(Yes, my food philosophy includes the snack that smiles back)
This shouldn’t be so hard, I tell myself. I’m just writing a grocery list, not splitting the atom.
Sigh. Does anyone else ever feel a slight clutch of panic before a trip to the store? Especially if you’re on a firm budget and it’s nearing the end of the month?
If you’re like me, you can turn the molehill of meal planning into a mountain of meaning. These meals aren’t just meals, I like to tell myself. They’re the way I convey love to my family. They’re the most tangible way I express our values. They provide nutrition as well as philosophy! I’m not just dishing up dinner here. I’m drawing my kiddos’ worldview.
And yeah, I can totally see that. But sometimes a Goldfish cracker is just a cracker. It’s a snack, not the signifier of all my parental philosophies. Not the harbinger of obesity, cavities, and other ill health to come.
Just. A. Cracker.
I bring this up because as I meal plan, I always try to find a balance between competing priorities. First and foremost, I try to optimize the time I spend on meal planning and prepping. It is, after all, time that could be spent in a myriad of ways (playing, reading, working, and cleaning leap immediately to mind).
Other thoughts: My family tries to enjoy food without slipping over into constant gluttony. We endeavor to balance comforting familiarity with the fun of new culinary adventures. We value health as well as flavor. And we value the ease of alone time (just the four of us) as well as the excitement of entertaining. Is it possible to address all of these points? Can we do so while respecting the constraints of our budget? Can we do so while respecting the health of our earth and the well-being of other humans and creatures? (Yeah, why not? Let’s add “thriftiness,” “responsibility” and “environmental” to the other values associated with our food.)
Theoretically, this puts a lot of pressure on the weekly meal plan. But this just isn’t the case. Why? Because I don’t have to prioritize every one of those conflicting values every week. We cook and we eat A LOT. These are just the guidelines that I keep in mind as I prepare. I figure it all has to even out over time.
Lately, for instance, we’ve been having a lot of adventure, flavor, and health in our diet. But the trade-off is that we’ve been spending more than I feel we should. So this meal plan was created with a determination to meet our budgetary bottom line… it’s very cost-effective and NOT health conscious AT ALL.
There’s certainly going to be a lot of breading, frying, and smothering in cheese this week. I have a choice about that. I could bemoan the artery-clogging I’m about to unleash on my loved ones… or I could show a little self-compassion and look on the bright side. It’s cheap. A lot of it is vegetarian. I’m mainly using resources I already have in the home. And you know what? If it really bothers me, I can promise myself that, once the budget resets for April, I can commit to 30 days of whole foods (perhaps with purposeful planning that will sustain us all month).
Yeah, self-compassion sounds like the MUCH better option here. No more self recrimination as I (temporarily) pour on the Parmesan and panko. And so it’s with a clear conscience that I present our highly unbalanced meal for the week!
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breaded thing – store-bought chicken nuggets with artichoke chickpea salad
breaded cheesy thing – Eggplant Parmesan
cheesy thing – bean and cheese burritos
cheesy thing – macaroni and cheese