocery store, we plan our meals for the week with the help of a few dozen little food magnets. We try to utilize items we already have, especially foods in the freezer, to create the meal plan. We also try to leave one day as a “flex day” in case we’re invited to eat dinner elsewhere or are perhaps too tired to make that night’s meal. The flex day can move about the week as needed and in our house is usually denoted by a sandwich magnet.

Step 5: Go Shopping

If you’ve made your lists and planned your meals from them, shopping is now going to be a breeze since you only need to purchase the missing ingredients to make your selected meals for the week. Try not to stray from the list – you don’t want to clutter up the pantry again – but do leave room for substitutions. We generally write down generic names on our grocery list as a placeholder (like “salad” or “fruit”) so that we can choose specific items by what’s in season or on sale when we get there.

Simply having a game plan for meal planing has helped us understand ourselves, what we will or won’t eat, and even how we like to prepare our meals. It has also helped us maximize our grocery budget and minimize our food waste. When you only buy what you will actually eat, there’s very little reason to create waste.

Do you plan your meals each week? Has it helped to reduce expenses and food waste?

Food Waste Update

The grocery store where “our dumpster” is located is expanding. They have knocked down the side wall and construction workers have been present all week. On the occasions when we have checked the dumpster this week, it has been full of construction debris. 

  • Wasted Food this week: 0 ounces
  • Total Wasted Food in 2018: 38 ounces
  • Rescued Food this week:   0 US pounds
  • Total Food Rescued this year:  184.39 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.

Discovering Banana Flour

Few things make us happier than discovering new foods, especially those that got their start as an alternative to food waste. Banana flour is one of those foods.

Until last week, we had never even heard of banana flour. When we were shopping for flax seeds, the bright bag caught my eye and I made a mental note to research banana flour at some later time. But before I had a chance to do that, Angie happened upon a clearance aisle while we were working an Easy Shift and there it was…banana flour…for $1 a bag. We bought all 3 of the remaining 2-pound bags.

What is banana flour?

Banana flour is a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour. It’s made from one ingredient – green unripe bananas that are dried and milled.

What does it taste like?

There’s no need to worry about that artificial banana taste that comes with most products containing bananas (or banana flavoring). Though there’s a slight hint of the fruit, banana flour simply tastes like flour and it cooks like flour. The texture is also pretty smooth. The pancakes we made were light and fluffy, with no graininess or grit.

Why is it good for you?

Besides being all-natural, gluten-free, and just plain tasty, banana flour is a resistant starch, which basically means that it is a fiber that resists being digested in the body. Because it can’t be digested, resistant starches ferment in the large intestine, creating a beneficial fatty acid called butyrate. In a nutshell, butyrate helps fight inflammation and prevent colon cancer.

The best part of banana flour (for us, at least), is how it is made. Bananas are shipped to the supermarket while they are still green so that they can be at peak ripeness when we buy them. Like so many other fruits and vegetables, a good many green bananas just don’t make the cut. They are too small, too large, too misshapen, or too damaged to be considered suitable for sale. However, these imperfect bananas are perfect for making banana flour. Using ugly green bananas for banana flour reduces food waste and has a positive environmental impact. That fact alone made it tops in our book!

But you should really try it for yourself…

Banana Flour Pancakes

  • 1/2 cup banana flour
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or other nut milk or milk alternative)
  • 2 eggs (or egg alternative)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp olive or avocado oil

We cooked our pancakes on a griddle at 400 degrees (using coconut oil cooking spray to keep them from sticking). Watch for them to bubble on one side, flip them to brown on the other side, and enjoy! This recipe makes eight (8) 4-inch pancakes.

For further reading, here’s a cool article about a farm in Australia that “accidentally” discovered new ways to utilize their waste bananas – including making banana flour: