What Do Minimalists Eat?

“Stop showing me pictures of food! I’m starving to death and that looks delicious!” my sister said yesterday, as I scrolled through the photos on my phone.

“You can have this deliciousness in your life too,” I teased , stopping on a picture of our dinner from the night before – stir-fried veggies sizzling in a cast iron skillet. “It’s available every day, right from the very store where you work.” (She works at Aldi.)

“Right! After you cook it!” she scoffed. “I honestly don’t know how you have the time or money to eat like that every day!”

I’m not picking on my sister. In fact, she’s not the first person to wonder what and how we eat. Month after month, the most searched terms on this site are always “minimalist diet”, “minimalist meal planning” and “what do minimalists eat”. The short answer there is food. Minimalists eat food.

My sister considers herself a minimalist and she most frequently dines at the drive-thru. She works full-time and has a 16-year-old son with a bottomless stomach to feed, so it’s easy and convenient for her. My mom, also somewhat a minimalist, could eat peanut butter and bananas every day, with the occasional bowl of soup thrown in for good measure. Minimalism isn’t really about what you eat.

But…

As minimalists, Angie and I believe in simplicity in all things. For us, good health is the cornerstone of a simple life and food is the fuel that powers good health. From the multitude of medications that clutter your cabinet to the doctor’s appointments that take up your time, from the drain on your physical energy to the stress on your family, there’s nothing simple about battling chronic disease. I’m not a doctor (nor do I play one on this blog) but I do believe that many of the diseases we face today – diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure – are related to what we eat. If eating well reduces the risk of these diseases, that’s about as simple as it gets. So…with that being said…

We eat food, mostly plants, the occasional piece of fish, and whatever my mom makes for us on those rare occasions when she cooks. This might include meat but more often it’s a dessert. She loves to bake and we’ve just learned to accept that. We eat three meals and two snacks a day, consisting of mostly the same menu items all the time.

We make most of our food from scratch – including non-dairy yogurt, sourdough bread, and crackers – but this did not happen overnight. It has taken us almost 5 years to get to where we are today. After watching Food, Inc. in 2015, we started reducing our meat consumption. Next we cut processed foods. The quick meals and packaged cookies were easy but it took a lot longer to cut out things like chips and cereal (which are still sticking points for us at times). Then we joined a CSA to increase our exposure to different veggies. For most of our lives, the only veggies we knew were potatoes, carrots, green beans, broccoli, and salad fixings. We now eat more veggies than I can list. Which led to the garden. The next step in our food journey was to grow part of our own food. Last year, we grew tomatoes, squash, peas, eggplant, okra, blackberries, peppers, onions, sunflowers, and microgreens. Recently we started eating more fermented foods for good gut health.

We don’t follow any particular diet. No Keto, no GAPS, not even the Mediterranean Diet. We generally eat what we want, even chocolate chip cookies. We don’t really practice moderation either. I have, in the not so distant past, eaten an entire pizza by myself. Okay, so it was only 10 inches and it was homemade, but the point is…we don’t put much thought into what we eat anymore and it seems to be working just fine.

A typical menu in our home might look like this:

Breakfast

  • Oatmeal with apples, blueberries, or cranberries and nuts (sweetened with honey)
  • Sourdough toast or an English muffin with jelly and fruit
  • Non-dairy yogurt, a banana, and dry toast
  • Sourdough waffles, pancakes, or apple fritters with maple syrup

Lunch 

  • Soup and salad*
  • PB&J or a veggie wrap with homemade potato chips
  • Grilled hummus or grilled cheese sandwich with a salad or raw veggies

Dinner

  • Pasta with any one of a variety of sauces, including marinara, pumpkin-goat cheese, sweet potato puree, stir-fried veggies, or olive oil and garlic
  • Mexican, including veggie burritos, mushroom fajitas, fish tacos, or just a bean and rice bowl with salsa
  • Veggie stir-fry with brown rice
  • Veggie plate, comprised of whatever is in season or pulled from the freezer, with biscuits (lately it’s been pumpkin or sweet potato biscuits)
  • Homemade pizza
  • Baked potatoes with vegetarian chili

*Soup and salad is our go-to lunch combo. We make a big pot of soup every Sunday – either vegetable, black bean, tomato, potato, or chili. We pair it with whatever salad items are in season. In winter, that may only be lettuce, carrots, and celery 🙂

Every lunch is served with a fruit, usually an apple or orange. Our snacks mainly consist of air-popped popcorn, fresh fruit, dried fruit, peanut butter and crackers, or occasionally, that dessert my mom made for us.

Keeping our menu items roughly the same all the time helps tremendously with shopping and meal prep. At the end of last year, we started ordering bulk groceries once a month online (and picking them up curbside) and shopping weekly only for fresh foods. So far, this has really worked in our favor. We spent only $90 on bulk groceries (from Walmart/Sam’s Club) in December and less than $100 on fresh foods, including a produce box from Misfit Market (something we’ll discuss in more detail next week). The fresh foods also included items for two holiday meals, so I imagine the cost will be even less this month.

My sister is right about one thing. Eating well does take time, but I’d argue that the amount of time it takes to prepare a healthy meal is nothing in comparison to the time it takes to recover from being sick. We spend 1-3 hours every Sunday morning in the kitchen prepping for the week ahead. We pre-chop our veggies for salads and stir-fries. We also make soup, spaghetti sauce, beans, rice, or bread products in bulk (depending on our needs). A lot of this we freeze for those times when we want a quick meal. With our prep work done, dinner usually takes 30 minutes or less to prepare.

So what do minimalists eat? We eat food from the garden, the Farmer’s Market, the grocery store, and sometimes even restaurants. We eat organic when we can. We eat food that’s fun to prepare and fun to eat. Yes, chocolate can be good for you! We eat pizza. We even eat birthday cake…at least twice a year anyway. But always, always…we try to eat food that nourishes our bodies and our minds and gives us the best shot at a long and happy life.

Are you following a particular diet plan? Does it work for you? What are some of the most frequent menu items in your home? Do you bulk shop? We’d love to hear your thoughts and/or questions.

The Grocery Game [Updated]

Originally published January 13, 2016. Updated July 11, 2018.

From extreme couponing to urban foraging, there are numerous ways to save money on groceries. Just Google it sometime, if you haven’t already. I did, and I found that a good many of the suggested options required a whole lot of effort to see even the most minimal results. Sure there are folks out there who can spend hours sourcing coupons and get an entire cart of groceries for $2. I, on the other hand, could spend hours sourcing coupons just to arrive at the store without them. Or worse, walk out with 3 bags of free mustard.

We play a different kind of grocery game. Simple shopping.

The basics of simple shopping are:

Make a Stock List: The single best way to improve grocery spending is to make a list of your favorite meals and snacks. From this selection of menu options, make a second list of all the ingredients and/or products required to create those meals. Only purchase the items on this list and always keep at least one of each of your most used stock item in your pantry reserves.

Shop Less Often: Keeping extras of your favorite items in the pantry means fewer trips to the store and fewer trips means fewer spending opportunities. Create a schedule for grocery shopping, one that fits the way you like to eat. We like to shop once a week, usually on Friday evening or Saturday morning. During the spring/summer season, we also visit the Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning.

Cut Down on Convenience Foods: In most cases, frozen convenience meals are significantly more expensive than making the same meal from scratch. And let’s face it, scratch meals taste better and are better for you. There is one caveat to this though; it’s not a bad idea to keep a frozen pizza or box of veggie burgers in the freezer for those times when you are just too tired (or too interested in doing something else) to cook.

Forego (Most) Couponing: Coupons often promote spending rather than helping to reduce grocery costs. A lot of coupons are for processed foods and many are offered to encourage you to try new items. Sometimes that new product is great but more often that item will just sit in the cabinet or fridge until it goes bad. By only buying from a list, it’s easier to resist the temptation to use coupons for the latest and greatest new food fad (and it also helps cut down on food waste). That being said, I do spend a few minutes each week checking the digital coupons for Kroger. Occasionally there’s one we can use (usually it’s just the Friday Freebie).

Shop Sales: Grocery stores have sales for a reason – to get you into the store. They know that the majority of folks who come in for those few bargain items will also do the remainder of their shopping there, making up their loss. The real discounts go to those who only buy the bargain items…the bargain items that are on their stock list. To supplement our regular grocery trips (and to pick up items at a better cost), Angie scans the weekly ads from Food Lion and Kroger. If an item that we have on our list is on sale at a greater savings than ALDI, then we’ll get it. If the item can be stored, we’ll get several of them.

Make it Fun: Grocery shopping really can be fun and there are a lot of different strategies to make it so. Set a target goal – like $50 – and see if you can get all the items on your list for that amount. Wager with your significant other (or child) to see who can find the best overall deal. Loser makes dinner. There are even a few side hustles that will pay you to mystery shop your favorite grocery store and last year, we discovered the Shopkick app, which is a great way to earn gift cards just by scanning items as you walk the grocery aisles.