Updated: Nov 10, 2020
If there's one thing that seems to be a huge deal, it's provisioning.
Not that I don't get it.
Ensuring we have enough food to last us during long passages, or now- quarantines- (thank you Covid) is an important task, and it can seem overwhelming to someone starting out.
The idea of storing FRESH food on a small boat, for 6 people. Enough to last a month or more; was more than a little intimidating to me, when we first started delving into what boat life would entail. We try to eat whole foods and avoid canned and processed foods in our land based life- because health is everything. Crossing that over into a nomadic life, where whole foods may sometimes be less readily available was a definite consideration for us as a family.
What started out as an attempt to stop grocery shopping on a weekly basis; slowly morphed into monthly provisioning runs, learning how to keep fresh foods fresh for longer, and saving more money for that boat in our future.
You might be wondering what I know about provisioning when we aren't even live-aboards yet. Fair question!
While we certainly don't know some parts of it (hello multiple dinghy trips to haul everything back), I have definitely taught myself other aspects of it, and I feel so much more prepared for when we do cast the lines. I'm sure once we actually get out there, some of what I've learned won't translate to boat life. Things like refrigeration will definitely impact what we buy and how we store it.
I'm hopeful that most of what I've learned and adapted into our land lifestyle will be useful in our future boat life. If you've already made the leap, I'd love to hear what you've learned.
In the meantime, I'm here to tell you how you can save hundreds of dollars monthly by changing the way you shop, and how to better prepare yourself for the lifestyle change if you haven't left yet, but hope to in the future!
I gradually switched to doing grocery runs weekly, to bi-weekly, to monthly.
There's a definite learning curve.
Figuring out how much food your family consumes in a month takes time. It's easy to under/overestimate how much you will need. No one wants to run out of cereal half way through a passage, but arrive at their destination with 15 extra jars of pickles!
So how do you provision for a month?
I start with a meal plan.
It's time consuming, but so worth it!
Sit down and figure out meals for a month. It doesn't have to be exact. For example; I might plan to make 3 breakfast for dinner nights in a month. What nights I actually do that isn't written in stone. I just need to know that I'm doing it 3 times, and I need to make sure I actually have the necessary ingredients to make it 3 times.
I try to factor in leftover nights as well. I'll make taco meat for tacos one night, and turn the left over meat sauce into pasta sauce for a future night. I'll make Mexican style chicken with rice and veggies one night, and use the leftover chicken and pico for chicken quesadillas another night.
Making the most of your leftovers, is a great way to make sure food isn't going to waste (save money!!) AND it makes for simple, quick leftover meals for those nights when you don't feel like doing something super involved.
Once you've got your meal plan for the month (don't forget breakfast, lunch, snacks, baking, etc!), start a second list of ingredients. You'll be going through every single meal on your plan and writing down every ingredient you need to make it.
As you create this list, you'll obviously have many ingredients that you use for multiple meals. This is good. It cuts down on waste and it saves you money.
I typically keep track of how many meals I need the same ingredient for by adding tick marks next to it.
Now you've got your list, and you know how many of each ingredient you need. For example, I might see I need 6 packs of chicken, and 10 bell peppers. Now I'll compare what I need, to what I actually already have at home. Maybe I have 2 packs of chicken left, so I only need to buy 4 more.
It's an extra step, but it's HUGE.
I used to drive Steve crazy because I wouldn't check what we had at home before shopping, and food would get shoved to the back. Then he would drive ME crazy because he'd go through the pantry and find things I had no idea were hiding back there and rattle expiration dates off at me, lol. This is a true money saver, so it's worth it to take the extra time to do this once a month.
Storing Fresh Foods
Now that you've bought fruit and veggies to last for the month, how the heck do you ACTUALLY get them to stay fresh for a full month?
Y'all, it takes some time to figure out all the tips and tricks, so I'm going to run down the best tricks I've learned for keeping fresh food fresh!
Quality. The quality of the fruits and veggies you get is an important starting point. It takes awhile to learn the best places to shop that offer the highest quality produce, but wow can it save you money!! This will vary from place to place, so asking locals and scooping out the options is important. I realize of course that there are some places where you won't have options, it'll just be the one place, and that's okay, because there are a ton of other things you can do to keep your produce for longer!
Shop Strategically. What do I mean by this? We all know that some produce is incredibly delicate and only lasts days, or maybe a couple weeks at most. Hello berries. But we also know that produce like potatoes, onions, carrots, apples, and oranges can last months when properly stored. Making sure that you have a variety of produce with different shelf lives will ensure that you have produce that will last you an entire month (or longer). Just make sure to eat the produce that goes first in the beginning so it doesn't go to waste!
Cleaning and Storage. No matter where you get your produce, you should always take the time to properly clean and store it. This can add an immeasurable number of days/weeks to the life of your produce (not to mention keep you healthier!). So many of us just rinse with water, and unfortunately that is not usually enough to truly clean your fruits and veggies.
The best way to do this is to soak everything for a few minutes to wash off/kill any bacteria, bugs, etc. There's a lot of debate about which products are best for this. I'm going to stay out of that one. We use the Thieves Fruit and Veggie Soak, and we've been incredibly happy with the results. To each their own!
Next I spread everything out to dry in the shade. Storing out of the heat is important, as the sun will definitely shorten the life of just about anything (something sailors know all too well!). It's crucial that everything is COMPLETELY dry before you store it. Moisture breeds mold which will spread like wildfire through your produce if you aren't careful!
Some important tips I've learned with the actual storage are:
Celery stalks should be taken apart, cleaned, dried, cut down to size and stored in a glass tupperware. Stored in this way in the fridge it will easily keep for over a month.
Carrots should be stored in the same way as the celery. Carrots are easily stored for 2 months this way.
Potatoes can be wrapped individually in paper towels that are later reused and stored in open bins in a dark shady spot. Potatoes can last months this way.
Apples should be stored in the same way as potatoes.
Berries are best dried completely, and stored in glass tupperware. I fold a paper towel and place it in the bottom of the container to soak up any additional moisture. I will also sometimes add additional paper towels between layers of berries. Stored in the fridge I have often kept berries fresh for 2 full weeks.
Onions, shallots, garlic, etc. store very well in open, well ventilated baskets far from members of the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, etc.) or in hanging pantyhose tied off in between. Stored this way, these root veggies will last you months.
Cabbage will also last you a month stored in a well ventilated basket. Simply pull off the outer leaves as needed.
Tomatoes are a little more delicate, but can easily be stored carefully in the fridge for up to a month when washed and dried properly.
Romaine lettuce should be pulled apart, washed and dried thoroughly. Stored in a large ziplock bag in the fridge it can last you up to a month.
Cucurbits such as squash, cucumbers, watermelon and other members of the gourd family can last anywhere from 2-4 weeks when stored out of the fridge as long as they haven't been cut. Once cut they should be moved to the fridge and consumed within a few days.
Tropical fruits such as coconuts can easily last you a month, although the coconut water may begin to dry out.
Bananas are best grabbed when they are extremely green and should be kept hanging and well ventilated. They will last longer and ripen more slowly this way. If they get a little mushy, just make banana bread! We make an amazing banana nut bread with chocolate chips that my entire picky family devours! Check out the recipe in my land based blog here.
Now, I realize that this isn't for everyone. I happen to enjoy baking. I feel I'm pretty darn good at it. It's therapeutic. I like getting creative and trying new combinations. I LOVE that I know exactly what's in my cookies, etc. and that I'm making them healthier than store bought, but also freaking delicious.
By the way, have you NOTICED how expensive store bought baked goods are? It's outrageous. For a family of 6, I can easily spend well over $200 in cookies, crackers, bread, etc. for a month. I can MAKE all those things for a fraction of the cost. So I'd be lying if I didn't admit that part of the reason why baking feels so good is because I know I'm saving money in addition to being healthier.
Lets not leave out the fact that if you're going to be embarking on the boat life, there's a good chance you're doing it because a minimalistic lifestyle appeals to you. You probably enjoy the idea of relying on yourself and your family more, and the outside world less. There's a certain comfort in getting back to your roots, and doing things the old fashioned way. But with modern conveniences like electric mixers and real ovens, lol.
And ya know. That store bought bread might last you a month; but if you've ever made bread, you would probably cringe at the thought of what ingredients actually make it possible for bread to last more than a few days, haha.
What other tips do you have for provisioning? I'm always looking for additional things I can try to keep fresh foods at our fingertips!