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

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 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 my approach to food and asked myself what 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 term, a capsule wardrobe is a core wardrobe of key pieces like your favourite jeans, a classic black skirt, or 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 fewer items of clothing, you love and wear everything you own, so getting dressed is easier and you actually look better too!

Your uniform is your signature look; for example, in the autumn mine is skinny jeans + oversized tops + boots. It’s a look I love and I know on any given day, I’ll feel good wearing it.

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 for 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), freshly baked bread, and an assortment of 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, simplifying my meals helped me lose the last 5kgs I’d been hanging onto for years. I think this is because vegetables are the core of my diet now. Also, meals are no longer a chore. 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.

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 no longer spend hours in the kitchen. This is time saved that I now spend with my loved ones, writing or looking after myself.

I’ve been eating this way for about two years 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 principles and looks like a great way to kick start simple eating habits.}

photo credit: Maja Petric // Used with permission

PS: I wrote a free, 18-page guide and workbook called Mindful Decluttering to help you finally clear the clutter for good. If you’d like a copy, don’t forget to subscribe below or click here! Here’s what people have to say about it:

“I loved the connection you made with mindful decluttering – others talk about becoming more mindful as part of a minimalist journey, but the fact you’ve made it part of the framework of the process itself sets it apart. It’s brilliant – excited to see this coming into the minimalist landscape. You have a fresh, supportive and enquiring voice.” —Christina J, 38, St Albans UK

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Author: Jennifer

Hello there! I'm Jennifer and welcome to Simply + Fiercely, a community of women striving to live simpler, more intentional lives. As a former shopaholic and workaholic, I know how it feels to live a life that doesn't feel true to what's in your heart. Fortunately, I've transformed my life and gone from feeling cluttered and confused to living a curated life filled with purpose and joy. Now I'm here to help you do the same.