The quick answer: To improve health and happiness, write a weekly menu and shopping list.
I’ve Never Been Happier
Two women, friends who had not seen each other for many years, sat down to a leisurely breakfast at a lovely restaurant overlooking the ocean. It was a warm, sunny Saturday morning. They admired the view, talked about the happenings in their separate lives, and caught up on shared friends. I came late to the meal—was really only there to pick up the bill. As they said their good-byes, the older lady said something I won’t soon forget: “I’ve never been happier in my life than I am now.”
Why is her statement so memorable? She is dying—painfully—of cancer.
She had previously sold the home where she and her deceased, husband reared their children, packed what she could fit into a few suitcases, and come to live by the beach. Her apartment is small and simply furnished, plain enough to suit Thoreau, though it does have a lovely view of Catalina Island. Her plan, it seems to me, is to sit by the sea in the warmth of the sun, compose music (her avocation), and await her passing.
So I’ve thought about her words, and how we can find joy through living in harmony with our truest values. There's a hint here, I think, about changes all of us might consider. It requires that we listen more to the voices within.
The Voices Without
Food Inc. spends over $30 billions annually to get us to buy their food-like concoctions. Why do they spend so much? Because it works. Humans, the researchers say, fuss over the infrequent decisions in their lives, like what car to buy. But we tend to outsource the simple, daily decisions, like what to eat, to the culture around us. We just find it easier to go with the flow.
A century ago, in 1911, a food that people had used forever, lard, was driven from the market by a massive well-organized advertising campaign. The campaign promoted Crisco as the modern replacement and suggested that those who resisted weren’t “progressive.” It was a very successful campaign. Crisco turned out to be a terrible mistake, but it would take a century to assemble the proof and convince the public.
Food companies didn’t miss the lesson of Crisco's market launch: You could sell almost anything with a skillfully done advertising campaign. This seems arrogant, but we know from sad experience that it works. Imitation food products continued to replace traditional foods all through the 20th century. Clever advertising created a new food culture: the modern American diet (MAD).
One purpose of our 52 Healthy Changes is to restore real food to the American dietary. We must tune out the siren song from the billions spent on advertising and quietly rediscover olden ways. To regain conscious control of our daily food decisions we turn to the simplest of tools—the weekly menu.
Few people write regular menus. A basic menu, covering four or five dinners, plus, perhaps, Sunday supper will simplify your life. The few minutes it takes to write a weekly menu will free you from the frantic scramble to come up with something for dinner. If you use a menu, you’ll throw out less spoiled food. If you make a shopping list part of your menu plan, you’ll reduce shopping trips, saving time and money. If you save old menus and organize them in a binder by season, your life will be even simpler next year.
The popular blog Inchmark is written by our daughter Brooke. Brooke wrote a great post on grocery lists and provided an editable menu planner and grocery list.
Five Steps for Menu Writing
Here are five steps that work for us in menu planning:
- Set aside a regular time for menu writing. Consult the family the night before to get their requests. Involving them in planning builds family support for the outcome.
- Check your inventory. We look in the refrigerator for food that might spoil, in the freezer to see what needs turnover, and in the pantry for ideas.
- Write down your meal ideas with links to recipes.
- Review the menu for needed ingredients and write a shopping list. In our best weeks, using a menu-driven shopping list, we only need to shop twice.
- Share the menu with the family and save it in a binder. Keep a blank menu in the binder as a place to collect ideas for next week.
In the first two weeks the Healthy Changes were aimed at reducing sugar intake and eliminating hydrogenated trans fats. This week’s Healthy Change is designed to protect you from impulse buying and the hassle of last minute shopping.
Please comment: How do you write healthy menus and simply grocery shopping?
Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.