I used to spend hours on the weekends planning a menu that revolved around sales prices and ad circulars and Southern Savers and stockpiling.
Then I realized I was driving myself and my family crazy and Saturdays were becoming a burden rather than a blessing. My quest to meal plan and be frugal and clip coupons was eating away at family time. I had a tendency to wait until then because we always have Friday night pizza, so I knew that plan and usually by Saturday, the paycheck was in the bank.
But this past spring we joined a CSA. It’s Community Supported Agriculture and being a part of one has really shaped the way I approach meal planning and grocery shopping. Basically, as a member, you are buying a share of a farmer’s crops. You’re taking part in the risk that is farming, but you’re putting money directly into the pockets of local farmers and supporting their families.
Through a CSA the consumer has a direct connection with the food they purchase. Furthermore, the consumer can provide a farmer with input. For example, if a particular variety is not favored the consumer can inform the farmer. This allows the farmer to better meet the needs of his customers and friends. If more of certain vegetables are desired that farmer can adjust his next planting. Where else can you have such a direct impact regarding the needs of your family’s nutrition?
My delivery came every Wednesday afternoon which meant if I waited until Saturday to begin meal planning again for the next week, I had vegetables just sitting and waiting. Plus, our share changed slightly from week to week, so I couldn’t always count on having the same amount or variety. I had to let go of my need to control knowing exactly what would be available. And I had to start using my resources to help me figure out what to do with six straight weeks of kale, cabbage, and collards!
I’ve referenced this cookbook several times, but truly, Simply in Season is the best go-to resource for using local produce in a variety of meals as side dishes and the main course. It’s organized by season and color-coded, so I knew I could just flip to the red section and find a variety of ways to use squash and zucchini and tomatoes that would be different than my standard casserole and BLT.
Like this? This crustless summer squash quiche is easy, budget friendly, and is the reason I’ve also learned to make my own baking mix. Plus it’s versatile. You can actually substitute any seasonal vegetable into this recipe, and if you’re feeling really Pinterest-y, go ahead and cook it in teacups or a muffin tin for individualized portions. (My kids always think those are more fun!)
Using this resource and delving into my friend Jamie’s book, Real Food for the Real Homemaker, has also helped me discover that stocking my pantry doesn’t necessarily mean I have a dozen boxes of cereal and bottles of salad dressing. Instead, I’ve begun stocking with actual real food supplies: flours, oils, vinegars, rice, grains, fresh dairy (local when I can), fresh and dried fruits, and lots of produce. For me, this has meant that I can approach grocery shopping with the idea that I should keep on hand the items that I need to change my meal plan at the last moment because I drove past the farmer’s market and their corn finally came in or they just picked the last batch of okra.
Like most of us, I get in a rut of what my kids like, what’s easy, what’s comfort food, and I don’t always explore new options. Being part of our CSA has given me new perspective on what my kids will actually eat and has broadened my scope of what types of meals can keep us frugal and full. We’re no longer convinced that meat has to be a part of every dinner, and I’m excited to see my kids trying vegetables like turnips, eggplant, and cabbage that they would’ve rejected in the produce section of the grocery store.
The difference is: they know our farmer. To them, his name is Mr. Chris and he pets their kittens and talks to them about his horses and brings them food. They have a connection now to what’s on their table and that motivates them to try new things.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links but the opinions are my own. I’d never link you to something I didn’t believe in!