My Healthy Habit Challenge: I’m Gonna Start Meal Planning

published Jan 9, 2017
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Welcome to our Healthy Habit Challenge! Instead of focusing on (impossible-to-keep) New Year’s resolutions, this year we’re challenging four writers to start a new healthy habit. These challenges aren’t about cutting out sugar or going on a diet or focused on the negative. They’re about doing something new and good — and making it second-nature.

In 2017 I would like to spend less time at the grocery store, for the sake of my mental health and the mental health of those around me. Do not misunderstand me: I love the grocery store. I love my grocery store (I confess that it is not technically a grocery store, but an oft-parodied food coop), and I love other grocery stores. Grocery stores are a highlight of trips, both domestic and international. My wallet is a cornucopia of frequent shopper cards from grocery stores in cities I no longer live. What I am trying to say is that grocery stores are not the problem. I am the problem.

The Backstory

As it currently stands, I make at least two grocery store trips a week, and likely three, if you count the last-minute bodega runs to pick up the diced tomatoes I forgot. Possibly four, if you count the overpriced farmers market bundle of kale I should have obtained elsewhere (but how was I to know I’d have such a craving for white bean and kale stew tonight?). To be fair, all these trips are technically not mine alone — my boyfriend is also a zealous and devoted shopper with a much higher tolerance for carrying heavy bags of canned goods than mine. For the sake of argument, let’s say he’s responsible for at least half of these trips. Still that means, in the average week, we are making between two and four grocery runs a week for a household of two.

That is embarrassing. That is a lot.

In my defense, our freezer is tiny (in an adorable, useless sort of way). Groceries are heavy, and we do not have a car. Also, we live in a small apartment with minimal storage space, most of which I use to store different types of blenders. (I love blenders almost as much as I love grocery stores.) Buying six large cans of diced tomatoes at once would make sense, I agree, but I cannot carry them and I cannot store them, and so I prefer to run out of them constantly, and then panic, and then pay $3 for Italian imported ones at the absurd artisanal deli next door.

And what about produce? I have found it really hard to keep fresh produce fresh. Sometimes it lasts; sometimes it doesn’t last. I can sense no method to this madness. Broccoli generally last, unless they don’t. Cilantro almost never lasts, unless it does. By the end of the week, my kale often looks sad — not inedible, necessarily, but melancholy. A pair of artichokes I bought four days ago are already beginning to look forlorn. (I understand that frozen produce could be an option here; historically, I have fallen victim to the lure of the fresh aisle, but acknowledge this may be an opportunity for personal growth.)

The Plan

I understand that a lot of these problems would go away if I meticulously planned a week’s worth of meals on Sunday night, as the internet suggests, taking into account the rate of spoilage (leafy greens early in the week; save the sweet potatoes for later). But it’s hard! How am I supposed to know that I’ll want enchiladas on Wednesday? I’m not a fortune teller. What if I go out to dinner on Wednesday because of my spontaneous and bustling social life? What if Wednesday comes, and I actually want soup? It’s a roller coaster, life.

It cannot go on this way. I am afraid to think how many hours of my life I have spent going to the grocery store, waiting in line at the grocery store, and panicking about how I have not gone to the grocery store and now there is nothing to eat for dinner. (Then, I go to the grocery store.)

And so, in the name of self-improvement, and of science, I will spend January going to the grocery store once per week and no more. I will stop being a cautionary tale. I will plan a weekly menu, and somehow we will survive on a single shopping trip every seven days. Perhaps with the extra time, I will take up another healthy habit, such as meditation or napping.

The Rules

  • One trip to the grocery store every seven days. Supplemental trips should be avoided, unless they are absolutely necessary, in which case, I will note them. We can discuss my failures at the end of the month.
  • Before officially beginning, I will make one grand trip to buy exclusively non-perishable staples for the month, an idea so obvious, I have never bothered to try it before. By staples, I mostly mean diced tomatoes, but also olive oil, sesame oil, chickpeas, and assorted other canned goods I have not thought of yet. It will also be a body-building activity, unless I give in and enlist the services of an Uber.
  • Double batches are allowed — nay, encouraged! I will say, though, that historically I have repurposed the leftovers as weekday lunches rather than subsequent dinners, because a civilized lunch is one of the purest pleasures of the work day.
  • Ordering emergency takeout does not count as successfully avoiding the grocery store.

The Potential Pitfalls

There are a lot! What if I spend hundreds of dollars on groceries and don’t end up using them all because we crave something off-plan or get a last-minute dinner invite to go out with friends? What if I don’t make a comprehensive-enough list and I still find myself missing those darn diced tomatoes? What if I get busy on Sunday and just don’t feel like working on this silly little (and stressful!) meal plan?

If you are also feeling oppressed by the tyranny of the grocery store, join me on this adventure in minimalism! And if you have mastered the once-weekly shop, won’t you please (please) share your tips?