In my first installment of An Eco-Active Imagination, I promised that all of my posts would have an “outdoor element.” I love being outside, even in this hot and humid Louisiana weather, but on days like today when the sun is nowhere to be found and the rain starts pouring every half hour, going outside to garden or ride my bike is just not practical (or even fun). What do you do on rainy days, after you have come home from work or class? Read a book, watch television, or do some chores around the house? Sometimes it is difficult to feel happy or be productive when the weather is bad, as we often associate rainy weather with gloominess. An extreme example would be Season Affective Disorder (SAD), in which an individual's mood is largely dependent upon emotional associations with weather (for example, rain causes sadness by blocking sunlight and mimicking tears, whereas sunshine is bright and, therefore, is associated with happiness and positivity). You don't necessarily have to suffer from this disorder to feel trapped by extreme weather, as outdoor plans are derailed and you are forced to stay in-doors.
I think that it is important to stay active and imaginative, even when it's raining. Therefore, since it has been raining constantly for the past twelve hours, I decided to drop the “outdoor element” this week and focus on an indoor activity that incorporates my three themes of artistic expression, sustainability, and health.
For this installment of Eco-Active Imagination, I want to talk about something that is both a DIY craft and a useful planning device:
DIY Household Menu Board
I have an informal, random way of planning meals that suits me and my strange schedule, but for households with more than one person, whether they include families, couples, or roommates, this lack of structure can lead to waste and frustration. There are several benefits associated with planning meals. For one, planning meals ahead of time allows a household to save money by catching deals and sales, buying in bulk, preparing food “from scratch” using basic and cheap ingredients, and avoiding fast-food meals at restaurants for sake of convenience. Households can also save time by creating a weekly menu. In addition, there are health benefits associated with planning meals, but I will get to that later.
This post will discuss creating an actual, physical menu that makes it easy for meal-planning.
The awesome thing about creating your own menu is that you have free range to do what you like, but I suggest following this basic framework:
- The menu is comprised of a frame so that it can hang on the wall in the kitchen. This is better than trying to remember a weekly menu, keeping up with a slip of paper, or having to choose a meal on the spot.
- Meals are organized by days of the week (in the second image, the pins have small letters corresponding with weekdays).
- Meals are written on cards and pinned on the board so that they can easily be replaced with a change of plans or with every week (for the sake of variety)
- In the second image, other meal cards are stored on the menu board, but the household who owns the first menu board keeps their menu cards in a different location.
When you create your own menu board, it is important to keep these details in mind. You want the board to be as intuitive and easy to use as possible. It needs to make meal-planning easier, not harder! I suggest following the general framework in the second menu board, as that one includes the menu card pocket on the board so that new meals cards are always in reach.
Decorating your menu board is where your imagination can run wild. You can choose your own color scheme and add other kinds of decorations to the board itself, including flowers, pictures, stones and gems, shells, and so forth. For the cards themselves, I suggest sticking with basic information about ingredients and cooking instructions. Keeping the name of the meal on the front side and then the recipe and instructions on the back keeps the board from appearing cluttered. In addition, consider making “themed” meals, maybe to match themed days. For instance, you may choose to have “Meatless Monday” for instance, so the cards you reserve for the Monday slot will be vegetarian and could have a special image or symbol on them to indicate this.
Meal-planning can be part of an eco-friendly, sustainable lifestyle in two big ways. First of all, you can limit your trips to the store (and, therefore, limit your vehicles fuel consumption) if you plan ahead, because you will know which ingredients you need over the long-term.
Secondly (and most importantly), you can choose to buy food locally. This includes everything from fruits and vegetables to beans, legumes, nuts, poulty, beef, pork, and seafood. According to TIME magazine, buying local boosts the economy, as studies have shown that, when people bought produce from a farmer's market or a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program rather than the supermarket, “twice the money stayed in the community.” It makes sense, really: when you buy locally, your money goes to your neighbor, so to speak, instead of flowing out of the community to a chain supermarket. In addition to enriching the community, TIME notes that buying local foodstuffs “alerts a community about gaps in the local market,” allowing entrepreneurs in your area to step up and fill that void. This can apply to other products as well as food.
I know what you are thinking. This all sounds good, but how is buying local eco-friendly? Well, consider how a supermarket works. Supermarket produce, for instance, can come from across the country, even across the word. Whether that produce is traveling by truck, boat, or train, fuel is being expended in the process. Globalization has given the Louisiana family access to bananas from Central America, oranges from South Africa, and pineapples from Hawaii, but this same family still has choices. Instead of buying fruit from the supermarket that comes from a world away, that family has the choice to head over to the local farmer's market and buy locally grown fruits. Louisiana offers its own variety of fruits, including blueberries, blackberries, apples, oranges, nectarines, cantaloupes, clementines, melons, plums, strawberries, tangerines, tomatoes, and peaches! Louisiana vegetables include sweet potatoes, radishes, onions, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, eggplant, lettuce, kale, carrot, cauliflower, and broccoli. There are also numerous types of beans and nuts that are available in Louisiana, in addition to local seafood, beef, pork, and poultry.
Locally grown fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts are not available year-round, since they are dependent on the seasons and, of course, whether or not someone is growing them. This can provide you with the unique opportunity to learn about when produce is in-season and plan your meals around that. Moreover, if you cannot find the produce that you want in-season, you fill that “gap” yourself by starting your own garden.
Buying local, buying in-season, and growing your produce are all ways to plan eco-friendly meals. Even if you choose to buy from the farmer's market only occasionally or start your own small garden with a just few vegetables, you are still taking a significant step in the right direction toward sustainability.
Health and Wellness
Earlier I mentioned that there were health benefits to planning meals and creating a menu board. Simply put, planning meals is a great way to start choosing healthy meals and avoid “drive-through” dinners. According to the CDC, planning meals helps people manage their weight, especially if they include more fiber-rich ingredients that keep them “full” such as vegetables or fruit, in their meals.
If you compare the homemade version of meals to their store-bought or fast-food counterparts, you will see a major difference. For instance, chili from the drive-through at Wendy's will contain extra sugar, salt, and preservatives. If you make chili at home, you can include more fresh vegetables, such as celery, tomatoes (as opposed to tomato sauces with added sugars), and peppers. You can choose to use ground turkey or chicken instead of beef in your chili (to reduce calories and fat), and you can use a better variety of fiber-rich beans.
I suggest using a free calorie-counting website or smart phone app and comparing homemade versus store-bought/drive-through meals. To calculate the caloric and nutritional value of a homemade meal, simply add up the calories of each ingredient (and quantity of the ingredient) that you add. More often than not, homemade versions of meals like chili, casseroles, and even pizza will be much healthier than their store-bought/drive-through alternatives. Meal-planning is associated with a healthy lifestyle, and creating a menu board with your own unique, creative touch can be the first step.