(Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash)

This week we are shining a light on canned/frozen food options when aiming for a preservative-free meal plan. What can you do to help stretch the pocketbook and the use-by dates when you’re stocking up for meal planning over time, (or for one eater) but without all the salt and extra chemicals it takes to make what we eat more shelf-stable?

Meal Plan – Week #27 (Written by Jamie)

Cost: $75.60 week for 3 people // $1.20 /serving* (*NOTE: These numbers are calculated off what we actually spend each week, which may include occasional supplements of grain, starch, or beef for Drew and Jamie which Charlie cannot have. Week-to-week fluctuations in cost are more reflective of the times we need to pick up staples like olive oil and vinegar, or weeks where Jamie is prepping three weeks’ worth of cauliflower rice, rather than one week’s meal plan costing extra. Overall, we believe this offers a more accurate reflection of what this diet might look like financially for others.)

Meal Plan Diet Categories: (Gluten-Free, Lactose/Dairy Free, Diabetes Diet, Low Fat/Low Cholesterol, Cardiac Diet, Paleo, Vegan, Vegetarian)

Meals: (Click on the names to go to the recipe) (1) Harissa Pork Chops / (2) Herbed Salmon / (3) Standard Chicken / (4) Mixed Mushroom and Leek SauceLemon Chicken Salad / (5) Sweet Potato Steaks / (6) Cannellini Beans (variation 10)  / (7) Peas / (8) Wild Rice

Snacks:  Chopped Veggies (for dipping) /Herb Dipping Sauce / Egg Whites / Naked Popcorn / Pumpkin Seeds

Meal planning has bumps in the road that need navigating.

… There’s the block of time elements (research and planning, shopping, and cooking), there’s the money element (ingredient planning, budgeting, and stocking up times), there’s the combo game (how many ways can you pair and match themed ingredients and foods together to keep it from getting boring), and there’s the serving size issue (how many people are you cooking for, and how do you use up/stretch out the ingredients to fit that number?)

It’s just one of those annoying things that there is never a balanced number of hot dogs to hot dog bun ratios; there is either too much milk or too little, and the yogurts go bad before you can eat them all… (because you got them on sale when you were in your yogurt phase and have now outgrown it.) There is a mystery to the shelf lives of things that still makes no sense to me (peanut butter, pickles, mustard, pasta, rice, oatmeal, hot sauce), and one person cannot consume all the clumps of veggies that veggies come in clumps of in one week unless they are super into juicing and that is all they “eat.”

For most of my adult life, I lived solo in a brick walk-up, went food shopping about once every three weeks, and lived off of approximately 5 meals (in variations) that I felt comfortable enough to cook on my own. Most of them being a type of breakfast. Everything I bought had a shelf life of about 5 years or longer (except for the dairy), which meant I could get in on the super 10-for-$10 sales at the market and get around to finally eating it whenever I wanted to. I was also exceedingly underpaid and lived on less than paycheck to paycheck.

Now I have a better-paying job and a roommate. I go food shopping at least once a week, and nearly the entire contents of our refrigerator have to be consumed before the next week’s shopping because most of what we buy is fresh, green, and has a lifespan of about 6 days by the time we get it. Which (even with three people on a food plan) can be challenging at times.

These two worlds of food consumption are very different, each with their own challenges. Which is why today we’re gonna talk a little about the kinds of ways to stretch your bucks, build up your larder a bit, and yet still get some fresh green action into your weekly regime.

The problem is that the prepackaged fruit and veg in your produce aisle geared for solo eaters are marked up, costing more than if you bought each item and made a mix of them yourself. But a solo person can’t consume all that in a week (unless that’s all they are eating) so the food waste sits there haunting you. If it’s helpful at all to know — you are not alone in this frustration. It’s like there is a solo-person-eating-tax popped on everything that makes sense to buy for yourself, (aka the “I’m-in-a-giant-hurry” tax and/or the “I-already-know-I-won’t-eat-the-leftovers” tax.)

…For this reason, try tackling one or two fresh veggies or fruit per week. Start small. Yes, I mean two apples. Yes, I mean one small mixed-greens bag and a basket of cherry tomatoes. You can buy just one sweet potato. It is allowed. Consider these your top priority foods, and build your meals around them. That sweet potato can be dinner “steaks” AND breakfast spuds. Those tomatoes can go on a salad AND get thrown in a breakfast tortilla roll-up. Apple slices for general snacks, or with your half sandwich at lunch, AND as part of a pigs-in-the-orchard morning scramble.

Next: go frozen! Look at the backs of the packaging as you compare your veggies. Flashed freezing with no sodium is a thing. Look for the purest ingredient list you can get. These will be your secondary go-tos. Jamie will sometimes go for spinach, green beans, carrots, and/or peas, depending on the fresh food pricing hikes to stretch the budget and the food further.

Finally: hit the canned aisle. It’s stock-up time. Check out Jamie’s tricks for what to look for and what to avoid when choosing from canned goods, here. This is usually where your biggest sale items will be and sometimes your biggest time savers too. (We don’t have the time to deal with making 2 different kinds of beans from scratch every week, so beans are a BIG part of our can-good list — again, with the low-sodium packaging and a good rinse at home before Jamie starts their cooking process.)

And for you meat-eaters out there…the manager’s special are our bread-n’-butter by the week. Chicken is rarely on sale but is also our necessary weekly requirement. But other excellent cuts o’ meat we’d never drop top bucks on are discounted weekly for immediate cooking — which we do anyway — so consider this a fun, challenging go-to in helping decide your weekly meal planning. Try new cuts and new kinds of meat. Get inventive. PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD. (This is also totally allowed.)

Learning to balance out these fresh, flash-frozen, and shelf-stable options takes time. We will still occasionally make the “I’m-totally-into-this-thing” phase when we buy it and never get around to eating it in time error. Because people are people. (Also, crisping drawers always win games of hide-and-seek with me, so WHERE I place my food in the fridge is a purposeful practice. Case in point – last week’s forgotten grapes.)

Start slow, start small, and change it up week to week to keep you interested and invested.