One of the most basic challenges to living simply is eating simply. It’s one thing not to clutter up a house with unnecessary stuff (or just to keep on not buying things, if your financial situation makes your simplicity less than voluntary), but food is delicious and necessary. Also people get decidedly cranky when they don’t get enough of it, which can really hamper your mindfulness practice.
The Internet abounds with suggestions for simple meal planning on a budget, but the suggestions aren’t always geared to simplicity. Often they involve giant bulk purchases and the use of a chest freezer, which not everybody can afford, not everybody wants, and not everybody has room for. They also seem to be pretty garlic and ginger dependent, which not everybody loves.
Eating simply doesn’t have to mean cooking with lentils for the entirety of your life or slogging your way through a club pack of tomato soup. We can do better than that. I’ll make some assumptions, though, before I make my suggestions for solid Internet resources to help you.
I assume that you’re not eating meat. Can we all agree that not eating meat is better for you and the Earth? Your potential love of bacon aside, simple eating usually leaves out meat, if not for health or ethical reasons, then definitely for economic ones. I also assume that you’re pressed for time and don’t have 12 hours to make a single meal. We’re all pressed for time, especially when simple eating is less than voluntary—statistically speaking, having not enough money and not enough time go hand in hand. I also assume you have at least a passing interest in nutrition. Otherwise, you’re probably not reading this. You’re probably eating ramen and calling it a day. I understand.
Try to eat foods with fewer than five ingredients
If you’re new to simple eating, this can be a challenge. Culturally, we’re all encouraged to eat food that’s processed and packaged and has 95 ingredients, even though we all know about the negative health impacts of refined foods. Packaged foods seem easy, but they don’t nutritionally help us out, they skew our taste buds and our brain chemistries, and they warp our understanding of where food comes from and what it’s for.
Eating food in its wilder, more unbridled forms isn’t just healthier (although don’t kid yourself, it is healthier)—it’s a practice that lets you taste what you’re eating and reconnect to your food. Stone Soup has a post with a day’s worth of 5-ingredients-or-less meals (the alternate version is also worth a look).
Eat what’s in season
Veggies and fruit are a staple in a simple diet. They remind us that all food was once alive, and that we’re ecologically related to it. They also create variety, keeping you from just ploughing through that club pack of soup we talked about. They can be pricey if they’re out of season and imported, but local produce cuts down on expense and simplifies our economic relationship to food, especially if you can buy from the grower.
If keeping an eye to cost and/or letting nothing go to waste is part of your plan for simplicity, produce can often be had at a bargain at the end of a market day and even supermarkets will discount veggies that look like they’re nearing the end of their marketability.
If it’s summer, look into edible wild foods that grow around you. A salad of dandelion greens from your yard is the essence of simple and mindful eating. The Environmental Working Group has a guide to the most nutritious fruits and veggies (and other stuff) you can eat on a tight budget. It has tips for simple snacks and keeps an eye on typical pesticide levels for you. Real Simple offers a number of recipes with delicious vegetable bases.
Expand your horizons
Simplicity doesn’t mean going without variety. If you get bored with all of the staple foods that are part of your cultural tradition, borrow somebody else’s. Switching rice up for polenta, tortillas for nori, or tofu for eggs can lend new life to meal planning.
Cooking new things won’t necessarily make your cooking more complicated. It might even increase the attentiveness you give to the preparation of your meals and to the taste of the food itself, which is part of the point. You can even do some research on spices you’ve never heard of and then pick up small amounts of them in the bulk food aisle to try.
For some inspiration, check out the International Vegetarian Union’s (I know, right?) collection of recipes from around the world. Delicious cultural appropriation.
If you’re living simply out of economic necessity, hopefully this will give you some inspiration. If you’re engaging in the practice of voluntary simplicity, consider donating some of the money you’re about to save in a big way to your local food bank to help those who might not get enough to eat at all. Then everybody wins.