Normally talk of minimalism involves belongings– smaller homes, fewer knicknacks, functional wardrobes and the like, but rarely does it mention food and the fridge. Being frugal at the grocery store really isn’t anything new. Many of our parents or grandparents were actually masters. It seems, however, that convenience has made serious food management an all but lost art.
I hate to boast, but I consider An expert in food management. Not only do I ensure that everything purchased is used before it expires; but for the last several years my husband and have eaten on a grocery budget of $275 per month. And lest you think we just eat out, our restaurant budget is is a mere $50. These limits were self-imposed six years ago when’s as we were fulfilling our commitment to ensure all four of our children graduated from college debt free. While we are now free to abandoned our frugal ways there is no need be cause we eat well– almost gourmet.
I would venture say that most self-described minimalists are foodies. They enjoy eating lovely fare and may even fund their passion for yummies by being tight with their belongings. Buying deli food, prepackaged meals and an occasional take out is the way many roll. But you will rarely find us succumbing to such conveniences.
So how do we mange to eat well on limited funds? Here are my tips for eating like a true minimalist
-Learn to cook without recipes. I scratch cook. This means I do not follow recipes. Early on, as the teen bride of a traditional Japanese man I was taught home cooking using just a few common ingredients. My teacher/husband cooked by taste and taught me to do the same. Brown sugar and stocks became my best friends. I have staple spices and enhancers I know very well. The ability to mix and match flavor son the fly is key to managing your pantry.
-Don’t be afraid to substitute. When I don’t have milk, for example, I will use everything from sour cream, to ranch dressing to even mayonnaise depending on the application. Wasabi and soy sauce can become steak sauce or salad dressing. Canned tuna (drained of the oil) mixed with minced green onions and a touch of mayo make for some mean sushi wraps.
–Revitalize. This is a big one. I cook for three even though there are two of us just in case one of our adult children pops in. On most nights this means there are leftovers which I often stretch the next day by re-cooking them a little differently. Leftover taco ingredients are used to make quesadilla; and a little bit of chilli might be used as the base for Spanish rice.
–Work your spuds. Certain ingredients like rice, potatoes and pasta go along way. Learn how to make use them multiple ways. With potatoes I make homemade fries (sometimes curry favored), creamy potato salad, country fried potatoes, backed, stuffed etc. And spaghetti isn’t just for marinara and other pre-made sauces. It can actually be used to make Japanese yakisoba.
–A little meat goes a long way. In Japan meat has always been expensive and so I learned to use at most about a quarter of a pound of burger or thinly sliced meat with a lot of cheap veggies such as onions, carrots , and cabbage to make rice bowls and stir fry. This comes in handy when meat prices are too high to have hamburger patties and steak.
-Shop for staples at a discount store and work the sales elsewhere. Many towns have an “everyday low price” store like Aldis (our fav) which has good quality store brand goods and excellent cheeses. We shop there for most of our basics will keeping an eye on “loss leaders” at two other stores.
–Rotate. Keep an eye on your dates and the condition of your veggies. If something is on the edge of spoiling move it with your versatility!
–Recognize when it isn’t worth skimping. If no one likes it that much switch brands or upgrade. My mother once thought she would trick me into drinking off brand cocoa by switching the container on me. What she didn’t know was that every morning I threw out most of it after just a couple swigs. I kept thinking my taste had changed but no. It was just shitty hot chocolate.
Overall, the success of your fridge minimalism will be based on being a diligent shopper and a versatile (scratch) cook. In our case, my retired spouse is the shopper and I work the magic at the stove. It works for us because if I were to do the shopping I’d be very tempted to go off course and buy what I want to cook vs. use my imagination to use what I am provided. Maybe another key to our success in this area is being each other’s accountability partner.
Itadakimasu! Sincerely, Bonsai