I don’t know what I was thinking when I first decided that my family would do this. Perhaps I was simply thinking that we would save money and clean out the cupboards. Well, it turned out to be so much more than that!
First, I became a bit ill after the new year. This meant that for about a week I did not want to eat much or cook for that matter. Then, our projector fan died leaving us with no family television time. This latter point is not all bad. I think I’ve mentioned before that our home is like the ‘American Sector’ from Checkpoint Charlie.
My husband and I both use English in our jobs and the last thing my husband wants is to attempt to use his basic German to watch television – so when we watch television we watch American or British programs on our computer via our projector. We have created a nice little ‘American Sector’ amid the German nation. This has been both a blessing and a curse. Too many of our nights devolve into television watching after dinner. How American of us, right?
Our basic guidelines for the month were simple:
We will only spend money on aspects of family life that won’t get either of us else fired, evicted, or cause serious health problems. Our family planned on spending money on my son’s needs, transportation, and fresh food. I had to add toiletries to the list otherwise we would have not had any toilete paper.
Well, since the projector basically quit working we’ve refocused and have been reading or playing with our son even more before his bedtime, which has been a lovely activity to see and experience. Clearly we needed something to jolt us back into reality and enjoying the simpler things!
Plan to Eat
When doing my research for This month’s endevour, I came across the meal planning website, Plan to Eat. This American based website offers a 30-day free trail, after that if you like their service you can pay $4.95 a month or $39.00 a year ($3.25 a month). I liked the idea of having a place online that both my husband and I could log into and see what was going to be for dinner that week and that, if need be – he could step up and make dinner following the recipes I had saved on my account. Plus, it was free for the first thirty days – perfect for our family’s current needs.
I really enjoyed this website and the ease at which I could import my personal pinterest recipes. It wasn’t perfect, I did have to add a few recipes manually. The more recipes that are added the clunkier the website seems to become too, making the search bar all the more necessary. However, while I really enjoyed the website and its features, the key is my husband’s use of the site – which did not take off. My husband is like a rock, in that it has to be a pretty powerful occurrence to make him adapt his ways – I am not even effective in this endeavor generally.
I’ve tried other do-it-yourself meal planners for my family and nothing really has helped my family -or my husband feel a little freer in the kitchen. The husband liked the ability to look ahead at the month and see what we would be having – in case I had to ask him to prep the meal, but he is so not used to that or the whole planning ahead thing.
Sundays became Pizza night, which was an easy way to work through vegetable and meat remnants or leftovers. The fact that I learned a few years ago that you could make pizza dough ahead of time and freeze it before the yeast has time to rise changed my life.
Here is a random aside of other things that have changed my [expat] life- in no particular order:
- Slow cooker
- Prep-ahead Freezer meals
- Google translate
- The Asian supermarket in town
- My expat-mom-friend group
- FaceTime – and my tablet device (but not as much as the former)
- My [incredibly slow] progression in German language learning
- My kid (which should go without saying, but still)
- My feminist book club – which I founded
- The Internet in general (again, duh – I know)
I also made bread at least once if not twice a week, without a bread maker, which has been pretty cool. I do not foresee keeping that up in the summer months if we have a hot spell like did last summer though. Mastering the bread making process has been fun and is so much cheaper than bakery bought bread! It is not where near as fun as going to the bakery to pick out the bread to consume for the next couple of days – Germans have wonderful delicious bread – but to make it myself is to make it cheaper. In the early years of living in here, I did attempt to make pasta because we eat so much of it, but now chalk the attempts up as a total fail for whatever reason. It is something I will eventually tackle in my life, just like making tortillas – I just haven’t yet.
Lunches were the most difficult for me because that is too often a time of transition/transportation making planning ahead challenging. I am literally transporting him somewhere outside the home when the desire to eat hits. If I were back in Oregon I would just grab my leftovers, run out the door with my son, drop him where he needed to be and run off to wherever I needed to be, which would have a microwave where I would hear up my food and be fine. Microwaves are not as ubiquitous here as they are in the US though. I frequently went hungry. I’ve gone through many apples and multiple liters of water over the course of the month – roughly around 48 -liters of water, not apples. I’m not kidding. I probably consumed about 30 apples though too. Yay for healthier me!
My husband used food vouchers provided by his work to skirt the ‘no-spend’ rules we established and attempted to be sneaky about it and both not mention it and not actively bring home any’evidence’. He wasn’t always clever enough. He technically wasn’t spending our money on food and drink, it was an established perk from his employer – but it was a factor that was exploited as we normally save the vouchers for holidays, birthdays, fancy dinners together, etc. Plus, I can read my husband – I know when he is being generally sneaky and it usually isn’t difficult to figure out what is going on with him. Now just wait and I will have to eat those words…where’s the wood to knock on!
The most important point I learned was that I had become a collector of foods in a way. Our cupboards were packed with ingredients for half meals, and it has been important to work through that stuff creatively. I’ve collected so much food could actually keep this project going further, using up more of the dried and canned goods I’ve on hand, but perhaps with less restrictions. I think in the end the no-spend month was good for our family to produce less frivolous waste and spending, while planning ahead even more so than I have been regarding date night, special family events, visitors, trips, etc. it has been interesting and eye opening to say the least. For the most part, this challenge was perfect for winter, cleaning out the cupboards in preparation for spring, while still being able to stomach the likely hearty meals to be randomly made during the challenge. I noticed toward the end of the month, my eating habits did begin to change, with one heavy meal and one lighter meal daily. In the beginning, our family was eating pretty heavily for lunch and dinner; I think our family was still hibernating.
Learning to survive among the locals is an expat issue. Learning to read and understand foreign food labels and ingredients is a special task in and of itself. Budgeting, especially with a family remains an issue whether you are in your home country or another one, hence why I wanted to take on this task. This probably won’t be the last time our family does this challenge.