Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Tag: rules

November Food Challenge Accomplishments

My November Food Challenge was so fun, I wish it lasted longer. There is a lot more I had planned, but never got too, like finding more ways to eat healthier and diving into the The Minimalist Cooks Dinner: More Than 100 Recipes for Fast Weeknight Meals and Casual Entertaining. I never even cracked it open. Why? Because as I was organizing my existing recipes, I realized that I have more than enough delicious, easy recipes right now.  Plus, I just plain ran out of time and this wasn’t a high priority.  Realizing that you’ll never get to everything on your to do list and letting the lower priority things go takes practice and this project gives me a lot of practice.

There are a couple things I’m really happy I did accomplish during November’s food challenge:

  1. Analyzed and fixed my grocery budget (parts I, II, and III).  Ever since I cut back on meat and dairy, my weekly bills have come in an average of $20 under budget.
  2. Explored other ways and places to shop for groceries and realized that shopping online (which I was already doing) was the best option for me.
  3. Cut back on disposables, I use far fewer paper towels and switched one kid to cloth diapers this month!
  4. Revisited a couple of sane dieting methods and read up on the diabetic diet. I didn’t write about this, but I gave up sugar for most of November (something I do periodically because it makes me feel GREAT). Now, I usually drink water instead of soda when we go out to eat.
  5. Remembered a sneaky way to cook for two nights at a time and get people to eat reasonable portions.
  6. Took the time to be thankful. This was by far the blog post that made me happiest.
  7. Organized all my recipes (and shared some)!

As far as accomplishing my original goals goes, I give myself a B.

My four original goals

Original Food Month Challenge

I accomplished #1 & #4. I started work on #2 (I’m not being too hard on myself, because this is a lifelong process). For #3, I thought about eating out a bit and decided not to change anything.  We go out once a week as a family and try to stay under $25.  It’s a wonderful time for us to do something together and, while eating out less would be healthier and cheaper, this is a part of my life that I love and want to keep.

So, here’s to food and how wonderful it can make our lives.  In December, I’ll be concentrating on our monthly bills and how to reduce those.

Weeknight Dining Rule & Recipes

Last weekend, I organized all my recipes and developed a single rule for weeknight dining happiness:

Nothing we make during the week should take longer than 30 minutes.

As I sorted recipes, I put them into categories: weeknights, weekends, CSA (all the recipes with weird ingredients we normally only get in the CSA – like broccoli rabe), sides/appetizers, and desserts.  In doing so, I unearthed some long-lost recipes and was reminded of some of our favorites, which I thought I’d share today.

Here are a few of our favorite, easy weeknight recipes:

Cheddar Dogs

Weeknight dining - cheddar dogs

Photo Credit: Pillsbury

8 hot dogs
Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Separate and flatten the crescent rolls on a baking sheet.  Place one hot dog in each crescent roll, add a little cheese, then roll the hot dog and cheese up in the roll.  Bake for 10-13 minutes.



Crunchy Asian Chicken Salad

Crunchy Chicken Salad

Photo Credit: Betty Crocker

This recipe takes about 20 minutes and is always a hit – even with company.  You’ll find it in the Betty Crocker Cookbook, which is one of the few cookbooks I kept, and online here. It’s easy, delicious, and healthy!

Overnight Tuna Casserole

I got this recipe from my mom and it is a fantastic weeknight recipe!  Mix everything together the night before, then heat it in the microwave for 15 minutes when you get home from work.

1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup milk
1 can (6 oz) tuna, drained
1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup chopped green onions (I usually just sprinkle in some onion powder)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided

Combine soup and milk until smooth.  Add tuna, macaroni, peas, onions, and 3/4 cup of cheese; mix well. Pour into a greased 2-qt microwave-safe dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight.  Microwave, covered, on high for 15 minutes or until bubbly. Uncover, sprinkle with remaining cheese and let stand until melted. My mom also adds: “You probably don’t need quite that much cheese if you want to conserve.”

Stir Fry

Stir Fry

Photo Credit:

This is a great way to clean out the fridge every week and you can even cut vegetables ahead of time to make this even faster. Our basic stir fry includes:

Brown Rice (cooked ahead if you want to come in under the 30-minute mark, but this is easy to start as soon as you get home)
Chicken, Pork, or Beef
Sitr Fry Sauce (I like Trader Joe’s Soyaki Sauce)

Cook the rice. Chop everything else up, mix it together and cook until the meat is cooked through and the veggies are tender, but not floppy (10-15 minutes).



Photo Credit:

1 lb hamburger
taco shells
salsa or tomatoes
shredded cheddar cheese
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp hot sauce
1 tsp cayenne pepper

This is another good dish for clearing out the fridge because you can add all kinds of things to tacos (peppers, olives, etc). Cook the meat and sprinkle in the chili powder, hot sauce, and cayenne pepper at the end; mix. Assemble the other ingredients and have everyone make their own tacos!


One-Year Rule (Quick Tip)

I like rules or guidelines because good ones enhance your life, make you more creative and push you to achieve more than you would have without them.  There’s a great rule for minimalists that Janet Luhrs describes in her book The Simple Living Guide.  She dubs it the one-year rule.

One-Year Rule: If you haven’t used something for a year, throw it out.  

It seems obvious at first, but in practice it’s harder to do.  Take the one suit I own.  I got it in college and have worn it only to job interviews my entire adult career.  It looks good on me, but I don’t wear it to other formal events, it’s not high quality, and I haven’t worn it in four years.  I didn’t even wear it to my last job interview.  Each time I clean out my closet, I naturally leave it in place because I think, “I’ll probably need this for my next interview”.

The other day I asked myself: what am I waiting for?  I wear jeans every single day of the week (I do love working at Opower)!  I hope this doesn’t happen, but if I ever end up in an industry that requires nice clothing, that suit needs to be updated anyway.  Plus, there are plenty of new women’s start-ups for renting nice clothing.

One-Year Rule with a Box

One way to get around your natural inclination to think, “but I might need that someday!” is to place your ill-used items in a box, tape it shut, and label it with the date.  After one year, if the box remains taped shut, donate it (without looking)!  Chances are you’ve forgotten what’s in there and the date proves it’s not worth the space it’s taking up in your life.

One-Year Rule w/ the Taped & Dated Box Trick

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