Since covid restrictions are sort of back in place, here are some “fun” activities to fill your evenings.
Start planning your food needs for next year, now. If you know what you will need and where you will plant next spring, you can sort your garden beds now and tuck them all in properly before the Earth is covered in her cold blanket.
Some basic steps to figure out what your needs are:
1) Weekly meal planning
What are your go-to meals currently? The easy and fast ones? The fancier ones you always serve to others? What meals do your kids always eat?
Do any friends or family have a dish they make that you love and will they share the recipe?
Make up a list of all these things.
Now. If your list is full of all processed meals currently, this is going to be a bit harder, but just take your time and start switching out (on paper for now at least) just one meal a week. Or one meal a day with something fresh prepared and work your way up. Start easy. Master eggs. Or make a great wild rice and berry combo for breakfast.
If you are already comfortable with home cooked meals, step it up with some added foraged invasives like garlic mustard. Japanese knotweed. Dandelion. Purslane. Coltsfoot. Staghorn sumac. Daylilies. Maple blossoms… Or start growing 1-3 main crops next year in whatever space you have. In buckets, the ground. On balconies or under growing lights. In a local community garden. Or try your hand at canning or pickling. Drying meats or other foods.
Make some easily obtainable goals for next year and tack it on your fridge, like, “I will grow peppers on my balcony in pots this spring”, or “I will try canning what’s excess from my garden” or “I will find a local farm/butcher to buy my meats” or “I will switch to foraged greens for one meal a week”.
Once your recipes are all gathered plan out a week of eating.
Get the family or even neighbours (yes, you can meal plan with your neighbours!) and friends involved and make compromises on meals everyone can enjoy. What are the kid’s dream meals and what would they eat on a regular basis? What parts can they cook or grow or prepare? Be sure to check the nutrition of your meals to ensure they are balanced for proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and nutrients. I use the Chronometer app myself, as it’s free and can give you a good idea of if you are in the right range for your body’s overall nutrition and you can scan in most products, but you can find other online resources or just stay within Canada’s Food Guide or a dietician’s parameters.
Consider doing all your meal preparation for the week on one day if you can, so that you have several easy to reach options throughout the week. Make into individual or family portions and reheat when needed. Or do this with snacks only, and have them easily portioned and ready to go. Soups in a jar are an easy meal idea and can be made with many dried ingredients. Premade, homemade pancake mixes are an easy just add egg or milk type meal.
Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner /Snacks/Beverages (teas, juices, etc)
Personal care and household products (added later once you get the hang of things).
Breakfast/Lunch/…. and so on.
If there are any recipes that are stand outs that are not possible to make with locally sourced options, consider whether you want to include them or not or make switching to more local foods a long term food goal.
2) Ingredients and Foods Needed
Now that you have all those recipes, it’s time to work out the ingredients you will need to make them.
I like to separate my ingredients lists out. So I group all fruits together. All veggies. All dairy. All nuts. All meats. All beverages. This kind of thing. This makes it easier when sourcing and planning later on. Keeping a tally in the margins of amounts per recipe is also useful at this stage. Be sure to add a few extra per month “easy meals”, for when things are bad. You have to travel. Or you have missed a meal prep and account for these ingredients too.
3) Plan Food Sourcing
You have a plan of attack for your meals, a shopping list in hand. Now where are you going to source the items on that list?
Certain items will likely be luxuries like coffee or bananas, some of which can be bought in bulk in seasons and dried or frozen for use later, but the intention here is to eventually source the majority locally (within 25-50 km) and preferably in the long term, grown in your neighbourhoods in coordination with your neighbours or communities.
You want to
a) reduce your trips to the grocery store or eating fast foods or restaurants over the year and the amount of food waste you produce
b) make connections to where your food comes from and eat food that is grown as locally as possible, with as few steps as possible
c) start creating a stock of food, household supplies and medicines in your home to last you at least two weeks but preferably a month or more.
For the last point c), this will take some time to build and I suggest doing so little by little. Decide on one extra item a week or month to add to your stock. When something is in season or on sale that is on your list, this is the the time to buy!
4) Food Storing
It’s great to have a food plan, but if you’re in a tiny micro apartment with no storage space or living on a vast farm with a root cellar and barns, you will have different amounts you can reasonably store.
This is very important to take into account. If space is limited, consider making foraging in season a part of your routine instead or join a local community garden and rent a plot and plan on fresh in season and a different strategy over winter. Or do you have neighbours or family nearby you can barter space from for fresh foods you’ve foraged, grown, or canned? If not, make it a goal to get to know some neighbours who share your goals and each store or prep one thing!
Remember that up is a space too, and that simple cedar rods or mesh drying racks and high shelves can extend your storage capabilities. Consider (eek) downsizing your closet space and using for some dry goods. If you’ve got any critters and to prevent any new ones from coming and enjoying your stock, ensure everything is properly sealed and stored away. Labeling everything well is also a good practice. List ingredients and date processed.
Making the food extend past its freshness is key here for those with storage ability. If you don’t know how to can or dry, now’s the time to start learning by doing. You will make mistakes if you are a newbie, and that’s ok. Better now than when you are hungry.
5) How much do you actually need?
Now you’ve got a strategy and storage figured out, it’s time to work out how much food you actually need to store to survive the winter, the year, and in case of crop or power failures or pandemic or other emergency situations.
What quantities are you making and how much does each recipe call for? If you’re simple and fine with eating similar foods over long periods, this is going to be straightforward. Pair your recipes down to those you can grow or source locally, that call for only those ingredients, and go from there. If you want a couple month’s of options, this is going to be a bit more of a struggle and require a significant amount of time to work out. Being sustainable comes with learning to eat in season and being thankful and sparing with the luxuries beyond that.
Once you have the amount of each ingredient you need for each month, you determine the amount for the year. What of that will need to be canned or dried or pickled and when will that need to be done?
6) Putting it all together
Now you’ve got your meals planned. Your sourcing done. Your storage figured out and how much of each food you will need, it’s time to put it all together. There are actually several meal planner or garden planning apps on the market (many for free) that can help those who are technologically capable.
If you have worked out you need 50 cobs of corn and 200 garlic, where will you grow this? Where can you source seeds and will they be native species? How much space will you need to grow this? To store while drying or processing. Which neighbours or friends or family can join you? Who can grow what? Can I set aside a portion of what I grow for others in need? Who is food insecure in my life who I could provide some supplements for in season when I have abundance? How can I make more efficient storage spaces and make my foods last longer? How do I keep track of my stock to make sure nothing expires before I can use it? What can be done with the “waste” parts and can anything further be made with them?
Make out an ongoing general calendar of preparations that need to be done over the year. When sowing happens for each crop. Harvesting. Drying or canning. Put regular stock checks and rotations on the calendar too. Once you really get in to things, then you can start to consider a few extra items to spice it up every now and again in your stock or as a special occasion treat or start sourcing your household cleaning and toiletries in this fashion too. Then medicines. Which local medicines work best for colds or flu? Diarrhea? Menstrual cramps or pain? Which tinctures and herbs are helpful for earaches or sore throats. Which herbal tea blends can you make? Can you make your own vinegars and soaps? Which can your neighbours, family, and friends make? The possibilities can eventually replace everything you consume with locally self sufficient options.
This part won’t come overnight. Or over one year, but is merely an end goal you are working towards and will always be refining.
So be kind to yourself and start today. Make the commitments to yourself, your health, the planet, and your community to get there in the future.
All the best in your planning journey and don’t give up!