Set Yourself Up to Crave Frugal

DH = Dear Husband

I just read on Mackenzie’s blog that she’s sick of all things pumpkin. ” I am on a serious pumpkin overload. Really. I can’t take another picture of pumpkins, pumpkin drinks, especially pumpkin foods. When did everything suddenly have pumpkin in it???” Have you ever eaten too much of something? To the point where your stomach just says, “No more! Too much already!” Even good, healthy, frugal food can cause a belly to rebel if eaten too many days in a row.


I have tried on and off to eat less meat. I admire vegetarians, and while I don’t think I will ever be one, I do think it would be good for health, finances, and the planet if I ate more vegetarian meals. My problem was that all the meals I tried out seemed to be missing something: meat. My other problem was that I didn’t really like beans. It’s not that I hated them. I could do my duty, make them and eat them, but I never felt excited about beans for dinner. (Maybe I just never tried the right recipe?) And how can even a partial vegetarian manage without beans?

In the last couple of weeks, I have discovered great recipes involving not beans, but lentils. Lentils are in the same food category as beans and split peas. They’re all legumes; they’re all very  inexpensive; and they’re all healthy. My eldest daughter sent me this recipe for Mushroom Lentil Barley Stew, and Amy from My Upstate Life posted this recipe for Slow Cooker Coconut Curry Lentils. Then at work, a fellow teacher gave me the recipe for Mujadara, a Middle-Eastern dish with, you guessed it, lentils.

So easy to make! So able to fill the house with the aroma of delicious! And so good to eat! No sense that these meals were “missing meat”. I was on a lentil high! And I ate my lentil dishes every day. For almost two straight weeks. Every. Day.


Yestersday at work during lunch hour, the rebellion happened. I was hungry, but my stomach refused to take in another lentil. My lunch was prepared, but it was not going to be eaten. I got take-out. “Ruth! You bought something!” my colleague Nadia said in mock astonishment (well, maybe is wasn’t “mock”) when she saw me with my bag of restaurant food. “True,” I admitted. “I’m going to have to write a blog post about this,” I said. “Well guess what?” she responded. “You’re human, and you’re allowed to get take-out sometimes, and I’m going to write a blog post about THAT!”

Set yourself up to crave frugal

Nadia’s right. I am human. But while I thoroughly enjoyed my lamb shank, sauce, and rice yesterday at noon  (clearly, I did not go for the most frugal option), I’m all about packing a lunch for work. I’ve got my focus on complete debt-freedom. I’m determined to overcome bad spending habits and get my discretionary account in healthy shape. Of all the items on our budget, food offers the most room for maneuvre. When DH and I grocery shop with intentional frugality, we spend as little as half of what we used to spend. And when we choose not to go to restaurants, we save a fortune.

But in making the leap to super-frugal meals – especially the meatless ones – I need to go in stages. Perhaps one meal per week to start with, and then a gradual build up. An abrupt menu change to lentils, lentils, and  more lentils was not wise insofar as the the overall outcome was concerned.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about “starving” unhealthy appetites. I have something to learn about developing healthy appetites too, and I know from experience that it can be done. I remember years ago, when I lived with my sister for several months, we had salad at the table every supper. I was indifferent to salad, and I didn’t always eat it, but there it was. When I moved out of her place, I found myself experiencing a new food craving – for salads.  And it’s been with me ever since.

Not just about food

As I look back over our 4½ years of debt-reduction, I realize I’ve developed other frugal “appetites” too. If I don’t go for a long walk for several days, I “crave” one. If I go a few weeks without a board game or a card game, same thing. When I want to get together with people, I don’t default to meeting up at restaurants, bars, or coffee shops. A few former colleagues and I are planning to meet up in a couple of weeks, and as we were making plans, I suggested coffee and dessert at my place. Everyone is on board. As new frugal “normal” builds up in different areas of life, new, healthy, and frugal appetites develop too.

Will Mackenzie ever enjoy pumpkin again? Will I find myself at some point craving lentils? I hope so! But it’s not going to happen with the ceaseless bomardment I’ve subjected my digestive system to in the last two weeks. I’ve got to keep things varied. Fortunately, people like Amy at My Upstate Life and Revanche at A Gai Shan Life post healthy, delicious, frugal, and quick-to-prepare recipes on a regular basis (Amy on Mondays and Revanche on Fridays). Some are vegetarian, and some are not.

I’m glad that although I’m wired a certain way, I also have the power to modify. I can starve unhealthy appetites and develop healthy ones. I can lose my taste for sugar just as I can gain a taste for salads and lentils. I can shed my cravings to spend, and instead, set myself up to crave frugal.

Have you ever eaten so much of a good thing that you can’t stomach it for a while? Have you had the experience of developing new, frugal, healthy appetites? Your comments are welcome.

*Image courtesy of Flickr

25 comments on “Set Yourself Up to Crave Frugal

  1. Yeah, there’s times when we make something in bulk and we absolutely love it the first couple times, but by the time you get to the end, you can barely shovel a bite in your mouth.

    Things that you can make and freeze parts of are great, so long as you actually use it.

  2. Ruth, if I eat anything for 2 weeks straight I need a break from it. Even pizza. Probably even chocolate.

    Jon likes to cook BIG pots of beans, lentils, etc. There are only 3 of us, so we end up freezing some and pulling them out later to keep from getting tired of it. But eventually, yes, you’ll want your lentils again.

    Our bigger challenge is incorporating enough vegetables in our diet, in part because for 4 years we were limited largely to tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, and carrots (what Little Bit would eat, in other words.) This summer, though, all that “You have to eat at least one bite” stuff paid off, and now we’ve been able to add green beans, asparagus, summer squash (though still convincing her on the winter squashes) and okra. And when we go to the store, she’s started asking for veggies in the produce aisle. As long as we can stay mostly in season, we do well, and I’m trying to look for more veggie-centric meals.

    1. You must be doing a happy dance, Emily! Your discipline is paying off. She’s actually asking for veggies! Parenting can feel like a lot of ineffective nagging at times. it’s so satisfying to know a lesson has stuck. Well done!

  3. Yes! I did this when I discovered a love for fava (greek split peas – fantastic!). I ate it every day for at least 2 weeks and got to the point I couldn’t stomach any more. But as soon as I started thinking about the lentils you mention in this post, I immediately started craving fava. Weird. I wonder how long it will take for our lentil craving to emerge!?

    Like Emily, I make a huge batch of beans in the slow cooker and freeze them in meal-sized portions to use later.

    We still eat meat 80% of the time (for dinner, not necessarily lunch), but I’m always looking for new vegetarian recipes that everyone will eat. Thanks for the links to the recipes!

    1. I would like to get to the point where 20% of our evening meals are vegetarian – and maybe keep going towards a 50/50 split. Right now, we’re hovering around 95% meals with meat, so any move towards more vegetarian is marked progress. I’ll have to check out these fava peas : )

  4. My wife has been eating super healthy for a few years now, and has lost weight, and looks amazing. She always packs her lunch and co-work marvel at the food she is eating. There were some jaw-dropping reactions when she had a slice of pizza the other day. She laughed out loud. Hey, we could all use a little break.

    Tuna salad was my food for a long stretch, now I won’t eat it. I agree, a meal, doesn’t feel like a meal without meat, but if you can get over it there are some great health and budget benefits. We still struggle in the food area.

    1. You’re working so hard on the money area, Brian, and it would be difficult to be just as focused on food. I find it hard to work on more than one area at a time (though your wife seems to be managing : ) I like it when one area just naturally impacts another – like frugal meals ending up being more healthy.

  5. I’m an extremist, so yep, I’ve done the overload thing many times. What works best for me is the 6 days off, 1 day on thing, which is eating a clean diet for 6 days out of the week and going hog wild on the 7th. It sounds bad, but it gets all those urges out of your system all at once and you crave going back to clean living. Plus, it sure beats 6 days hog wild and 1 day clean. I’m going to have to give lentils a try. Thanks for the tip! 🙂

    1. I like the cheat day concept. And I’ve heard that for different reasons, it’s actually better than going 7 for 7. “I’m an extremist…” I like your self-awareness, Kay : )

  6. Lol, thanks for the mention 🙂

    I went through a veggie burger phase and had them every week for months. It helped in the weight loss department but I haven’t had one in almost two months because I got burned out on them.

  7. We went macrobiotic for awhile (no meat, dairy, sugar, flour with a heavy focus on veggies and legumes). It was really nice. In fact, we had just ordered a side of beef when we switched to macrobiotic, and by the time the beef came we couldn’t even eat it. We had totally adjusted to the vegetarian way of life. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but we’re back on meat again. We haven’t had it for awhile b/c we didn’t want to purchase another side of beef, but we broke down and ordered one and it’ll be here in three weeks or so. We’d been buying store bought beef in between and it is SO subpar compared to the grass fed stuff that we can’t even stomach the store bought stuff. As an aside, I went to the doc today and he said I had a low iron level. I’m using that as an excuse to eat some serious amounts of steak when that side of beef comes in. 🙂

    1. I think it’s really interesting that you can tell the difference – and in a big way too – between beef from the store and grass-fed side of beef. I have only ever bought from the store. I’m glad that steak is on its way, Laurie. Time to get those iron counts up!

  8. I agree, trying to change what you eat is best done gradually, or pick one recipe a week. Apart from having completely vegetarian meals, you could also find meat recipes that also incorporate beans or lentils. Sheppard’s pie is great with half meat/half lentils, as long as there is a bit a gravy to the meat layer. A lentil soup with sausage can eventually have the sausage reduced or omitted. Cheese, especially Feta, can also be added to bean/lentil salads for more oomph.

    I’ve also found myself trying a vegetarian dish when eating out. I get instant feedback on if it’s something I want to make at home. Even the greasy spoon across the street from where I work has a fridge full of vegetarian take-aways that we can buy for lunch for a few dollars. (I often buy their bean salads that I then dump on my home-made veggie salad.) A couple of recipes in my roster comes to mind that I would never have made if I hadn’t tried them while being out: lentil/brown rice salad with raisins and sunflower seeds, escarole soup with beans, stuffed peppers with quinoa.

    1. LPC, you have some great advice here! I like the idea of recipes that incorporate both meat and legumes/veggies – and then possibly reducing the amount of meat used. I don’t know if I have ever ordered a vegetarian meal at a restaurant when there have been meat options. Thanks for these ideas!

  9. I definitely know too much of a good thing.

    My dad and I ate peanut butter everyday from the time I was in kindergarten until 6th grade. Now my Dad and I gag at the smell of peanut butter. We just can’t handle it anymore which is really unfortunate.

    1. That IS unfortunate! Most people say that a taste for over-indulged food will eventually come back, but it sounds like your peanut butter gag reflex has become permanent : (
      How about trying peanut butter cookies as a way to ease your way back?

  10. I had pumpkin chipotle soup this weekend while we were out. It was pretty good & not too pumpkiny.

    We don’t eat as much meat as we used too. My wife & I do notice that eating veggies or legumes for every meal does leave us hungry and have less energy. The big thing is eating nutrient dense food made from scratch instead of premade items you only have to heat up. Those things (junk food) make you feel hungrier after you ate it than before because of the effects of chemicals.

    I also sparingly eat canned tuna. It’s the only food I have ever been burnt out on. My host mom gave it to us at least once a day. It was about 4 years before I touched it again. Now I think I eat it 5 times a year when mixed with other ingredients.

    1. “nutrient dense food made from scratch” – and if it can be varied and delicious into the bargain, so much the better. I hope you haven’t settled for hungry-and-low-energy. I hope you find that balance that will see your energy levels go up and get you full. I think I have tuna about 5 times a year too – similar reasons. Thanks for your comment, Josh.

  11. I was just telling my husband, after eating some really good Indian lentils, that lentils are never something I crave! They’re fine, I’ll eat them, but I do not love them.

    We often remind ourselves that “life is not about our preferences.” So many people on our planet eat the same thing day in and day out; food, clothing, and shelter are all about survival, not finding your favorite. I don’t think we have to live with this view when we do have a choice, but it helps to give some perspective on our “decision fatigue” and “discretionary spending” problems.

    1. Good point! I’m afraid I do place a very high value on delicious food – too high. I remember seeing a video in which a pastor had explained a trip he’d taken to a developing nation. “What is your favourite thing to eat?” he had asked several children. Each one had the same answer: “Food.”

  12. Thank you so much for mentioning my meal plans, Ruth! I’m literally eating a bowl of leftover lentil and veggie soup as I type this! 🙂 My meat-loving husband helps keep my lentil dishes to a minimum. He’ll eat them, but he never wants the leftovers. I generally enjoy lentils and other beans, but I’m approaching my lentil limit now, too.

    Meal planning is one of those habits I’ve adopted that – while I don’t love it – I miss it when I put it off. As someone who doens’t enjoy cooking in the least, having a plan for what I’m making every night saves me a lot of angst. (And time and money, too!)

    1. I love the meal plan idea – and the fact that you post links to your recipes so that others (like me) can give them a try. I’ll learn to plan more balance. I sort of got on a new recipe kick – and they all had lentils in common. I should have seen that lentil wall coming : )

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