This post is part two in a four part blog series discussing how to eat well on only $30 a week. For the first part discussing methods for feeling confident in the kitchen go here.
Once you get confident cooking a whole assortment of new things, you will initially feel proud and excited. Everything tastes better homemade! You can’t believe you used to buy bread at the store when it’s ridiculously easy to make at home! Why on earth were you buying frozen bags of fries when they taste so much better fresh out of the oven? How could the world allow you to grow up thinking that it was hard to make homemade cheese sauce? The nerve!
During this period of initial excitement you will no doubt gleefully consume your new discoveries, push them on your friends and then devour the leftovers. After all, they are the fruits of your labor. But as time goes on and you get into a rotation of meals (just like you were before you started this adventure) you begin to realize something terrible.
You’ve been eating the same chicken soup for three days, there’s still another couple day’s worth in the fridge and you can’t freeze it because everyone has told you potatoes don’t freeze well. Which brings us to the next step in eating on a budget: get comfortable eating the same meal three days in a row.
Now this is one of those things that is very hard to give solid advice on. What works for me might not work for anyone else, particularly you. If you can’t even stand leftover chinese takeout I can tell you right now it’s going to be very very difficult to live on $30 a week. If you like leftovers a little but go insane having the same thing for both lunch and dinner it will be doable but not particularly easy. And even if you love leftovers like I do, I can promise you even for you repetitive meals can feel exhausting after a while. But I do have a few tips that I think are relatively universal.
Tip One: Work Through It
Even when it’s frustrating and it sucks and why does everyone say soup gets better with age this tastes like salted water WORK THROUGH IT. Resist the urge to go out for thai food! Humans are amazingly adaptive creatures. The more you put into it and the longer you work at it the more it becomes “normal” and the less miserable it is. I’m not saying that you should torture yourself through lousy food–if it has gone bad or was never good to begin with, compost it! But if you’re just miserable with it because you’ve had the same stuff four meals straight, suck it up and keep going. Once you get more used to this way of eating, you’ll begin to enjoy it a lot more. Anyway, most of the time it’s the idea of eating it that is repulsive; once you actually dig in you’ll feel less grumpy. Remember: throwing it out because you let it go bad feels WAY worse than eating it a fifth time.
Tip Two: Be Creative
So you’re sick of your soup. Change it up! Add new spices–turn that chicken noodle into a spicy curry or enchilada soup with curry powder or hot red pepper flakes (or both!). Pour it over rice to change the flavor and texture if it’s the no-chewing thing that’s bothering you. Make some fresh biscuits to go with it. Buy matzo on sale and turn it into matzo ball soup! There are lots of low-cost options that can mix up your meal and make it feel less repetitive. Go wild!
Tip Three: Shake Up Your Rotation
You can avoid the dread you feel about eating the same thing multiple times if you only make a recipe once a month or so. If you have had soup twice in the past three weeks, wait a while before making soup again. Yes, it’s incredibly cost effective and feels nearly labor-free when you use a slow cooker, but you’ll be happier if you make lasagna this week instead. Of course, you might get sick of the lasagna too eventually but it’s easier to cope with that dread when you know you’ll be eating something completely different next week.
Tip Four: Cook Amazing Food
Okay, this one might feel like a cop out but bear with me. The better you get at cooking, the better your food tastes. And the better your food tastes, the longer it takes for you to get sick of it. Sticking with the soup example, I have made a lot of average soups in my life. Those are the ones I have grown the sickest of, to the point where some of them actually went bad and I felt awful about it. But a few soups I have made definitely stick out in my mind, through to today, and I happily ate them until they ran out because they were effing delicious. Matt and I still talk about a beef stew we made one time with beets and blue potatoes, because we remember how the beet flavor seeped into the broth and created a richer taste every consecutive day we ate it. It was amazing! Part of cooking is discovering the recipes that you would eat from now until you die, and once you find those recipes every part of your life will be all the happier for it.
Tip Five: Invite Friends Over for Dinner
If all else fails, share the meal. It will disappear quicker and you will be stuck with figuring what else to make that week–so a bit of forward thinking is definitely involved with this step–but at least that meal will be gone! And as I’ve said, all food tastes better when it’s homemade. Your friends will still think you’re a genius even if you’re just feeding them leftovers. Also, their glowing reviews will make the meal taste less tired and renew your interest in it, guaranteed.
I would dare to suggest that getting used to eating the same thing several days in a row is the hardest part of eating on $30 a week because it’s an issue of personal preference and resolve rather than one of logistics. Probably the most important thing to remember when trying this out is that you have to move forward with intention. If you do not decide from the very beginning that this is something that is important for you to accomplish, you will struggle a lot. Having that resolve, that intention, will go a long, long way in helping you move forward.