Minimalism

Simple Eating: How I Learned to Save Money, Reduce Stress + Spend Less Time in the Kitchen

August 5, 2015

Cooking is not something that I enjoy. I want to like cooking and I’ve tried (and tried) … but if I’m honest with myself I only cook because I love eating; the process has never been fun for me.

Everything I read online said ‘try meal planning!’ So I did. I thought it would be easier, but to be honest, it didn’t work for me. It felt like hard work, and as someone loves food, I wanted it to be fun.

So I decided to rethink how I eat.

I believe in a simple life philosophy: do more of what you love and let go of the rest. So I started thinking about how I approached food and asking myself how I could change to better suit my lifestyle.

Inspired by many of the lessons I’m learning from minimalism, I decided to take a new, simpler approach to meals. Actually, I decided to stop worrying about ‘meals’ altogether.

Instead, I decided to focus on what I like to eat and created a simple system: a food uniform and capsule pantry.

Learn the simple way I save money, reduce stress + spend less time in the kitchen.

HOW DOES SIMPLE EATING WORK?

The concept is similar to a clothing uniform and a capsule wardrobe.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, a capsule wardrobe is a core wardrobe of key pieces – your favourite jeans, a classic black skirt, a white button down shirt – that forms the basis of your wardrobe. You add bonus items, like accessories or trendy pieces, to round out your wardrobe and complete your outfits.

Although you may have less items of clothing, you are loving and wearing everything you own, so getting dressed is easier and you look better.

Your uniform is your key look – like skinny jeans + oversized tops + boots – a look you love and can turn to on any day and know you will feel good.

RELATED POST: A Simple Guide to a Simple Wardrobe

The same lessons can be applied to food:

  • Keep it simple
  • Choose quality over quantity
  • Look for functionality (with food, is it healthy and balancing out your diet?)
  • And most important, love everything you choose to include.

MY SIMPLE EATING DIET

Let me share my food ‘uniform’. It usually consists of a big salad base (I love spinach/rocket and/or kale), with fresh vegetables added in – asparagus, fennel, green beans, peppers, sweet potatoes, onions – whatever I have on hand. I also like to add beans and/or nuts.

Next, I usually add a small portion of protein. I’ve stopped making meat the hero of my meals, instead vegetables are the core and I add small bits of meat of flavour. Quality is especially important here. I get grass fed organic beef, Tasmanian smoked salmon, or amazing German sausages from the butcher down the road. Hard boiled free range eggs work well too.

Eating less meat means I can afford the best and it is good for my waistline. I usually cook a full portion twice a week and then eat bits of leftovers throughout the week.

Lastly, I accessorise! I add small bits of yummy extras like fresh fruit (I love mangoes when they are in season), goats cheese, or olives. Maybe a slice of fresh bread or a portion of couscous if I feel like the meal needs bulking up. Add a drizzle of quality olive oil, salt and pepper, and I’m done!

That is what I now eat at least 80% o the time. In the winter, my uniform switches to a stir fry, because I crave something a big warmer and more filling, but the concept is the same; the real secret is to buy simple, tasty healthy food that you enjoy eating.

I could easily eat a plate of asparagus, with a few sundried tomatoes, a hard boiled egg, and some nuts. Or a salad with shaved fennel, smoked salmon, fresh mango and rye bread. Or spinach with green beans, sweet potato, and crispy chorizo. Everything is fresh, healthy and goes together. (Ok, chorizo probably isn’t that healthy, but I stick to small portions!)

HOW SIMPLE EATING HAS CHANGED MY LIFE

Because I’m not planning meals, I rarely make grocery lists. I’m not worried about forgetting anything because nothing is essential. Instead, I know I need salad, 2-3 vegetables (whatever is in season), protein (usually eggs + one other item a week), fresh baked bread, and then cheese/fruits/nuts/jams/etc if I need it. If I forget something it’s not a deal breaker.

Another important part of simple eating is buying a lot less food than you think you need. Instead, I focus on eating everything in my fridge and cupboards. Before simplifying my eating habits, I had always had tons of ‘just in case’ stock in the pantry and I was always throwing away a lot of fresh food; I would buy something for a specific recipe but then have no use for the rest of it.

The results? My grocery bills have shrunk considerably and I have almost no food wastage. As a reference, I spend about $50/week to feed two people (and I live in Australia, where costs are considerably higher than in the States.) I don’t skimp on quality – I’ll pay $13 for quality goat’s cheese or $7 for organic rye bread. (In fact, I bought both these items this weekend.) But I don’t buy a lot of food and I waste nothing, so my overall costs stay low.

Although my intention was not to ‘go on a diet’, I’ve lost the last 5kgs that I’ve been hanging onto for years. I think this is because I’ve made vegetables the core of my diet and also because eating has now become simple. I rarely spend more than 10 minutes cooking/preparing my meals, so I don’t give into lazy takeaways as often as I used too. I also eat regularly and don’t skip meals.

Lastly, the number one benefit of simple eating is how little time and effort I spend cooking and food shopping. I’m usually in and out of the supermarket in less than 15 minutes, I don’t plan meals, and I am in and out of the kitchen in no time. This is time I now spend with my loved ones, writing or looking after myself.

I’ve been eating this way for about two year now and I feel so freer (and happier) in the kitchen!!

Would simple eating work for you? Or what are your tips to simplify life in the kitchen? Let me know in the comments! x

{Side Note – this post first appeared in my old blog in Nov 2013. I am sharing here with some slight updates. Also, since then I’ve come across this Capsule Kitchen Project, which has many of the same priciples and looks like a great way to kick start simple eating habits.}

photo credit: Maja Petric // Used with permission

(Visited 50,863 times, 29 visits today)
  • Seriously, these are amazing tips. I often waste a lot a food because I tend to buy a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, then I forget to use them because I’m lazy or I’m not hungry (I don’t eat a lot). I love the concept of minimalism, and I find your blog very inspiring. Thank you so much!

  • Becca Atwood

    I love this post! I am actually an amateur chef, and I think cooking is one of the most beneficial hobbies for me. I love the simple eating advice in this article – with cooking, it is so important to have THE most fresh and high quality ingredients to truly reap those nutrients and benefits.

    My fiance and I are moving to the South Pacific in June. I have began a blog documenting our preparations for the move, with a few niches: DIY, off the grid living, island life, and eventually cooking and spiritualism. We appreciate the simplicity of life, and want to share out experiences of minimal/simple living with everyone interested. I also LOVE your blog format and aesthetic. My link is: http://www.escapevavau.wordpress.com – I am actually going to be taking up that special domain offer with Blue Host tomorrow, and will be making some big changes! I would love for you to take a look at it and let me know of any advice you have for me/us –

    Enjoying life each day and striving to make the next day better than the previous.

    -Becca A

    • Hi Becca! Thanks for your feedback about my post! I’m not much of a cook, so it’s nice to hear that my advice is ‘chef’ approved ?

      I had a look at your blog; wow you have some incredible plans! I have some friends from the islands and they are some of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever met. I’m sure you’re going to love it. And I completely understand where you’re coming from (with the lifestyle you’re after.) When I finish this trip my hubby and I are planning to buy a van and spend a year touring Australia (and then after than maybe something like you’re doing! Who knows? ?

      About the blog, I definitely think getting a custom domain is a must do. If you like the aesthetic of my blog the best advice I can give is to spend a little bit on a good theme. If you have a good theme then most of the design work is done for you! Mine is from http://solopine.com and I they are very reasonably priced. Good luck! x Jen

      • That all sounds excellent – after the van adventure, just know that you will soon have two friends in the islands wanting to have guests 24/7! I followed your advice and purchased a domain (http://escapetovavau.com/2015/12/20/announcement/)! I am currently in the market for some good themes, and will decide on one in the next week. Thanks again for your advice, and I would love to hear any more advice you may have!

  • As a fussy eating (still, at my age) I think I can implement a thing or two to my meal plans after reading this post. Thanks Jennifer.

    • Hi Morgan – thanks for your comment! I’m glad you found this post useful ? (And PS: I just checked out your blog and love your post about values! x)

      • Hey Jennifer, thanks for reading. I was just wondering, as a seasoned traveller, how do you go about eating while travelling? Do you budget? 🙂

        • Hey! Yep, I always have some sort of budget … it varies a lot depending where in the world I am.

          For example, in Southeast Asia it is incredibly cheap to eat local food, so I don’t have to think about my budget too much (as long as I limit the number of times I eat at fancier, tourist places.) As a casual traveller in Southeast Asia, it is much cheaper (in some places you can eat for $5/day) and easier to eat out than to prepare your own food.

          However, in other places (like much of Europe) I have to be more careful. I usually stay in accommodation that has cooking facilities, so I balance eating at home (and using my same ‘Simple Eating’ method) with eating out (I love to eat out and I think it is a big part of travel.) I will plan ahead and include extra room in my budget for dining out, especially if it’s in a country where the food is a big part of the experience.

          I hope this helps with your questions! If you have any specific questions (about certain countries or budgets) feels free to ask and I’ll help if I can!

  • Jenn s

    I love this idea… though, I wonder if I could convince my hubby and son (18 yrs) to try this. I hate cooking, so would LOVE to be able to get in and out of the kitchen fast! I know my daughter (15 yrs) would eat this way and not complain — she’s not big on meat, to begin with. We’ll see, I guess.

    • Maybe you can slowly convince them ? I didn’t think my hubby would like the idea but he actually loves it! Good luck!!

      • Jenn s

        I know that my hubby would LOVE the idea of using everything we have, and not wasting anything … plus the idea of cutting back on our grocery bill. 😉

        • Arline

          This was my first question, too. My hubby eats and eats and eats and think meat should rule the world. 🙂 But I’m going to see if I can convince him to try this.

  • Arline

    This may be asking a lot, but could you make this post into a graphic organizer? Or an infographic? Some way I can “see” it better. 🙂 If not, I understand. But I can’t quite imagine in my mind how to actually put this into practice.

    • Hi Arline! Hmm… let me think about this! I’m in the process of moving this week, but maybe when I get settled I can try and put a post together explaining how this works for me in more details (I’ll take some photos and track what my meals/groceries are.) Watch this space – and thanks for stopping by! ☺️

  • Great article, Jen! I eat pretty much the same diet as you do – simple, healthy and mostly centered around fresh vegetables (except I am vegetarian and gluten-free, so that adds some extra challenges at times). I love it and feel so much more energized than I used to! I have been eating this way for around two years as well. 🙂

  • Mel G

    Great ideas! I am letting go of the fear of failure for meal planning! I have been trying unsuccessfully for five years. I have been doing something similar, except, I like your idea of focusing of on quality. Thank you Jennifer.

    • Hi Mel! Yes – it’s funny how something that is supposed to help simplify our lives (meal planning) can make things more complicated for some people! I have nothing against meal planning, but it’s just not right for me (or you!) Thanks for stopping by xo

  • Julia

    Love your ideas on this topic. I used to do a lot of meal planning but it started to become a drag and then I didn’t feel like what was planned for that day because the weather was cold or I couldn’t be bothered cooking. I’ve moved towards the concept of buddha bowls as a way of simplifying (although I do add small amounts of meat as well). They are just such an easy and adaptable concept, quick to put together, minimise waste and definitely a less expensive and more healthy way to eat.

    • Yes – I love buddha bowls! I often have a hard time explaining in practical terms what I eat and they are the best way to explain it – just simple bowls with little bits of yummy, healthy stuff 🙂 Thanks for sharing Julia! x

  • Jessica McGuire

    How would you be able to implement this as a college student/ at work? Seems like it would be a difficult adjustment from what I am used to. Also, I live in the south, so rice and gravy and big meals like that are usually staples in a household.

    • Hi Jessica,

      It’s mostly just about choosing a few staples that you love and making them the base of your meals and I think it works great for students! I take lunches to work and mine are usually just rice with veggies and whatever else I have on hand (leftover meat, nuts, cheese – whatever!) For me simple eating is just about eating what you like and not worrying too much about if it all goes together as a proper ‘dish’ – just throw what you love into a bowl!

      Try googling ‘buddha bowls’ – that’s pretty much how I eat – just yummy stuff thrown in a bowl!

      x Jen

    • Sarah Startz

      This is pretty much me. I generally pre-cook a protein and make extra rice or quinoa at the beginning of the week. Then when I have a little more time I can cook something bit more put together, and if I’m in a rush I’ve got easy, healthy leftovers to throw together!

  • I do a blend of this and following (or basing my meals on) recipes. I’ve always hated *only* using recipes because there’s always something like half a head of cauliflower leftover to fester in the bottom of the fridge, but I also find that I work best with some structure and direction as to what I’ll make, or I find myself standing in the supermarket on a Friday evening at an utter loss because my creative well ran dry three hours ago trying to wrap my head around a failing unit test at work. What I find tends to work is picking one or two recipes at a time, and using the leftover ingredients as a base for what I’ll make next.

    For instance, if I’m planning to make a curry one evening, I’ll pick up some bell pepper and snow peas and make a stir fry with the leftover ginger and kale the next night, or I’ll grab a few yummy add-ins and make a kale salad for lunch the next day.

    Although I do enjoy cooking, I am incredibly slow at things like chopping vegetables (I once made a ’15-minute stir fry’ that took me over an hour. No joke), so I tend to prefer my more structured meals to take place when I have the time to relax in the kitchen and enjoy the process, especially if I’m going to need to keep checking the recipe. For busy weeknights, I’m definitely more in the ‘throw fresh veggies together with some lemon juice and olive oil’ frame of mind.

    • I love how you’ve found a balance that works for you. I still cook occasional recipes (especially in the winter) but it’s mostly the same curry or stir fry over and over! x

    • AnnaMarie Raven

      Just a quick suggestion. It used to take me forever to chop veggies, until I found some tutorials on youtube. Seriously has changed my life. I felt silly at first, I guess I thought this was something everyone should just know how to do, but it was worth it. You can also find some for just about any aspect of cooking. It’s like free cooking school.

      • Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll have to check it out 🙂

  • Sophie

    oh my god thank you! Everyone thinks it’s so strange that my fridge looks so empty because I just eat everything I buy every week! 😀 finally someone gets me!

  • My roommates need this advice. Our cupboards are so stuffed with things they buy. Although I want to get better at it, too. I have a couple cans of tuna that I haven’t eaten yet and it’s been a month. Great post!

  • mapartha

    If you want minimalism, you should not only be conservative but also remove all non-vegetarian items from your diet. Better quality proteins can be had by eating lightly-cooked beans than by eating meat, etc.
    Also, one should be wary of pesticide residues in fresh vegetables. It is better advised to wash them and cook them lightly to avoid consuming all those poisonous pesticides.
    Finally, avoid all processed foods like pizzas, burgers, noodles, etc. as they contain excessive amounts of chemicals and preservatives and have very less nutritional value.

  • NA

    I want to try this.

  • Sarah Startz

    This is pretty close to how I eat/shop for the week! Except I do it because I really like cooking. It gives me a little bit more room to be creative while keeping myself restrained. I can mix it up with different seasonings, starch, and cooking methods, which lets me use the same protein and vegetable in several different ways throughout the week.

    • Hi Sarah – awesome to hear the perspective of someone who likes cooking! I often read that simplicity inspires creativity and this sounds like a good example of that. Thanks for stopping by! Cheers Jen

  • Great perspective, I didn’t consider taking minimalism into the kitchen! I will definitely implement these tips into my daily life.

    xx
    The Felicia Renee | a minimalist lifestyle & beauty blog

    • Thanks Felicia! For me it was mostly out of necessity, I’m hopeless in the kitchen so I had to find a way to make things simpler haha 🙂 Have a great day! xx

  • Great. So true – in adopting a more minimalism/simplified lifestyle my cooking habits have changed dramatically. I cook a lot less, eating raw where possible. I don’t bother reheating dinners either (personal one that 🙂 and batch cook where possible. I’m eating more healthily and spending about 1/3 the time I used to actually cooking. I’ve become ingredient oriented over recipes

    • I know I already said this on Twitter, but I LOVE the way you phrase it “ingredients over recipes”!! It’s such a simple way to sum it up 🙂