Sunday, May 8, 2011

First Steps

So, I dove into this idea of minimizing "stuff" in my life. The first and most immediate challenge was food shopping. Coincidentally, at the same time that I got the drive to make this change in my life, we had to put my youngest child on a gluten free diet. We decided that the best way to make it work for him is to eat gluten free with him, so this is yet another challenge. The biggest challenge, however, is trying to not buy all of the gluten free packaged stuff that is so easy to incorporate into our lives (and is on sale) - that is the easy way out. Right off the bat, to ease us into this process, I allowed myself 1/4 of my shopping to purchase packaged goods... this left 3/4 of my shopping to using no new packaging at all. For the packaged products that I do buy, I make sure that they are glass or paper. The glass is much more likely to end up in future packaging again if we need to recycle it, but if we keep it, the empty glass jar might make an excellent container for a certain item that I want to buy.  (But beware of the glass jar collections piling up).

For produce, I buy only the things that are not packaged. This makes me a little bummed to look at those beautiful strawberries in those plastic containers that I won't buy, but it just means that the strawberries will be even tastier when we pick them ourselves and freeze them for the year. I have some mesh produce bags (made by my sister in law - I was going to post a link to her etsy store, but it doesn't look like she is making them any more...) so I put loose produce in those. At home I have tons of recycled plastic bags, so if the produce lasts longer in the plastic bags in the the fridge, I will put them in one of those when I get home.

Bulk is easy, I just take all of my own jars (get them weighed first, usually at a register) and fill them up. I can get a lot in the bulk section at my co-op: oil, tamari (gluten free), maple syrup, honey, laundry and dish soap, rice, popcorn, sugar, salt, flour, nuts, peanut butter, coffee and so much more. It's pretty great. I just (re)discovered corn grits to make polenta - corn grits are cheap and polenta is gluten free and good! How to make it:


  • 6 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal (corn grits)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter


Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Gradually whick in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter, and stir until melted.

I added a step to this where I put the polenta in a baking dish and baked it for 10 minutes. Once it cools, you can just slice it up and fry it with tamari, or just eat it as it and add some tomato sauce.

I also use smaller cloth bags for grains if I don't want to lug all of those jars - cloth bags are easy to make from old clothes or cloth scraps that you might laying around. My super crafty sister in law made awsome cloth bags that she put our christmas presents in this year - I use those to shop in the bulk section as well.
Here is a picture of a portion of my pantry, recently cleaned and starting to be restocked:

Buying cheese is a bit trickier. Since I work in a grocery store, I can wait until the cheese department is packaging up a certain cheese and then take my jars over to put the cheese in it before they package it in plastic. However, if I could find good quality cheese at a local cheese counter that could avoid packaging by putting cheese directly into my jar, I would go there for sure.

Lunches are fairly easy since my kids have these cool lunch boxes (please note that I am not advertising that you buy from that link, just using it as a point of reference). Everything can go into the stainless  steel, and cleaning is really easy. Even if you leave food in there for too many days and it gets really gross, it's still washes out well and doesn't even smell! Here is an idea what some of the kids' (and my) lunches are looking like - keep in mind that we don't always have a lot of extra stainless steel containers for my lunch, so I take plastic containers to work still... but I hope to change that.

There are some things that I'm running up against, however, that are forcing me to take bigger steps. For example, What is the best way to buy our ketchup and our butter? I wrote letters to two of the companies that I know that carry ketchup (currently in plastic bottles that I don't want to buy) to find out if they had a glass bottle option... but then I found some ketchup in a glass bottle at another store at the same time that those companies sent me return emails, thanking me for the packaging suggestion. I also wrote to 4 or 5 of our favorite all natural snack companies asking them if they would consider biodegradable packaging for their products - but they also just thanked me for the packaging suggestion. I think that if more people could attempt to cut back on packaging and write to companies that they want to see making changes, then we could talk them into making those changes. It's easy - just go to the website of the company and click on "contact us"... then tell them what you think! Here is a list of the companies that i have written to so far, in case anyone wants to add to my cry for more envirnmentally friendly packaging:
Barbara's bakery
Newman's own organics
Muir glen (trying to get ketchup in glass)
RW Knudsen (trying to get recharge back in glass again)

This is just a start for the communication that we could have with companies. As a consumer, the only way to attempt to make change is to have your voice heard... so if you have a thought or suggestion or complaint about something - tell the people who make the product!

Totally separate from the food, we have started the somewhat painful process of decluttering out home. It's a slow process that takes time (especially when you work most days) but it can be done. We have started with clothes - everybody in the house needs to go through all of the clothes that they have and get rid of everything that doesn't fit them or that they realistically won't wear. For my kids, I took everything that was in good condition to a local kids consignment shop which might make us a few bucks, but more importantly it allows us to support a local business. Some of the nice clothes I gave to a friend or two for their kids - so now they won't have to buy at least some things new from the store. As for the rest of the kids clothes, I plan on dropping them off at the family center so that other local familes can make use of them for free if they need them. Stay tuned for what happens with my clothes once I get through them...

Once we get through all of the clothes in the house then we will move on to all of the books... but let's not get ahead of ourselves. The only way to tackle a big project like this is one step at a time.


  1. Great post :D One thought on the butter issue.. If you can make as much of it as possible then you wont have to buy as much. I have my homemade butter in a jelly canning jar and that works well enough :) Of course I can't make as much butter as we use (not enought cream)so we still have to buy some but it helps a little...

  2. I will definitely start making my own butter as soon as I can get it together, but until then I'm stuck compromising with whatever has the least packaging. Will let you know if I come up with a better solution soon!

  3. Thanks for the props! If you run low on the mesh bags, let me know. I can make some more for you. I have made my own ketchup. This is a good basic recipe.

    If you don't want to use tomato paste, I've found just boiling down the ketchup will thicken it up a little.

  4. Thanks Allie - that looks easy enough. Do you know what the best way to store it is?