Changes · Family · Spend Less · Stewardship

No Food Buying February

It has been one week since I challenged my husband and myself to spend February (at least) purposefully eating the food we have stored up in our pantry and cabinets. During this week, I focused on cooking and eating what was perishable first — so we ate the almost sprouting russet potatoes at several meals, as well as more salad than we normally eat. I bought salad mix for my lunches at Costco, and there is a lot of salad in those clamshells. We also ate leftover risotto and soup from the freezer — they weren’t in danger of perishing soon, but I want to clear out all of the stored food.

I also threw away some more packages from the pantry and refrigerator that were far beyond their expiration dates. The packages were bought, and then forgotten — wasted money and additional waste in the landfill, not to mention the wasted energy of production and shipping of food that is thrown away.

Today’s challenge was going grocery shopping without buying anything we didn’t absolutely need. I started at Sam’s because I needed gas, and a big bag of candy for my classroom. Going into Sam’s knowing I was only there for 5 items was more difficult than I imagined. It was hard to navigate the aisles without stopping for every “good” buy. One thing I love about shopping at Sam’s is the produce. There were bags of apples and trays of berries that looked so tempting — besides they are super healthy foods. But in the end, I resisted temptation. I only bought one item not on my list — a package of socks because I had forgotten the sock drive at school until I saw them. I left Sam’s having spent $45 — only $8 was for actual food for the week (salad mix and bananas for my lunches).

Then my husband and I went together to the local grocery store. All we needed was salt and butter, and we treated it as a challenge to actually only buy those items. As we walked the aisles, I thought about getting coffee and my husband commented that he was out of brownie mix. I also looked at the dairy case for a minute to see if a non-dairy yogurt I had seen advertised was available. But we resisted those temptations. We ended up getting 3 cans of dog food because I had forgotten to put that on the list, but it was a legitimate need for the week.

The best part — I didn’t have multiple bags of groceries to put away after shopping and we spent less than $20 on the food for the week.

I have been wondering why it is that I over buy food like I do. I think I have an unreasonable fear of running out of something important. I pass 5 grocery stores just on my way home from work every day, so I don’t even have to go out of my way to pick up something when I need it. Or perhaps it is because I hate shopping and I somehow think that by stocking up, I somehow won’t have to run to the store every Saturday — but it isn’t true. I will always have to shop.  

I have heard that there are people who actually let their refrigerators and pantries go almost bare. It is hard for me to believe. I’d love to hear how other people manage their food shopping — do you overbuy or just buy enough for the immediate future?

 

Changes · Family · Stewardship

Take What You Want, But Eat What You Take

I have been on many youth group retreats and mission trips with high schoolers from my church. One rule I’ve heard many times is, “Take what you want, but eat what you take.” This is an important thing to tell teenagers who are allowed to serve themselves from a buffet line. I have seen teenagers respond to a buffet as though they haven’t been fed in a month — and they load their plates with more than they can eat. I have seen plates mounded over with french fries and macaroni and cheese. The people at the end of the line may not have anything at all by the time they get to the line, or there is substantial food waste — and correlating excess cost to cook and serve food destined for the trash.

I have to say, I’m pretty good on a buffet line. I rarely have a problem eating what I put on my plate, and I don’t think I over serve myself because I have been at the end of the line and know what it is like to have little from which to choose.

But it is a different story when I go grocery shopping. For some reason, even if I make a list, I end up buying more than I can possibly eat in the interval between shopping trips — every single time. (But I won’t take all of the blame for this. My husband is as bad as I am at overbuying. One time I asked him to get me some dental floss, and he got 2 multi packs — I’m good on dental floss for a year or more.)

At this point, our pantry is beyond full. I can’t find shelf space to put anything else. I can’t even begin to clean it out because there is not enough space on the kitchen table to sort through all of what we have bought. For example, the 12 pound bag of black beans was a great deal when I bought it last spring at Sams — but even eating black beans every day in my salad at lunch, I’m only going through a cup of dried beans every week! It is going to be a year before I get through that bean purchase. And what was I thinking buying an 800 count box of stevia packets?? It has taken me a year and a half to use the 40 count box. But I was at Costco, and I had stevia on my shopping list, and it was super cheap at Costco — so it went into my cart.

“Take what you want, but eat what you take.” I will have to use 3 packets of stevia every day to use up that box before it reaches its ‘best by’ date. I definitely took more than I can possibly eat on that one.

It has become a problem and I have decided to stage an intervention for the two of us. For at least the month of February (and probably into March since I just bought rice at Costco….), we will buy no more shelf-stable food items until the pantry has been cleaned out. We will work on eating the fresh foods purposefully so that we limit our food waste, while also eating the stored up foods instead of buying more.

My motivation for my husband is that once we have cleaned out the pantry, I am going to help him redesign the pantry he has always hated, replacing the wire shelving with solid shelves, and to make it more like a butler’s pantry for dishes and appliances we rarely use. Since it is only the two of us at home most of the year, we should be able to use the smaller cabinets (that are also way too full) for our daily staples, making the kitchen flow more efficiently.

The rule “Take what you want, but eat what you take” is going to become my shopping mantra. I have been acting like those teenagers at the buffet line, buying far more food than I need or can even eat. I know economics and food distribution is far more complicated than a buffet line, but in small ways, I am taking up more than my share of the earth’s resources every time I throw away food that has gone bad or past its expiration date hiding in the far recesses of my cabinets, I am adding to the landfill in my community. This is not a good use of earth’s resources, and I need to make a change.

Does anyone else have this problem in their pantries?

If you want me, I’ll be drinking my tea — with stevia!

Changes · Family · Life with kids · Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Thanksgiving for Change

Last week in Sunday School, I taught my students the story of Balaam’s donkey. In this story, the king of Moab asked Balaam to curse God’s people. As a prophet of God, it would not have been a good thing for Balaam to have cursed God’s own people, but the king was offering a fat paycheck for Balaam’s service. Balaam knows it is the wrong thing to do, but he sets off with his trusty donkey to talk to the king, and the assumption is that he intends to take the money and curse God’s people.

As Balaam was traveling to see the king about this request, and God sent an angel who stood in the roadway, scaring the wits out of poor Balaam’s donkey. The donkey first walked off the road, then lay down in the middle of the road– wanting to do anything but cross the angel standing in the path. Balaam couldn’t see the angel, didn’t understand the donkey’s behavior, and responded by beating the poor animal. He basically threw a hissy fit because his plans were being changed and he didn’t want to adapt. The story ends with the donkey receiving the gift of speech, so he could explain his behavior, and Balaam’s eyes were opened to see the angel standing in their path. Balaam realizes that he was on the path to sure destruction, and his donkey’s behavior was protecting him. The lesson, I explained to my class, was that sometimes our plans are blocked by situations we don’t understand, and sometimes it is God blocking our path to keep us in His path and not on our own path.

I thought about this story as I prepared for hosting Thanksgiving this week. This year, for the only the second time ever, I hosted Thanksgiving. Originally I was not pleased to have my traditional Thanksgiving changed. But it turned out to be very nice.


Thanksgiving is about more than just the food. It is about family and getting together. It is about life and love and surviving another year and being thankful for everything that happened in that year. Normally, my family’s Thanksgiving is loud and messy. We gather at my parents’ house — 3 children, a couple sons-in-law, 9 grandchildren, a few dogs and significant others, and most recently a great-grandbaby to enjoy. It is a giant slumber party, with football at the local elementary school fields, and long walks and talks, football on TV, jigsaw puzzles in the living room. And of course, my mom’s cooking. I love it.

But this year is different. We aren’t having our normal, crazy family Thanksgiving at my parents’ house. My sister will be with her family. Only two of my four children can come this year. My parents are staying at their house with my brother and his family. It will be quiet, less stressful for sure — different.

My mom says that change has to happen, that it is the normal way of things. But to be fair, I don’t like any change anyway. I’m quite change-averse. I set out on my path, like Balaam in the Bible story, and I get very frustrated when something makes me change my plans. I have spent the last few weeks being upset that Thanksgiving is different this year.

But as the day arrived, I realize how much good is in this change. I was relaxed with no long drive to mom’s house, no packing of the dogs, making sure Sugar got her car-sick medicine an hour before we left. As much as I love my mom’s house and her wonderful kitchen and greenhouse to just sit in, it was nice to enjoy extended time in my own home. It was fun to watch Taylor setting out her pre-dinner snacks and to get out serving dishes that are rarely used. We were able to include a friend who didn’t have any place to go, and Taylor’s boyfriend was able to work and enjoy family Thanksgiving. And I got to watch Moana for the first time, while lying on my favorite Lazy-Boy chair under a cozy blanket.

I still don’t like change, but I’m trying to embrace it. Change can be good.