Food As a System

January 03, 2022

Tl;DR — I’m “open-sourcing” my weekly meal planning spreadsheet for 2022.

You can follow along with my real-life meal planning, week over week.

Or, start with this blank template and make it your own!

Covid-19 Forced Me to Become a Planner

The global pandemic completely changed the way I think about cooking at home.

In the before times, I was the kind of person who went out to dinner multiple nights each week and subsisted largely on free pizza from tech meetups.

I loved to cook but it was mostly a creative outlet. Inspiration could strike and dinner plans could pivot on a dime. Maybe I’d stop at the market on the way home from the office to see what vegetables looked crisp. Maybe I’d travel to multiple grocery stores in search of rainbow trout.

While things never truly shut down in Georgia, my relationship with grocery shopping shifted in March of 2020. Every trip to the store was (and in many ways still is) a calculated risk. Get in, get out. No time to browse or wait for an ‘a-ha!’ moment in the produce aisle. And, while we remain committed to supporting local businesses by ordering meals a few days a week, I no longer have that safety net of “Let’s go out” to rescue dinner after a long day.

Around the same time, when I was trying to figure out how to manage meals in the new world, a woman who lives down the street and around the corner from me started a new Instagram account called feedingpeopleismyfavorite.

She posts her grocery hauls and her weekly menus. This woman clearly has a system down.

She gives her friends and followers total transparency into her kitchen operations through her posts and stories. If you can’t bring yourself to do your own meal planning, you can copy her plan, take her list to the store, and eat well for the week. Her content is refreshingly down to earth compared to the haute cuisine food bloggers I’d been following, and I admire how open and vulnerable she is with something so deeply woven into her family’s daily life.

Food Has Many Factors

Now, I realize meal planning for a household is nothing new. It’s not rocket science. But, there sure are a LOT of moving parts.

A house only has so much storage space for food.

Foods spoil at different rates.

Some foods pair well together and others do not.

Certain foods are only available at certain times of the year or from certain stores.

Different people have different requirements according to taste, health, and preference.

The prices for common food goods can fluctuate or increase dramatically.

How do you keep a constant rotation of interesting and nutritional meals that are relatively easy to prepare and won’t break the bank?

Do you know how much work it takes to prepare something “simple” like tacos? You have to prep the fillings AND make all the little toppings PLUS the sauces and then stand over the skillet for 10 minutes warming your tortillas, one by one. Tacos are an ordeal!

Thinking In Systems

A co-worker at FullStory was always telling me, “You need to think in systems.”

What is a system? People, objects, factors, processes? Interactions within a given environment, designed to create some kind of outcome?

Do I have to draw a diagram to call it a system? Or, will a set of instructions suffice?

What is the relationship between the baby dill in my refrigerator door and the buckwheat groats in my upper cabinet? They both need to be consumed. Preferably, together. This week would be nice.

Who are the stakeholders in my home? The husband gets hangry.

What is the outcome I desire from my food system? To eat well. To be well.

I need my system to guide me along my intended path, to:

  • Reduce food waste as much as possible
  • Try lots of new vegan and vegetarian dinner recipes
  • Eat more fruit; eat more vegetables, and
  • Stick to my budget

while also leaving me physically, spiritually, and creatively nourished.

It’s a lot to manage! The spreadsheet helps.

A photo of my table with a classic New Year's Day Meal of black-eyed peas and greens
A glimpse of what's on my table at the top of this year.