Sunday, January 06, 2013

Food Plan: Why Bother?

Looking back over what I've written about this, I realize that I haven't really made the connection between the specific task of making a food budget, and the larger effort I'm trying to pursue this year of self-improvement.

If you take a look at The List--specifically, the items that I made up--you'll notice a few things they have in common. Whether they're ostensibly about cooking, technology, or organizing, what underlies many of them is a larger project (some larger than others). These are efforts that require a certain amount of research, planning, and understanding of multiple tasks involved in order to make them successful. However, whether we're talking about organizing a big part of the house, trying a new cooking technique or training myself a better way to use technology, each one of them demands focus.

The everyday world is full of distractions that can yank you away from the things you know you need to get done. The worst part of it is that the cumulative distractions have a way of not only making you lose sight of the goal you were pursuing, but of just how long you've been trying to pursue that goal.

#20 is a great example of this: "Organize all the books in the house." Sounds easy, right? Like a few hours of alphabetizing and maybe some light reorganization to get everything in place? Nope.

Our problem is under-capacity: we don't have space for all the books we have. We've made progress here and there over the months, but our solutions are always temporary and localized. We'll see somewhere with some extra books stacked up in a pile somewhere and we remember we need to put them away somewhere. Maybe there's a shelf somewhere with assorted things on it that we can find time to tidy up, leaving space to put a few more books away. Before Abby was born, I even packed up several whole big boxes (including all my comic books from when I was a kid) and gave them away to charity to try and make a big dent in the supply.

However, this kind of thinking isn't going to really solve the problem. When we see an overflowing book shelf or a pile of books on a desk with seemingly nowhere to go, it seems to us that it's a small problem. I can spend the entire day moving around the house seeing one or two extra books here, there and in the other place, but unless I'm really looking at it, it's never going to registry in my brain just how many books I'm looking at.

So what's the solution? The solution is to create in your mind the formal idea of a larger project that needs specific attention. Once you get into that mindset, you can start asking questions like:

  • How many extra books do we have around the house (and this is the important part) in total?
  • How much shelving do we have to put more books on?
  • How much more shelving would we need to get, and do we have space for it?
  • Do we have space in storage somewhere?
  • Do we really need to keep all of these books?
See, when you come across a few books in a pile on the dining room table when you're trying to get ready for dinner, you're never going to say "I need to go buy a new shelf to keep these on" or "I need to donate these to the library". But if you look at the problem as a whole, then you're going to be able to confidently say that you need to take some bigger steps to resolve the problem. 

And so we come (finally, yes, I know) back to the food plan. I'm not going to start whining or bemoaning the changes in American eating habits over the past however-many decades, but go back for a second and reread what I just wrote, but don't think about books: think about eating. How often do we find ourselves (parents and otherwise) running for some fast food, take-out, frozen meals or other substitutes for real food? Of those times that we do, how many occur because we can rationalize (incorrectly) that we've "been good" recently and so can splurge (financially and calorically) on something easier? And how often do we do all this and then wonder why we're spending so much and gaining weight?

So what we need is a real plan. And we're going to start thinking about it, like we always should (and I always plan to do) with a list of questions:
  • How many meals do we eat each week as a family?
  • How often do we snack, and what do we snack on?
  • What can we get for when the kids are out of the house?
  • How much time do we have to cook every day and each meal?
  • Do we have a plan for when something happens and we really don't have time to cook (i.e., how can we tell when it really is ok to order a pizza)?
  • How often can we make use of leftovers (especially now that both of our kids are eating big people food, especially at dinner, and with a pregnant wife who has smaller windows of when she can eat them)?
  • Can we make a big meal one night (like a roast) and use the leftovers in another new dish?
Don't worry--just because I wanted to talk about something totally different tonight doesn't mean I haven't been thinking of answers. More to come. 

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