Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Eco-living in a working week

Photo credit

Let's face it. Trying to live a sustainable life while working a full 40-60 hour week can be tough. Trust me I know. I read a lot of eco-living blogs and many of the people are doing amazing things but also a lot of them have quit their day jobs and are farming full time or work from home including many of them stay at home mums and although many of them have incredibly busy lives some things are simply easier when you are at home more often.

So this post is for all those who work outside of home fulltime. When you are away from home for so many hours in a day it does make it difficult to keep up a sustainable lifestyle. But there are things we can all do and that's what it's really about. So how do I sustain this kind of lifestyle while working long hours away from home? Here are some of the things that are working for me.

Weekend Meal Preparation
One of the most important things is to be prepared when it comes to nightly cooking. When you work long days and come home late each night, if you don't have some idea what you are going to cook for the night it becomes all too easy to stop in for takeaways on the way home or grab ready made food in non-recyclable packaging because it's just easier. So each weekend I prepare my meal plan for the week. I am realistic, I only plan meals for Sunday through Thursday as on the weekends we are normally out and about or having friends over so it's not so easy to plan what we'll be eating a week in advance.

I have to be flexible as weekends get busy so at some point when I have time on Saturday or Sunday I set up the meals for the week. I have a great number of cookbooks to give me inspiration and I tend to select meals that contain vegetables that are in season as I know they will be cheaper and I will be able to source them locally.

The biggest issue is meat. Meat can be very expensive and sometimes it is difficult to  know whether a recipe I select will be affordable for that particular week. Lots of people like to shop based on what's on special and that's great if it works for you. For me I like to be prepared but I'm also flexible enough that I can substitute if I need to. For example last week I had planned a delicious lamb and curry flavoured potato salad. Unfortunately lamb was at a ridiculous price but chicken was on special so I simply substituted the lamb for chicken. Also I bought some chicken drumsticks which were crazy cheap and I will use them for a meal this coming week. Sometimes I'll have a meal planned and I'll simply put down 'green vegetable' to indicate I could get broccoli or green beans or asparagus or whatever other tasty vegetable is on special that week. The important thing is to have a base idea for each meal.

Once I have decided on 5 meals I write out all the ingredients I need. After that I can then do the shop, sometimes right after, sometimes I write out the meal plan on Saturday and shop on Sunday. I head to my local fruit & veggie shop and then the butchers and finally the supermarket. The great thing is that if you don't need anything from the supermarket you can skip it all together - reducing the temptation to buy pre-packaged food.

This has been working really well for us so far. Every morning I look at all the meals I have planned and pick which one I want to cook based on how much time I might have that night and grab the meat out of the freezer. Then at night there's no thinking or wondering what I'm going to cook, I can start as soon as I get home. It's great.

Shop in bulk less often
Shopping less often works in my family because we all work long hours and time outside of that is at a premium. But everyone will be different here. So I try and buy things we use a lot in bulk once a month (rice, pasta, coffee etc). Then do the weekly meat & veg shop once a week. Every now and then I have to pop out for bread and milk or the local Asian shop because they don't have the Thai spice I need at the supermarket but overall I have managed to maximise my shopping time really well.

Make your lunch
When you work in an office it is so tempting to buy your lunch but there is two major reasons you should try and avoid this; first is the cost, we all know how much those daily lunches add up! And second is that most of the time you grab it takeaway to have back at the office to 'save time'. And into the rubbish goes all those takeaway containers that will sit in our landfills for years to come.

So make the effort and setup your lunch the night before. It doesn't have to be difficult, you can usually do it at the same time as cooking dinner. One of my favourites for winter is simply chunky soup. Sometimes from a can, sometimes home made depending on what I have in the house. Paired with some bread or home made buns in a reusable wrap it is one of the easiest lunches to take with you to the office. Or why not make a little extra dinner and take it as leftovers for your lunch the next day?

Encourage your work to go green.
If you spend most of your week day at your office or place of work have a look around and see if there are small things you can do in the office. Do they have a recycling system in place? If you have a computer do you turn it off each night? Think about how much paper you print and try to reduce it. It all adds up.

Working away from home or for long hours should not prevent you from living the eco-lifestyle you want. It simply requires a bit of preparation.


  1. Great post. The making your own lunch point is really a good one.

    True story: When Mike and I moved from the city into the country, I quit my full-time job. The weird thing was, we felt like we had more expendable money after I quit. So we took a look at things and figured out that we had been spending about $500-$700 PER MONTH on dinners at restaurants/drinks with friends/lunches with coworkers.

    Whoa. How we never realized that, I have no idea. We thought we were running a fairly tight ship when it came to our budget and eating out. We were always saying stuff like "we shouldn't go out tonight, we should save money" but the thing is that when it's EASY to eat out, you do it way more than you think you do.

    Now, in our small town, there is like one restaurant. We spend about $75 a month on drinks/dinners out. No more work-lunches for me with coworkers, and Mike works from home so I make his lunch. :)

  2. Oh I hear ya! It is so easy to splurge far too much on eating out when you live in the city. I try and limit us to 1-2 nights out a month which helps keep the cost down but also we tend to like asian restaurants (thai, chinese, vietnamese) which also is a lot cheaper than european restaurants so that also helps a lot.