Seven series: Food

**This is the first in a series of posts on experimenting with reducing consumption, based on a modified version of Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven. Check out my original post on the challenge for more info.** 

The first two weeks of this challenge coincided with my official start date with a new consulting client, and three big deadlines. So, I didn’t get the chance to enter in daily notes on the challenges. I’ll summarize here.

  • 7 simple meals repeated each week
  • Groceries < $100/wk
  • No eating out
  • Focus on whole foods
  • Make from scratch when possible to reduce packaging
  • Feed others/potluck and share
  • Donate to a food bank

I wanted to use this time to create a repeatable weekly meal plan for our family that would simplify our food expenses and create more time to just be together as a family.

Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Monday: Carrot ginger soup, simple green salad, homemade bread.
  2. Tuesday: Rice, grilled or poached chicken, a seasonal vegetable, and a homemade sauce.
  3. Wednesday: Baked sweet potato or squash, steamed greens, and slow-cooker lentils
  4. Thursday: Vegetable barley soup with chicken, homemade bread
  5. Friday: Tortilla night (tacos or burritos), slow-cooker pinto beans, sliced avocado
  6. Saturday: Quinoa, baked frozen fish, seasonal vegetable
  7. Sunday: Homemade pizzas or easy egg dish (fritatta, omelet), green salad

For lunches we had leftovers or sandwiches. For snacks, homemade hummus with veggies, apple slices with nut butter, sliced tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs, granola bars, and yogurt with fruit.

So how did we do in terms of our goals?

7 meals repeated each week: For the most part I really liked this. It definitely took the headache out of meal-planning and prep. I like not having to recreate the wheel every week. I often get meal-plan burnout, which leads to me standing in front of our fridge around 5 o’clock, pulling out random ingredients and trying to fashion them into a meal to feed three tired, hungry people, including one hanging on my leg. Having a set menu takes the guess work out, and makes it easy for Lyle to get dinner started when Sky and I are at story time or the gym in the late afternoon.

Some of the recipes need to be doubled in order to provide leftovers (the carrot soup, tortilla filling). I also think a 5-6 meal menu might be more sustainable for us, with one of the meals doubled and repeated during the week (maybe the squash or vegetable soup, which yielded the most). This is just because LIFE. Sometimes we were too exhausted to prep a new meal. Especially while we’re transitioning to a two-income, two-kid family.

A highlight of this process: meals came together so much more smoothly, so we were all seated at the table at about the same time most nights, with way fewer tears/tantrums. And so we started saying a little prayer before meal times. I know this is probably a no-brainer for a lot of families, but it has been hit-or-miss for ours for a number of reasons. It’s a really short, simple moment in our day but it has meant so much to me, especially during the first weeks of September when there was so much pain in the United States and around the world. It was good to come together as a family and offer up our thanksgiving as well as our fears and love for people facing flooding, fires, and possible deportation. Sky caught right onto it, reaching her hands out for ours, closing her eyes and joining us in saying, “Amen.” Now she says, “Mama, say prayer!” every time we sit down to eat something together, even just a snack, and that makes me tear up a little just thinking about it. Thank you, lord.

Grocery spending: I finally did our budget for last month, and we underspent by $100, which is awesome considering we overspent in other categories like charitable donations, gifts, and ahem, clothing (see next week’s challenge…). We’re on track to stay within budget this month, possibly even a little under. We spent $18 over our $100/week goal, and I think the extra bulk basics we bought at Costco is part of that. But that should even out later as we use what we need and (hopefully!) spend less in subsequent weeks.

No eating out: Weeeelll… there may have been two stress-induced Starbucks runs in the last stretch. I’ve been worried about meeting my first project deadline for my new client, and we have an echocardiogram coming up for a possible hole in our baby’s heart. And then there were hurricanes, massive wildfires, and an earthquake this week. So, I haven’t been sleeping well and there were a few early mornings when I just needed to get us out of the house before preschool, with some small amount of caffeine involved. But these two mama-daughter dates over the mutual treats of a muffin and a decaf latte were really highlights of a sad couple of weeks for us.

Otherwise, Lyle and I ate in for all dinners, and I think he only had one lunch out, which was a big improvement for him. He said he really liked having the home-cooked leftovers for lunch the next day. On our sixth anniversary, we packed a strange little picnic and took it to Chapman school to watch the Vaux’s swifts make their annual spirals into the old brick chimney (obsolete but left intact for the birds.) That was a cheap and memorable date night. I really felt God’s work in us as we walked together to the park in the first rain of the season. Lyle has been working late hours and getting up early with Sky to help me with some of my pregnancy fatigue. He’s been stressed at work, and ordinarily we might have been a lot snappier with each other, more irritable. I might even have felt a little dissatisfied with our haphazard anniversary plans: neither of us had much energy to put into gifts for the other, and we cooked up our picnic plan last-minute.

Instead, we both felt really happy just to be together, and grateful for our family’s health and safety. It’s been a scary couple of weeks, and a difficult year for us personally in terms of losing a pregnancy, dealing with extreme weather, and managing our own businesses on top of two-year-old milestones (potty-training, molars, sleep and separation anxiety). I do feel that even the small changes we’re making around food helped us get centered around a predictable schedule and work together.

Focus on whole foods: Yes! I used my Vitaclay slow-cooker pretty much every day for beans, lentils, or rice, and I have to say, the results are WAY more satisfying than canned or stove top. Wow. And so much easier to just turn it on and walk away. However, the return of morning sickness (why??) threw a serious wrench in the plan toward the end of the second week. Maybe it was stress, or dehydration from several days of being stuck inside due to wildfire smoke. But I just felt grossed out by a lot of food, and not very hungry in general. So that made it challenging to stick to whole foods cooked from scratch. I ended up eating cream of wheat, oatmeal, and smoothies a lot.

1st loaf: cornmeal, whole wheat and all purpose flour

Made from scratch when possible: Oh yeah. I really enjoyed getting back into making some of our basics myself. I made two loaves of no-knead bread, four quarts of plain full-fat yogurt, two batches of granola bars, two jars of peanut butter, and a couple jars of hummus. It was definitely tiring, and I need to keep tweaking some of the recipes. The no-knead bread was super easy and delicious. I want to experiment with some lighter sandwich loaves that do require kneading. The yogurt wasn’t as firm as I remembered. I used to make A LOT of 24-hour yogurt with our Excalibur dehydrator when I was healing from SIBO four years ago, and I remember the yogurt being smoother and thicker. I’m not sure if I need to lower the temp, whisk the starter in better, or do a quicker high-heat ferment. So I’ll play around with that. The peanut butter was so-so. I have a super quiet, gigantic food processor that’s just been taking up space in our cupboard, and it grinds to a pretty fine paste– but not as easily, and not as creamy as the grind-your-own at Winco. Plus, Sky really loves that part of grocery shopping. I’ll have to do a price comparison to see if it’s really worth grinding our own at home. The hummus and granola bars were both easy and good. (For the hummus I just blended 1-2 cups cooked chickpeas, ~1/4 cup tahini, 1 tsp salt, ~1/4 cup olive oil, juice of one lemon, and a mix of paprika, cumin, and coriander, adding water until my very old blender could chop it).

Feed others (potluck and share, donate to a food bank): This was a really fun part of the challenge. We had another family over for fajita night and I couldn’t believe how easy and fun it was. They brought cooked ground beef and grilled veggies, and we provided beans, tortillas, and fixings. It all came together really fast and meant we had plenty of time to play with our kiddos, talk, and even take a walk up to the park together.

I also swapped homemade granola bars with two neighborhood mom friends, which was fun, and got invited to join a freezer meal exchange party– that one felt like providence. We also donated to our local food bank and hope to donate to Houston food banks once they reopen after the massive flooding. And I’m excited to start a monthly women’s dinner group later this month inspired by the IF: Gathering.

2nd loaf: flour dusting, all white whole wheat flour

In general? I’m amazed by how much can shift with just a few simple changes around food in our house. And I had to remind myself several times of the purpose in all this. Not to be super mom, but to connect to the Spirit during the ups and downs of each crazy-making day, through being present with my family, my friends, the world around me. I had to be pretty vigilant with my perfectionism that would rear up as irritability when things weren’t going just as I wanted them to. It’s okay to give Sky some pre-packaged fruit pouches and crackers: it meant getting out and connecting with friends at the playground. It’s okay to have that Starbucks date with Sky: it meant sharing giggles with her and gazing at her happy crumb-smeared face before our mutually-stressful preschool drop-off. Each time, connecting to the deeper purpose meant that God was able to do some good work in us, draw us closer to him, and even connect us to people we needed to meet. I need to remember that.

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Jen Hatmaker’s Seven and how I’m adapting it pre-baby

On vacation in August, I picked up a copy of Jen Hatmaker’s 2012 book Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess at a used bookstore. It grabbed my attention and kept me interested over the course of plane rides, nap times, and the few hours before sleep after Sky was in bed. I finished it just before we touched down again in Portland, and as I often feel after we’ve been away for several days, I had a new perspective on our life at home.

I decided to wage my own “experimental mutiny against excess.”

This book is about how Hatmaker spent ten months reforming her consumption habits in seven areas: food, clothing, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress. For 30 days, she developed new habits for each of these focus areas, then spent a few weeks reflecting and integrating what she learned before moving on to 30 days in the next focus area. The number 7, both because of its sacred significance and as an organizing principle, factored into each of the seven months.

For example, in the first month, she ate only seven simple food items, meal after meal, day after day: sweet potatoes, spinach, bread, avocado, eggs, apples, and chicken. In the second month, she wore the same seven articles of clothing on rotation for 30 days. And in the third month, she and her family gave up seven forms of media. You get the picture.

The purpose in all of this was to dramatically reduce the extra noise in her life so that she and her family could better focus on Christ.

I was really captivated by this idea because it reminded me of similar challenges I’ve set for myself over the years, with one crucial difference. This challenge is about creating room for a deeper purpose, for a relationship with God that is uncluttered by the many comforts and distractions of modern life that can make us believe we are in control, when we’re not; that we’re self-sufficient, when we’re not; and that perfection is possible– when it’s definitely, definitely not.

But so many of the challenges I’ve set for myself over the years have been mostly about all of those things, especially perfection. I wasn’t consciously and deliberately setting out to be perfect. But the frustration I felt when I ‘failed’ at my challenges showed me that I had pretty high expectations.

Most recently, it was the Kon Mari craze that caught my interest and sent me running for my towel drawers to see if I could fold them as beautifully as Marie Kondo. While the lean, minimalist Japanese style of decluttering did teach me a few things about what’s really important to me, it didn’t address the hungers at the center of my life that slowly, inexorably began to draw more stuff back into my life, our home, our kitchen drawers.

I liked Hatmaker’s hands-off approach to this whole thing. Ultimately, she’s not laying out a list of proven rules or strategies. Instead, she’s telling the story of how God used these ten months to teach her about parts of her soul that still need shaping and shaking up. And she’s inviting the reader to make the challenge work for them, prayerfully, so that God can work in the reader’s life in a way that speaks uniquely to their own weaknesses, hungers, and needs.

Because we’re getting ready to meet the newest member of our family in January, I don’t really have ten months to move through the seven areas. Baby will be here in about four months, and I know better than to extend an experiment requiring focus and reflection into the unknown, but certainly chaotic, postpartum period.

So I’m roughly halving it, going through the seven “stations” in a little over two weeks each, with a couple days in between to reflect and regroup.

And because I’m pregnant while running after our two-year-old, I’m adjusting the specifics to meet our needs and limitations.

Food: I’m thankful to be able to eat normal food again, and I also need additional calories starting now to keep up with baby’s growth, so I won’t be restricting my diet to seven items. I like this idea for a future fast, because I know the value of traditional fasting, but for now I thought I’d use this time to create a sustainable, simplified meal routine for our family. Hopefully one that honors our bodies and gives us breathing room for rest, prayer, and each other. My seven goals are:

  • 7 simple meals repeated each week
  • Groceries < $100/wk
  • No eating out
  • Focus on whole foods
  • Make from scratch when possible to reduce packaging
  • Feed others/potluck and share
  • Donate to a food bank

Clothing: I’m entering the cold season and thankfully have winter maternity clothes from my first pregnancy, so that already creates a pretty limited wardrobe. I’m not sure yet how to use the time meaningfully, but I think I’d like to learn about current clothing needs at local women’s organizations, and do a little reading about “ethical fashion.”

The last few categories I’ll keep pretty similar to the book, with a few modifications for our family:

Possessions

  • Give away 7 items each day
  • Source meaningful recipients, not Goodwill
  • Reduce and donate Sky’s toys
  • Go through all closets and backyard shed
  • Read about the psychology of consumption, the buy-purge-buy cycle

Media:  We will be fasting from:

  • iPad/TV
  • Facebook/Instagram
  • Phone apps
  • Radio
  • Texting (necessities only)
  • Internet (work only)

Waste

  • Conserve energy and water
  • Buy food from local vendors
  • Make or thrift other necessities
  • Walk when possible, link trips, and skip trips
  • No plastic baggies: buy reusable ones from Earthwise, find a set of reusable bulk bags I like, and bring grocery and produce bags.
  • Reduce packaging: make yogurt, peanut butter, hummus, granola and bars, and bread
  • Install bidet with baskets of flannel wipes

Spending only at these 7 places:

  • Fred Meyer gas
  • Online bill pay
  • Preschool tuition
  • Savings
  • Donations
  • Fred Meyer
  • Goodwill
  • Read God’s Economy by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Stress

  • Reading and using the 7 sacred pauses. One of these is the midnight prayer, which I’m nervous about. But by the end of pregnancy I’m pretty sure I’ll be up then anyway. 😉

I want to keep a semi-daily log of how things go, and I’ll probably post these sporadically as I go along. A lot of them I will likely set to post after the baby is born, so there will be something on the blog when I have no time for anything but nursing, diapering, playing with Sky, and (maybe?) sleeping. I’m excited to see how God uses this experiment to reshape my thoughts and habits.

Have you read and tried Seven? How did the experiment change you?

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