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Four Things I Learned from My Week of Frugal Eating

July 10, 2017
Four Things I Learned from My Week of Frugal Eating | Tiny Ambitions

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I accepted a frugal eating challenge when my partner was out of town for a week.

The basics of the challenge were simple: I had to survive on only the food we already had in the house and I wasn’t allowed to buy any new food (groceries or otherwise).

To give you some cupboard context, we hadn’t gone shopping in about two weeks and the fridge and cupboards would have been considered sparse by most non-minimalist standards. Basically, my partner didn’t think there was any way I could do it.

Well, challenge accepted! Not only did I survive, it was downright easy!

Food doesn’t get talked about a lot in the minimalist community. But, I think it has an equal place in our lives as any other ‘thing’. Since food has always been a part of my minimalism, I thought I would share some things I learned over the course of my frugal eating challenge.

1) Food is like a capsule wardrobe.

Capsule wardrobes are sweeping the interweb right now and for good reason. They make you think outside the box to make new outfit combinations while simultaneously building off key basics.

My week of frugal eating was the same. I essentially made a food capsule of key ingredients and then rotated in spices when I wanted some variety. This led me to use spices I forgot I had (looking at you, ground ginger).

The problem of a full closet and overflowing fridge have the same core issue – too many options. Once you pare back to the essentials (or in my case whatever was in the freezer), it becomes easier to identify what you want to eat.

My food capsule during my week of frugal eating was built around three key ingredients: veggies (mostly greens), protein (chicken, tuna, pork), and fat (coconut and avocado oil). (I actually ran out of coconut oil on the last day of the challenge!)

This might not look like your daily diet and that is totally cool. There will be no food shaming here!

If you think about it, most of your meals are probably built around the same key ingredients. But, your fridge is likely stuffed to the gills with one off ingredients you bought to make one fancy recipe and then forgot about or didn’t use fully.

Why go through the hassle of spending time and money on exotic ingredients? Figure out what your food basics are and stick with them.

2) You don’t need to grocery shop as much as you think.

The biggest thing I learned from my week of frugal eating is that I don’t need to go grocery shopping nearly as much as I thought.

American households, on average, spend $6,603 per year on food. However, American households also waste up to $2,200 worth of food every year (or 60 million tons). THAT’S A 33% LOSS! And the rest of the world (my beloved Canada included, is not much better).

Maybe this stat would be different if we focused on buying only what we need and eating what we already have. AKA being minimalists.

Depending on the number of people in your household, you might not be able to go as long without shopping. But, it might be interesting to see if you can scale back a bit. Your wallet and garbage can will thank you.

3) Repetition has always been my best friend.

When the frugal eating challenge left me with a food capsule of three key basics, I realized I’ve been eating that way since high school! As far back as 2004, I can remember eating the exact same things for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Every. Single. Day. The same rang true for university and grad school. And I loved it. I always knew what I was going to eat, so I always knew what I needed to buy at the grocery store. Only recently have I fallen out of this kind of meal repetition. This is primarily because of the aforementioned partner who threw down this challenge in the first place (living with people is the worst.. just kidding!).

Making decisions about food is stressful for me – don’t even think about asking me where to go for dinner. So, repetition is perfect!

We have to make decisions about so many things every day – minimizing your food routine can take one thing off your plate! (Yes, I made a food pun. I couldn’t help it.)

4) Your taste buds will find a way.

My Dad always used to say to us growing up “if you’re hungry enough, you’ll eat it”.

While he used to say this to rationalize us eating slow-cooked moose (yep, I’m from one of those families), I found it rang true during this challenge. Again, when my options were limited, I figured it out. Canned tuna wouldn’t be my first choice of protein, but given my limited options, it gave me some much-appreciated variety.

Sorry guys – this post was a long one! I think food is one of those areas that gets overlooked by people when they start on their minimalist journey. But if you’ve spent any amount of time here at Tiny Ambitions, you know I’m big on minimalism being about every aspect of your life, not just your possessions.

If you’re looking for some fridge clear out inspiration, my friend Lisa over at Simple Life Experiment has some inventive recipes you should check out!

Have you ever considered adopting a more minimalist food routine? What are your top frugal eating tips?

Image Credit: Unsplash

  • Journeys of The Zoo August 21, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    Dear Britt,

    Congrats on slaying your challenge. Will you try and maintain any aspects of it?

    I try and only shop for a week at a time so while there’s always staples in the house, meals sometime look pretty funny (beans with couscous and cheese and crackers, NOT all together). My family also eats very simple meal plans because I am not much of a cook. No one complains yet and when they do, they can cook for me 🙂

    I read somewhere that you eat less when you have the same food all the time because your brain is “more bored by it”. As long as my belly isn’t hungry, my brain can be as bored as it wants 🙂

    Besos Sarah.

    • Britt August 21, 2017 at 5:42 pm

      Actually yes! I’m ‘eating down’ our fridge right now before we move. I’ve only got a couple of bags of frozen vegetables left to go! I don’t get bored of food easily, so this kind of thing isn’t that hard for me. Thanks for reading!

  • Joanna July 31, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    New friend here . I love this so much and how you compare to clothes capsule. I spend way too much on food. I am going to make a list of my must haves.

  • mesquite July 22, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    My grandfather, who was on his own living in San Antonio while still young, ate oatmeal 3 times a day cooked on a single burner.
    He died a millionaire.

  • Lisa | Simple Life Experiment July 16, 2017 at 2:56 am

    Now that’s impressive! Not going shopping for two weeks then eating for one more week from what’s left! What an interesting challenge. I must admit, though, I’m not surprised that this was a success, since I couldn’t agree more that we do not need to grocery shop as much as we think. Before we left for France, I instigated a somewhat similar challenge. We completely cleared the fridge and freezer, and I managed to use up a number of dry goods from the pantry that had been hanging around for too long by making strategically-chosen baked goods to take to work. The whole thing really paid off when we got back. It was sooo lovely to come home to only the bare minimum in the pantry and an empty fridge/freezer (which in my pre-minimalist days would have actually freaked me out). It saved us lots of money in the weeks leading up to our holiday, too. Score! Great insightful post as always, Brittany. PS. Thanks for the mention of my blog!! xx

    • tinyambitions July 16, 2017 at 8:46 am

      It’s quite refreshing to realize you can pull something together for a meal without absolutely having to go to the grocery store first! And you are most welcome! When I was writing the post, I immediately thought if your recipe posts. Now that I’m done this challenge, I’m also hoping to get around to making your banana bread recipe. I’ve been thinking about it a lot! Welcome back by the way!!!

      • Lisa | Simple Life Experiment July 17, 2017 at 1:24 am

        Oh that’s sweet of you to think of my recipes! I really love being in the kitchen. I’m hoping to make some more time to post more recipes over the next few months, as I enjoy sharing them! Plus posting them means I can declutter the random bits of paper I write them down on – ever the minimalist, aren’t I? 😉 Hope you enjoy the banana bread once you make it. I wish you lived close enough for me to send you a loaf. If you did, I would!! Thanks for the welcome back! xx

        • tinyambitions July 17, 2017 at 6:52 am

          I can’t wait to read them! I think having them all online would be a great resource for you (and your readers). I actually recently got rid of most of my cookbooks because I realized I never used them. I just google whatever it is I’m looking for. Ya for reducing paper clutter!

  • Sandy July 12, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    I enjoyed your post! I do this when my husband travels, too!
    While I tend to like variety, I do keep to simple, basic meals as a regular thing. I also have somewhat seasonal menus, so, salads in the summer and oven dishes in the winter. Right now, our heat index is over 100 degrees! Cold dinner it is!

    • tinyambitions July 16, 2017 at 11:02 am

      Seasonal menus are key! We are starting to get much warmer here and it is very interesting how that heat affects my appetite. Lots of cold salads are in my future for sure! Thanks for reading!

  • joelleharris July 12, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    Great post. My first time here. I try not to shop when my husband is away, just use up what’s in the fridge/freezer. Tonight was courgette (straight from the garden) shallots, an old tomato and some left over couscous, fried up with some grated cheese on top.

    • tinyambitions July 12, 2017 at 3:31 pm

      Welcome to Tiny Ambitions! Your dinner sounds amazing. I love how creative you can be when you’re working with what’s in your fridge. Thanks for reading!

  • Shannon July 11, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    i’m starting this today. my husband and children (ages 9 & 7) leave for a road trip in one week. i don’t want to shop for groceries that may or may not be finished by the time they leave. Instead I’ll use up what we have and deep clean the fridge/freezer/pantry when they’re gone. i love a challenge!

    • tinyambitions July 11, 2017 at 2:40 pm

      Amazing! Good luck with the challenge, I’m sure it will be a breeze for you.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos July 10, 2017 at 10:23 pm

    Being both a vegan as well as more French I buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmers market twice a week. And I try and get to Trader Joes once a month, and another whole foods style grocer once every two weeks, since they have the nut milks I buy.

    Switching to a salad plate which is more the size of a dinner plate one finds in a French restaurant or home, also results in smaller servings, eating slower, being healthier and saves money since one isn’t eating enough for two.

    • tinyambitions July 16, 2017 at 11:05 am

      It’s amazing that you have access to local produce that often (our farmer’s markets are only open once a week.. for three hours)! I grew up in a household where, if you didn’t eat your food quickly enough, someone else would eat it for you. So I definitely used to be a very fast eater. Now that I’ve lived on my own for a number of years, I’m finally getting into a slower rhythm for eating, and it’s such a nice change of pace. Thanks for reading!

  • rhinophile July 10, 2017 at 5:53 pm

    Great post, Brittany. You’ve inspired me to look in the fridge and cupboards for tonight’s dinner rather than stop at the shops on the way home. It’s amazing how shopping, even little visits becomes so habitual.

    • tinyambitions July 10, 2017 at 6:11 pm

      Good luck! I’m sure you’ll come up with something delicious!

  • Jane July 10, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    I love this project! Minimalism absolutely applies to food as well. Unfortunately, I can’t stand eating the same thing over and over again. Instead, I’ve been trying to get better at batch cooking, which allows me some variety (yes, ground ginger included) as well as a lack of ingredient leftovers. You should do another one of these; I’d love to know what dishes you came up with!

    • tinyambitions July 10, 2017 at 4:53 pm

      Batch cooking is the best! That’s something I’d really like to get better at.

      Luckily, I’ve never had a problem eating the same thing over and over again, but I understand why people would.

      I suspect this challenge will happen again in the future, I’ll have to keep track of the recipes I make! Thanks for the great suggestion.

  • Ayesha Monia July 10, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Really enjoyed reading this.

    • tinyambitions July 10, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      Thanks Ayesha!

  • Sarah July 10, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    Great post! I love food minimalism! I often do a lower budget grocery shop as part of it as well. If eating just what’s here is too challenging, I just minimize what’s coming in to the basics that will make me feel more comfortable with using up the non-favourite items.
    p.s. No worries about the posts being “long”! I find them easy and quick to read! I get to the end and I’m like, okay more please! 🙂

    • tinyambitions July 10, 2017 at 2:47 pm

      Thanks Sarah! I’m glad to hear you don’t mind longer posts- sometimes I just can’t help myself!

      I definitely need to get better at food budgeting. It’s one of our two only expenses (other than rent), so I haven’t been keen to cut back on it. But I’m sure I can cut back in price without cutting back on quality and what I actually want to eat! Thanks for reading.

  • The One in Debt July 10, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    Okay, your food capsule sounds not only delicious, but healthy. I would so love a challenge like this! And often do similar to keep the grocery bill down in the second week. I like the challenge. often creating buddha bowls from it. It’s my child who needs convenience foods. But as I see it, the kitchen is stocked to make snacks and real food. Plenty to keep satisfied. Just gotta whip something up.

    • tinyambitions July 10, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      Some people might need to eat a little differently, but it works for me! I never want to stand in front of my cupboards and say “I have nothing to eat”- because it’s not true. Just use your imagination and you’ll whip up something delicious! Thanks for reading.

  • Elena July 10, 2017 at 11:06 am

    I no longer use the crisper drawers to store fruit and veggies, I have them on full display in the fridge on platters and bowls. They’re attractive and remind us to EAT THEM vs letting them go bad.

    A few years ago we started shopping based on what was on sale and building a 2-week meal menu off of that, including lunches for work and snacks (back to those fruit and veggies). We spend about 60-70% of what the general population of 3 people/2 dog homes spend.

    • tinyambitions July 10, 2017 at 11:08 am

      That’s an awesome idea!! Your fridge is probably so gorgeous and rainbow coloured! Buying stuff on sale is so key- and something I want to get more into. It has the added benefit of helping you shake things up if you’re getting a little bored. Thanks for reading!

    • Nathalie July 11, 2017 at 2:12 am

      We use our crisper drawers for beer, wine and sparkling waters.
      Fruit on display at hands reach is ideal and enjoyed before perishing 🙂

  • Lance @ My Strategic Dollar July 10, 2017 at 8:28 am

    Never heard of the Capsule Wardrobe, but how fun of you to make it into a food project! Really cool. And I love your comment about not needing to go to the grocery store often. The less time you spend in the grocery store, the less money you will spend. Just go once a week!

    • tinyambitions July 10, 2017 at 8:37 am

      Exactly! And depending on where you live, it’s not practical to go more than once a week. We have to drive in, so we try and do our shopping all in one go! Less money spent on gas too!

    • Melissa Eggert July 13, 2017 at 12:53 pm

      Thats all i do is once a week but thinking thats even too much. Lol or im just buying to much!

    Hey! I'm Britt. I write about living a tiny, simple, intentional life. Because life doesn't need to be lived big.