If you’re nervous about joining a CSA because you think it’ll be hard to work into your family’s budget and meal planning, never fear: it doesn’t have to be! Eating nutritious, fresh food from traceable nearby sources is good for you, your family, and your community, and it’s not necessarily a strain on your wallet.
Here are 4 basics of our family’s strategy to reduce waste and eat fresh, healthy meals:
Plan ahead after delivery day
Once I started getting most of our groceries locally, I changed my meal-planning time from the more traditional Sunday night, to Thursday night, after my subscription arrives. If you don’t change your planning strategy, you’ll be stuck with produce that you didn’t know you’d get festering in the crisper drawer while you eat the things you got at the grocery store instead. Since we get meat, chickens, eggs, dairy, bread, and produce delivered, I plan our menus around how the proteins will best complement the veggies, and my grocery store list contains pantry-stockers, a few convenience items, and ingredients to supply our baking habit. I supplement with whatever I’ve preserved earlier in the season and with stockpiled meat from the freezer to round out the menus. It’s important to me to balance the nutrition, flavor, and texture of meals, and it’s easy with a regular supply of fresh ingredients!
I’ve gotten a lot of joy in cooking and eating with the seasons both at home and professionally. Instead of eating sub-par produce from who-knows-where whenever I want, I eat what comes from here, when it’s harvested. In our four-season climate here in southwestern PA, we get a lot of agricultural variety throughout the year: the best tomatoes (really- the best), wide varieties of salad and cooking greens, squash forever and ever, prolific herbs, foraged and hunted foods, sweet grass for our dairy and beef cows, amazing apples, and, is there anything better than the first harvests of asparagus and strawberries in spring?
Granted, there are things we can’t grow here (coffee, chocolate, tea, olives, citrus, avocados, etc). For those “provencal” items that are unique to their climate, we try to source them from local or transparent sources.
Assume the budget amount
Participating in a CSA doesn’t have to throw off your budget! In fact, eating seasonally means eating cheaper, since we aren’t paying for large shipping costs behind each item. If you plan your weekly trip after your delivery arrives, you can know what you’ve already spent on your groceries, and what you’ve already got, and round out your pantry with what you need outside of the box contents. If you do your shopping trip ahead of your delivery, you’ll over- or under-buy and your budget will be off kilter.
Also, budgets are important, but no household lives in a vacuum. We all affect and are affected by our surrounding community, and our financial choices are a major part of that. If we choose to spend our hard-earned dollars within our local economic base, even if that amount is a little higher than what we’d spend at a multinational source, our investment comes back around to us in other ways, through richer products and experiences, meaningful jobs, and return investment in the community. Sometimes (but not always) the cheapest option can also be the emptiest option. Personally, I’m happy to spend a little more on products and services from hard-working local people and a little less in some other budget area (in fact, we are some of those hard-working people! Between the two of us who work Fellowship Foods, our households work on or at 6 different places besides home that are local and community-enriching, so we know first-hand!)
Of course, there’s always the last-minute grocery store run, or the unexpected hospitality needs, which brings me to my next and most freeing strategy…
Plan for flexibility
My life got way easier when I started making a fluid menu plan. I write down five or six meals at a time, but rarely assign them to a certain day. At least one of them can be easily doubled or just made bigger to allow for company.
Our weeks are insanely busy, and running a business sometimes causes disruptions in what might otherwise have been a “normal” day. We need the freedom to switch our plans or push something off until later. To allow for flexibility, we try to keep around a couple of freezer meals ready for the oven or crockpot, and we plan on an occasional pizza or burrito fallback (and we don’t beat ourselves up about it).
When it comes to produce, I try to plan on using up the most tender and susceptible produce first, and allow the storage items to … store.
If it looks like we won’t get to something before it goes bad, I try to preserve it quickly while I’m already in the kitchen doing other tasks (my go-to method for small amounts is freezing). If there’s something in the box I know we won’t eat, I’ll trade it with another CSA member (I’ve got a very happy beets-for-eggplant understanding with a neighbor) or give it to someone who will enjoy it.
My family has been eating local (and I’ve been sourcing local food at my cafe) since we settled here and found the sources (and I’m thrilled to work with Chip now, doing this), and I don’t see it as a complication to our family rhythm. Rather, it’s an opportunity to expand our culinary horizons, meet and understand our food sources, learn how to cook, preserve, and to reduce waste, and eat really, really good food!