Living your best life

Living Lightly author Nicola Turner. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Living Lightly author Nicola Turner. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Cambridge mother-of-two Nicola Turner loves spreading the concept of mindful consumption.

While she has done this for years by talking to people, she has come to realise she can’t be everywhere so she has written Living Lightly: The Busy Person’s Guide to Mindful Consumption.

THE BOOK
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THE BOOK Living Lightly: The Busy Person’s Guide to Mindful Consumption, by Nicola Turner, published by HarperCollins NZ, RRP $45
"It’s not intended to be a blueprint but, rather, a dose of inspiration to help you navigate your own way."

For the past seven years, Turner has been on a journey to simplify the way she and her family live. In turn, she has shared her experiences and lessons learnt in workshops.

Turner is aware that while many people might want to do what is right for the planet, leading a busy lifestyle means people are only going to do it if it works for them.

"Change is only going to happen if it’s not going to take too much time, cost too much money or turn me into a weirdo who no longer gets invited to cool parties."

In her book she shares ways to live more sustainably without compromising on your lifestyle.

The following is an edited extract from Living Lightly in which Turner shares her advice about food consumption.

Food plays a massive role in our lives. Obviously, there’s the whole needing food to live thing, but there’s also the social and cultural sides to it, the health, self-expression, creativity, social connection - you get the picture. Food is a huge part of who we are, what we do and how we live.

The way we eat is a big deal when it comes to our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of the planet.

MY FOOD PHILOSOPHY

I want to feed my family good, nourishing food in the shortest amount of time possible, while also being mindful of the impact.

A few years ago, my New Year’s resolution was to go food shopping once every six weeks. My main motivation was to save time and reduce my packaging waste, but I also suspected that I would save money and we’d eat better. I diligently spread-sheeted the results (you’re welcome), and they were good. Like, really good.

In the first year of shopping this way, I saved more than $4000, reduced our packaging waste by 90% and we ate more real food. But the best bit was that I saved nearly two working weeks of time! Yep, two whole weeks just by going shopping less. Boom!

Savings from shopping less — Year 1

  • Saved $4000+
  • Reduced packaging waste by 90%
  • Saved 2 working weeks of time
  • Ate more real food

It has become my thing to prove that living more sustainably doesn’t have to take more time and money — but even I was pretty surprised at how massive this change was.

Two years on and I’m still shopping this way — why wouldn’t I be? Before you panic ... no, I don’t spend all day in the kitchen, have an amazing garden, a house cow or feed my family only kale.

Time hack

Try halving the amount of food shopping trips you do — you’ll save heaps of time and cash.

MAKING THE MOST OF THINGS

A game-changer for me has been just making a simple shift in my mindset.

Instead of starting from the point of "What do I feel like?" I start from "What have I got?". It’s not about going without and eating random canned goods from your emergency kit — its about getting creative with what you have.

If I’m stuck, I’ll do a search on my phone for "What can I make with [insert what ingredients I have]". The World Wide Web always provides.

If I run out of an ingredient, instead of my default being to go to the shop for more, my starting point is to figure out a way to substitute something else for it.

Time hack

Making do with what you have means you’ll go to the shops less, save money and get better at using things up.

GETTING IT DONE

Food prep

We’ve been marketed this concept of convenience, that buying prepackaged goods will save us time — that a plastic bag of pre-cut pumpkin will make life’s crazy juggle just that little bit easier. I’m the first to admit that, sometimes, in some ways, it will.

But sometimes, it won’t.

We’ve let ourselves get a bit confused by all that convenience these days. We can buy pretty much anything we want, at any time of the day.

Instead of making our lives more convenient, sometimes it means were spending more of our time shopping.

One day, I was in the middle of making a bacon and egg pie and realised I’d run out of those handy frozen pastry sheets. No worries I’ll just jump in the car and drive the four minutes each way to my local supermarket ... It felt so easy.

But then, I took that micro pause.

I could make some pastry, but that would surely take ages (and I don’t like baking). It would be way quicker to shoot to the supermarket.

Or would it? So I did what anyone else would do - I did both. Here’s what happened.

Buying v making

Supermarket mission results

Time taken: 28 minutes

Make-my-own pastry results

Time taken: 16 minutes

We had a unexpected winner!

The supermarket is only a four-minute drive from my place, and they have handy pastry in pre-rolled sheets. It feels so convenient!

But, by the time I get out of my trackies, load my kids into the car, drive, park, walk, negotiate with kids, find pastry, buy eight other things I didn’t realise I needed, check out, spend $160, find car, drive home, remove children from car, unpack, get back into trackies ... You get the idea.

Making my own pastry had never entered my head (I hate baking, remember).

I saved a heap of time, saved money and created no extra packaging waste. I also knew and understood all of the ingredients in my pastry.

Here’s what I do to make food convenient without going to the shops.

Making from scratch

I do everything I can to make the time I spend in the kitchen as efficient as possible. Along with cooking meals, I do make a few things myself — either because it’s way cheaper or I haven’t found a good waste-free alternative. I normally allow myself 45-60 minutes in the kitchen on a Sunday evening to make something — unless I can’t be bothered, and then I don’t.

Time hack

Even making stuff from scratch, I’m still way better off time-wise compared with going to the supermarket once (or multiple times) per week.

Have a plan

I make a loose weekly meal plan. I say loose because, sometimes, I forget and, sometimes, I don’t follow it, because life happens and things change. When I do, I always appreciate that I don’t have to deal with the decision fatigue of deciding what to make every night. It also means that I have a plan to use all the fresh food that needs to be eaten that week.

I have a repertoire of dishes that I make regularly, and I’ll meal plan based on these and what I have. Yep, I meal plan based on what I already have, not the other way around. Eating seasonally helps when it comes to adding variety to what were eating.

Batch cooking

Whenever I’m cooking dinner, I make as much as I possibly can. Dinner is always lunch the next day, and any leftovers are afternoon tea or put in the freezer for another time.

I did go through a stage of spending a day or two of the school holidays prepping meals, which worked well, but I now prefer just rolling it into my regular evening cooking because it doesn’t feel like any more work.

Big-batch baking

I also apply my batch cooking approach to baking. If I’m making a cake or muffins, I’ll cook at least double the recipe and throw a batch in the freezer. For cakes, I normally pre-cut them so I can easily grab pieces from the freezer to put in lunchboxes.

Time hack

I sneak avocado, zucchini and sweet potato into recipes whenever I can (get those veges in!).

Putting veges into baking and cooking is a massive time win for me; if I’m in a hurry I can just serve and go without further prep and it cuts down on the eat-your-vegetable negotiations.

All-in-one mince

I include heaps of veges in this dish, so I can just serve and go. Typically, I’ll quadruple this recipe because it’s what I can fit into my two big pots.

A single recipe makes enough for dinner and lunch for our family of four.

Serves 4

for dinner and lunch

1 heaped Tbsp of coconut oil (or preferred cooking oil)

½ large onion (diced)

750g beef mince (or any other red meat mince such as lamb)

300ml passata or 1 can (400g) chopped tomatoes

¼ cup tomato ketchup

500ml chicken or vegetable stock

½ cup grated zucchini (courgettes)*

½ cup grated sweet potato*

½ cup grated pumpkin*

½ cup grated carrot*

½ cup dried brown lentils*

*vegetables are substituted with whatever is in season or I have on hand.

What to do

1. Heat oil in a pan and cook onion for 2 minutes until soft.

2. Add mince and continue cooking for a further 5 minutes.

3. Add all other ingredients and mix well.

4. Simmer until lentils are cooked through and liquid has reduced down, about 40 minutes for a single batch.

5. Freeze in meal portion sizes.

Nic’s tips

Use as a base for spaghetti Bolognese or lasagne.

Serve with rice, topped with smashed avocado and refried beans.

Top with mashed potatoes or cover with puff pastry to make a pie.

Stuff into roasted potatoes (leave their jackets on for extra nutrients and less waste).

Serve on toast with a poached egg.

Make a basic tomato sauce at the same time as your mince. Follow the method above, skipping the mince and lentils. Freeze the sauce in jars, ready to add to pasta, on pizza bases or as a simmer sauce for meatballs.

Very, very rough pastry

This recipe can be multiplied once you’re in the swing of things and know how much you need.

When I first started looking for a rough puff pastry recipe, I became overwhelmed reading recipes that told me to turn the dough 90 degrees and count the number of times I rolled it. I’m sure my pastry would be puffier and flakier if I did follow those instructions, but my super-rough recipe works for us. Seriously, there’s so much butter in this stuff, it’s never going to taste bad!

Makes 3 standard family pies

2½ cups flour (I use spelt because it’s what I always have, but most recipes recommend all-purpose white flour)

½ tsp salt

300g butter (ideally, cut into quarters and put in the freezer first, but cold straight out of the fridge will do)

160ml cold water (ideally, throw a couple of ice cubes in it)

What to do

1. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Grate the butter into the flour mixture and loosely rub together. Add water and mix with a wooden spoon until you make a rough dough.

2. Cover with a plate and put in the fridge for 15 minutes.

3. Divide into three. Roll out one portion as needed and freeze the other two wrapped in beeswax wraps (or whatever you have lying around).

Nic’s tip

Pretty much anything tastes good in pastry, but here are some of my regular dishes: Vegetable quiche, bacon and egg pie, cheese and relish scrolls, apple and cinnamon fold-over (a lazy version of a pie).

Lunchbox slice

Makes 16 pieces

150g butter

2 Tbsp honey (or more for the sweet tooth)

1 cup oats

½ cup flour

½ tsp baking powder

½ cup shredded coconut

¼ cup chia

¼ cup sesame seeds

¼ cup buckwheat groats

½ cup dried apricots or sultanas

What to do

1. Heat the oven to 180degC. In a saucepan over low heat, melt butter and honey. Remove from the heat and mix in the dry ingredients. Make sure there's a bit of butter pooling on top.

2. Place mixture in a 20 x 20cm slice tin and bake for 12-15 minutes.

3. Allow to cool, cut into slices and keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Nic’s tip

For this to work, the only dry ingredients you really need are the oats, flour, baking powder and coconut ... all the rest is freestyle. So, feel free to swap out ingredients for your own personal faves.

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