When you are relying on only your garden and local farmers for every bite of food you consume, weekly meal planning changes pretty significantly. We live in a culture where we can go to the grocery store and buy most of the foods we want at almost any time of the year. While we may understand, and even seek out, foods that are in season, we aren’t forced to do without them when the season ends.
I have always done the meal planning for our family. When I wanted new ideas for dinner, I would browse social media for some ideas that were nutritious, kid-approved, and inspiring to Mitch (since he does all the cooking). When something fit the bill, I would add it to the meal plan, list out the ingredients, and then head to the store to get what we didn’t already have in the kitchen. It was pretty simple and as time went on it got even easier, as our favorite meals became regular occurrences that would move through the rotation for months on end.
So, when I sat down to create the meal plan for the first week of our local-only food challenge, I started where I always do: social media. I quickly ruled out a lot of the pages I frequent for inspiration because they had foods that I simply could not get. Avocados do not grow well in North Carolina, much to my disappointment. Add to the list of cannot find items: limes, bananas, coffee, rice (although we have a few leads on this last one). You would not believe how many recipes call for ketchup (don’t worry, we’ll be making our own).
I quickly realized that I had to take a different approach, so I turned to the Cobblestone Farmer’s Market Facebook page, and it delivered. The market was scheduled for the next day and they had shared the names of each vendor that would be there, as well as listed out several of the products each would have for sale. I also looked at the page of our local produce store, Let It Grow Produce, to see what they had gotten in. I wasn’t surprised, of course, to see green beans, zucchini, and herbs, since those are what we are harvesting at home. But I was delighted to find several varieties of potatoes, greens, carrots, and corn, which we haven’t gotten yet. I know that as I continue to garden and learn more about the wide varieties of produce and what it takes to grow them, this will become easier, but right now it is a big challenge.
In the end, I think I came out on top, with five awesome dinner ideas (I’ll share recipes throughout the week of the ones we love). Next week, I plan to aim for a Meatless Monday dish, but I needed some more time to research (hit me up in the comments with ideas!). But for the first week, we celebrate meat:
- Apple brat chicken sausages with roasted potatoes and corn on the cob
- Taco bowls with black bean & corn salad
- Italian chicken sausages with spinach gnocchi
- Honey garlic glazed meatballs with sautéed zucchini and green beans
- Honey grilled chicken with roasted potatoes and sautéed zucchini
For breakfasts and lunches throughout the week, I have a little less structure. We tend to stick with what we know for these meals and that will continue this month, but with free range eggs from North Carolina, dairy products from local goat & dairy farmers, and a wide assortment of seasonal vegetables and fruits. Take this morning, our first meal of the challenge, where Mitch cooked up egg omelettes with cilantro and basil from our garden, as well aged cheddar, tomatoes, white onion, and a purple bell pepper from local folks. It was a delicious way to kick off the month (and even the kids agreed!).
We have cantaloupe, berries, and yogurt from a local dairy farm for snacks, as well as locally grown peanut butter and peanuts (I can’t wait until ours are ready for harvest). And of course, an endless supply of sweet pickles (which turned out extremely well, by the way – watch for a recipe!).
My next research project is to understand the differences in cost between eating this way and our normal grocery fare. One of the biggest pieces of feedback I get is that buying local can be really expensive. We are working against a budget, and while I’m willing to spend a little more for great quality products, we do have to be conscious of how we spend. My goal is to live this lifestyle in a creative and sustainable way so that we can build better habits for life, not just for now.