Although my roommates are entirely flexible in regards to sharing most ingredients, our schedules differ during the week, and we mostly cook for ourselves. Meal-planning and preparing for one is no easy task. No one enjoys seeing a full $4.00 box of organic spinach gone to waste, or soup left overs that end up in the trash because you just can’t eat another bowl. I’m no expert – but I do enjoy the strategy behind grocery shopping and sticking to a budget. Here are my steps for a successful trip to the market:
- Schedule Dinners Out in Advance: It’s pretty obvious that these days, eating out is one of the easiest ways to be social during the week. Even though it’s more expensive, I do allow myself one or two meals out a week (likely a dinner one night of the week, and brunch during the weekend). It’s much easier to plan these meals ahead to better gauge the amount of food you’ll need.
- Stock Your Pantry with Basics: I consistently have quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, chickpeas and black beans in my shelf. These items last forever, and create an excellent base for almost any meal. I hate when I run out, because my grocery bill is always a wee bit higher, but it’s worth it to have on hand when you’re craving something healthy and easy.
- Make Something Big or Pair Ingredients: My grocery shopping usually falls into two categories: meal plan around a large-scale recipe or buy ingredients that can be paired into different. I make a casserole or a soup in the crockpot and buy ingredients to follow that recipe, and if I tire of eating the same thing, I freeze and date for a later time. If I’m pairing ingredients, I’ll always buy kale or spinach (can be used in soups, salads, and smoothes), eggs are great for all meals, sweet potato, lemons, and any other produce I feel can be used for multiple purposes. When using this method, it’s easy to make enough for dinner and pack the rest up for lunch the next day.
- Don’t Buy Meat: Disclosure: I’m not a vegetarian. However, I rarely buy and cook meat myself. Not only is it more expensive, but I’m a bit too wary of undercooking and making myself sick. I pretty strictly only eat meat when I’m out for dinner, which makes it feel more special. There really is nothing like a well-made burger when you’re with friends. I feel plenty full eating beans, quinoa, and eggs to get my protein.
- Shop the Outside Aisles: Articles state this over and over as the best way to eat healthy, but it’s also the best way to grocery shop on a budget. Usually the middle aisles are filled with processed, overpriced junk food that you don’t need, but consistently snack on. It’s just best to forego.
- Cook with Friends: This is a cheaper alternative to dinners out, and often, I don’t have to use transportation ($) if I offer to cook. I love having friends over for a pizza night, potluck dinners, or wine and cheese. It’s an easy way to be social, and if you’re lucky to have generous friends like me, you’ll rarely end up doing the dishes too.
My grocery bill is usually between $20-$30 for the week. It can be lower if I exhibit excellent self control, or higher if I get tempted by the pints of Ben & Jerry’s on sale. Price also depends on where I shop: cheapest is Market Basket, middle is Trader Joe’s, splurge is Whole Foods (which is the least convenient for me, luckily).
I still prefer to eat my food, not drink it, but there’s something to be said about quick, on-the-go smoothies I can sip while driving to work. Once or twice a week it’s a nice change after oatmeal and eggs, which can get a bit monotonous. Smoothies will always be the easiest way to pack in nutrients, and feels like an incredibly wholesome start to the day.
I try not to include ridiculously expensive powders and who-knows-what ingredients, but I went to Cambridge Natural over the weekend to experiment with a couple changes to my tried and true green smoothie.
-Blender: I use a Nutribullet and I’m in desperate need for another (it’s loud, dirty, and the motor isn’t working great). I have to wait until both my roommates are awake to use it. If you have suggestions, let me know!
Matcha Green Smoothie: I love the caffeine included in this smoothie for mornings, and it’s not too ridiculously grassy-tasting.
- 1/2 frozen, ripe banana
- 1 cup spinach or kale (tear leaves off thick stem)
- 1 cup unsweetened nut milk – I’m a bit obsessed with Califia Farms Almond Milk
- 1 tsp matcha powder
- 1/4 tsp spirulina
- 2 ice cubes and water to thin to desired consistency
Tropical Green Smoothie: This option’s a bit sweeter and great for summer. The cucumber is hydrating, while the ginger and lime makes it crisp and refreshing.
- 1/2 cup frozen mango
- 2 inch chunk of cucumber
- 1 cup spinach or kale
- 1 cup unsweetened nut milk – coconut is a great option here
- 1/2 tsp grated ginger (or small knob if your blender can handle it)
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- 2 ice cubs and water to thin to desired consistency
As hard as I try, and as much as I’m reminded by my mother, I do not have the hair that can forgo washing a couple of days. Within a day, it looks greasy and dark, and there’s nothing to do but put it up in a ponytail. Since I attempt to exercise on a daily basis, only body shower takes an instant-toll on the look of my hair.
So despite all the advice to only wash hair twice a week, I find myself shampooing closer to six times. All the product definitely causes build up over time, leaving hair looking greasy despite cleanliness.
Sophie, my lovely coworker, mentioned a HASK Charcoal Clarifying Shampoo that just happened to be stocked at our local Bed Bath and Beyond. We both picked up a bottle while running errands for the office, and here are our reviews:
Linda: Since the shampoo isn’t super creamy, it felt like it was stripping off a couple laters of gunk sitting on my roots. I would never be able to use this product without a conditioner, but I definitely will be using about every other or third shower to mix up my products.
Sophie: Thought it smelled nice, but definitely not daily use for fine hair.
VERDICT: I may pick up the conditioner the next time I’m at Bed, Bath and Beyond with a 20% off coupon and use them together.
- Parmesan Cheese
More often than not, I have the ingredients to make this dinner already on hand. It’s easy, quick, flavorful, and cheap. I’m not including measurements, as it’s up to you and how hungry you are. I often make a big batch of quinoa at the beginning of the week, which makes this dinner ready in a pinch.
- Prepare quinoa according to directions.
- Heat up about 1 T of olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Tear the leaves off the stem of the kale and place into the hot pan (the kale will significantly wilt down, so don’t skimp on loading on the greens).
- Stir the kale to coat with olive oil, then add salt and pepper. I highly suggest red pepper flakes as well for some kick.
- Let the kale sit to get a good char while mincing a clove of garlic. Add the garlic to the hot pan, stirring so the it doesn’t burn.
- Lower the heat and push the kale to one side of the pan. Add a touch more olive oil, and fry an egg in the empty side of the skillet. Sprinkle shredded parmesan cheese on top of the egg, but be sure to get some on the pan for the yummy, crispy cheese.
- Layer a bowl with the quinoa, then the kale, and lastly the egg(s) on top.
There’s so many combinations of veggies to add to the kale: sweet or yukon gold potato, onion and mushrooms, roasted butternut squash. It’s a great way to use up leftovers throughout the week. Also, obviously you can omit the cheese to be dairy-free, but why would anyone ever do that?
I believe resolutions will never last through a whole year. You forget, no longer care, or just don’t have the willpower anymore. However, they’re important to think about even if your goals only last a month.
My resolution isn’t fitness related, or centered around my diet (though it probably should be), but more aligned with a choice I make every day: where I get my coffee. I’m not an avid coffee drinker, my morning can start with or without caffeine, but I prefer with. If I start buying a cup every morning, or a specialty drink a few times a week, it starts to take a hit to the wallet. I’d much rather go to dinner with some friends, or buy a new pair of shoes with that money.
SO…my new years resolution in specifics is ‘I can’t buy coffee on the go when I’m alone.’
Allowed Instances: sitting at a cute cafe sipping on a latte alone, out to brunch with friends, or desperate situations if I’m driving late night and it would be dangerous to others.
For now, you’ll find me at the Keurig or the coffee pot trying to perfect the grounds to water ratio. We’ll see how long this lasts…
Before the holidays, I was the lucky recipient of a Blue Apron box from an employee who had 5 boxes to give away. I don’t generally eat or cook meat (even though I’m not a vegetarian) but I figured I would get the most bang for my buck and go for the omnivore option.
I received three meals, with approximately two servings each:
Chicken Khao Soi: I immediately craved this option, and made it the day I received the box. Let me tell you, everything may be pre measured, but there are a lot of pieces to these meals. I thought this was generally easy to cook and assemble; however, there were so many dishes to wash afterwards, and I don’t have a dishwasher. The worst, but the meal was yummy!
Pork Chops: I babysat for a family in Beacon Hill, and the mother made the most delicious pork tenderloin for dinner. I was excited about this option, but I’m terrible at cooking meat on the stovetop (that’s what the directions called for). My roommate love this meal, but I thought the shallots in the freekeh salad were too strong and the meat was a little tough (which is obviously my fault). I packaged up the portion that I didn’t eat, but never felt the need to finish it, and into the trash it went.
Blackened Catfish: I never cooked this meal. I put the catfish in the freezer for another time, but the other ingredients will likely go bad before I get around to making the meal. I figure some Blackened Catfish Tacos might be a good option for this week.
VERDICT: Even though I enjoyed not spending any money on groceries, I found I meal-planned around the Blue Apron meals and not my schedule. As someone who started off with a pretty good base of cooking knowledge, the step-by-step directions slightly impeded my creativity in the kitchen. The packaging felt a bit wasteful, too, so I will be sticking with my weekly grocery shops and cooking whatever my heart desires. However, thanks to Blue Apron for the trial! Also, if you’re worried about freshness, the ingredients were top-notch!