Do you ever find yourself joyfully growing a lot of food in the garden and then realizing that you actually have to harvest all of it and then eat it? Ha! You’re not alone! Sometimes there is so much work involved in a productive garden harvest. I’ve pickled 20 jars of cucumbers and it’s not even August yet! I want to incorporate the foods I’m growing into our weekly meals without being wasteful, but it can often prove to be a challenge. I’m slowly getting into a good groove and wanted to share some my family’s meal planning and garden harvest tips and ideas that help streamline the earth to table process.
Not too long ago, I spent a year of my life living vegan, and then vegetarian. It was a good season of my life, and really led me to invest in a more thoughtful and holistic approach to eating organically. It also made me think harder about the impact food has on our physical and emotional health (it’s everything)! But I continually go back to the ‘moderation in all things’ philosophy where I focus on what is IN my food, where it came from, and eating it with joy. I’ve gone through phases with food of eating really well, and not so much. I’m currently coming out of a ‘not so much’ phase, which is why I’m pushing to get back into the habit of making consistently good choices. Eating well is all about finding a way of doing it that works for YOU. I like to think of it as eating real food that has been minimally processed, most of the time.
I used to throw down the mac-n-cheese and chocolate chip cookies like nobody’s business, but eventually those habits caught up with me when my upper 20’s metabolism couldn’t keep up. Add in a pregnancy or two and the realization that what we eats matters, and I turned into a food freak. But I am NOT a perfect eater. Far from it, in fact. Which is why I try and avoid all the “rules” and “programs” surrounding food and lifestyle choices. Without further ado, let’s dive into some of my practical advise for meal planning, eating, and harvesting the food you grow at home.
| Don’t Over Think It |
Like I mentioned earlier, I don’t like to over-think everything I am eating, or feel like I have somehow “failed” if I didn’t follow the rules. Think about eating foods close to their natural state and local/organically grown when possible. I find eating things I’ve grown and cared for myself to be the most satisfying and fulfilling.
| Mmmm, Money |
I know it’s expensive. Buy organic produce off the Dirty Dozen List, or hit up your local farmer’s market. Search around and see if there are any local farms who sell sides of beef. Invest in a deep freeze and STOCK UP on good deals of foods you will eat. Costco is your friend. A lot of processed foods are actually more expensive, so stick to the outer aisles of your grocery store. Paying a little more for healthy food now is preventive medicine for your health later on.
And of course, eat what you grow! It can be costly to get a garden established, but once you do it pays off in droves. We’ve been eating salad almost every single day for the past couple of months. If I were to buy a bag of spinach, kale, a bundle of swiss chard, and a head of romaine it would easily cost me $15 or more, whereas growing it myself is free! All it costs is my time.
| Read Labels |
A lot of things are labeled “natural” or some other claim to get you to buy them, which is a very clever marketing scheme. Simply reading the labels gives you a clearer picture of what you will be putting into your body. A common theme for eating clean is to not eat a processed product if it has more than 5 ingredients listed on the label. I don’t abide by that strictly, but it’s a good rule of thumb. Knowing what I know now about GMOs, pesticides, and chemicals, I shudder when I read the ingredients of a lot of packaged foods (I know, I know…food snob coming out.)
| Have A Reason |
If you don’t understand the reason behind why you are doing something, it probably won’t work out. Read books and watch documentaries to educate yourself about the food we eat. My kids and the overall health of my family is the biggest driving force behind why I go the extra mile to meal plan, budget, and prepare healthy foods. I want my son to have the best start to life, and the same with my daughter. As a nursing mom, I know that what I eat directly effects the quality of the milk.
One of the reasons I grow a garden is because I want my son to be invested in learning about life cycles and where our food comes from. I remember my nephew once asked my sister-in-law if the chickens they had would grow eggs into a carton! It’s a fun thing to giggle at, but when kids are directly involved in growing and raising food it gives them a bigger perspective on the world. I’m also committed to eating the food I grow because a large chunk of my time is spent tending the garden, and I don’t want it to go to waste.
| Plan It Out |
The most practical piece of advise I can offer here is to take the time to plan. Plan out your family dinners, plan what you will pack for lunches, and make it a routine and habit. Have you heard that ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ bit? Well, I think it’s mostly true when it comes to meal planning and eating. On weeks when I don’t take the initial time to organize and plan my family’s meals I typically make poor choices, unnecessarily waste food, and overall feel very frazzled and frantic when the 5 o’clock hour rolls around before dinner. It does NOT have to be fancy! Keep things basic and simple.
Over time I’ve learned what works best for me is spending 30 minutes on the weekend to sit down with a piece of paper and write out each day of the week. I go and look in our deep freezer to see what meats we have, and I do a thorough check of the garden. I then fill in each night with the meal I plan to make. I have staple meals that are my ‘go-tos’, but I also search pinterest or browse through my cookbooks for inspiration. Below my scribbled list, I write the ingredients I need to buy from the store on top of all our regular things (fruit, eggs, milk, etc). If I’m doing anything special that week, like making bone broth, I make sure I have everything I need. I also make myself a side list of breakfast/lunch/snack ideas for myself so that I don’t fall victim to eating my son’s sandwich scraps or tossing a handful of chocolate chips in my mouth when I feel an afternoon low.
After doing a ‘rough draft’ of meals, I then write them on a tiny chalk board I have in our kitchen. I do this so that I can stay on track and visually see what I’m doing that night. I go to the store over the weekend when my husband is home, and I take my toddler with me and turn it into a mini mama-son date. We go to Costco and then usually Trader Joes. We have a pretty tight food budget, but I think the key is not running out in the middle of the week multiple times because those food items add up!
Sunday evening I do a big garden harvest. My son and I cut greens, pick beans and cucumbers, and munch on berries. I wash all the greens in the sink, cut them and sort them in bags for either salads or smoothies. I put cucumbers, zucchinis, and carrots in individual bags. I boil eggs (or I do this Monday morning while making breakfast), shred rotisserie chicken, and wash all the fruit. This makes the week SO much easier. I know it’s time consuming, but it pays off later in the week.
| It Won’t Be Fast |
We are used to convenience. Eating this way isn’t convenient. It goes back to the basics of knowing where our food comes from, and taking the time to prepare it and enjoy it with people we love. Food is this basic human need that also translates into love, emotions, feelings, and the very primal nature of who we are. I like that about it.
This is all a huge learning process for me! Sometimes I fall short with food, but I remember that feeding my family’s spiritual body is often times more important, and I try and keep that perspective on days when we tailgate in the parking lot of Costco eating hot dogs, or miss a week of garden harvest because we’re out indulging in food on vacation. Balance. How do you meal plan and take control of your family’s well-being?