Because I can neither meander through commonality, nor tolerate excessive time among crowds and cash registers, the weekly meal plans I’ve seen gracing the pages of blogs don’t appeal. For several months my goal was bi-weekly meal plans and shopping, but even that’s been irking my nerves, giving my over-achieving tendencies a chance to kick in.
I went grocery shopping once for the month of April. I planned breakfast, lunch and dinner with enough flexibility to accommodate our whims or possible mishaps. And I held my breath for good luck. Even the cashier had little faith in my memory or my list making skills (Psha!). He placed money on seeing me before the end of the month but I guess I showed him. 😛
Here’s how I did it:
- A Well-Organized Meal Plan: I wouldn’t have dreamed of attempting this without a meal plan. In fact, it is highly discourage to attempt any grocery shopping without a plan and a list unless your last name is Winfrey or Gates. I’ll elaborate on this one below.
- Home Garden: Granted, my only harvest thus far has been an abundance of spinach but it was still a decent part of my success. I’ll also start to preserve whatever possible to use during off seasons.
- Farmer’s Market: I bought very few perishable items at Trader Joe’s: onions for making homemade onion powder, a bag of organic potatoes and some bananas. All other fruits or veggies were purchased weekly at the Farmer’s Market for approximately $20. You can ask the farmers what to expect to see in the coming months if you need help with meal planning. Anything else not available at the market isn’t consumed.
- Bulk Food: Sugar, flour, beans, rice, etc are now all purchased in bulk from Azure Standard. I can order monthly and pick up at a local drop-point. I generally only need to order once every 3 months or so. I plan to investigate local butchers for bulk meat orders.
- Local milk: I have a friend who sells me her extra raw milk. We see each other on a regular basis so there is no need for an extra trip for either of us.
- Grocery list for Trader Joe’s: This store is almost always cheapest and offers a higher quality of foods than any sale item I find at Vons (Safeway). Because things like eggs and cheese are generally good for a month, I stocked up to last the month. Other non-perishables were also stocked up on based on my menu plan and frozen if necessary.
- Freezer, food storage and preserving: Any dried goods go into canisters. Freezeable perishables go into the freezer. Homegrown tomatoes and other veggies will be canned or frozen. Even milk can be frozen. This makes the plan easier to accomplish by having things organized and storable.
If I had more space, better laws or more local (quality) sources of food, I would include raising chickens for eggs, a CSA, swaps and barters or any other means necessary to get out of grocery shopping.
How I did my Monthly Meal Plan:
- Organizing: I printed a blank calendar from PrintFree.com to use for my meal plans. Each day was divided into three sections for three meals. In the left margin of the calender I wrote out what I’m making for Justin’s lunches that week. If the recipe was new or unfamiliar, I made a small note as to the magazine or cookbook name and page where I can find it. This kept all our info in the same space. This page went into my home management journal for the current month.
- Breakfast Planning: These were easy. I made one weekly menu that repeated itself. So every Sunday is always pancakes, every Monday is always cereal, etc. These are also based on activities and whether we’ll want a lighter or heavier breakfast on certain days or how much time I’ll have to cook before we rush out the door.
- Lunch Planning: Similar to breakfast, one weekly plan repeats itself Monday through Friday for me and Zeb. Justin’s lunches are made on Sunday in bulk (potato salad, pasta salad, tuna salad or egg salad depending on the week) to be packaged in containers, ready for him to grab and go. Saturday and Sunday lunches don’t generally exist, since we have a big, late breakfast and a big, early dinner but we do keep extra stuff on hand in case of changes.
- Dinner Planning: This one was a little tougher and took some time at the beginning of the month (or end of the previous month). First, I looked for days where I knew we’d be eating elsewhere and marked those off the calendar. Then I arranged holidays or celebrations that require special meals. Next, I looked for days that I would likely not feel like cooking or not have much time to cook in the evenings and I planned crockpot meals or easy salads and breads for those days. Days that were filled with events received the same special treatment (will we be in the heat all day and want something chilled to eat, etc?). Then I hopped from cookbook to magazine recipe and filled in the blanks based on what will be available in my yard or the farmer’s market and how soon some foods needed to be eaten.
- List Making: Once my meals were recorded, I went through them and my cupboards and made my grocery list. I added a few extra, easy to make meals, just in case (pasta or salads). This part took some time and double-checking.
- Keeping Track: As we run out of essentials (like chocolate chips or cocoa powder ha) throughout the month, those things are scribbled on a dry erase board that hangs on the fridge since they won’t be noticed in meal planning. This really saved me from missing something not listed in our meal plans but absolutely imperative to our well-being. 😉
Jimeny Christmas. It’s truly not as complicated as it sounds. It would work like a weekly plan but obviously won’t work for everyone. It probably seems a bit much for some people or even unnecessary, but not having to worry about what to make totally does it for me! I also save money only going to the grocery store once, since I’m getting only one shopping trip of impulse buys a month. Cuz let’s be serious, impulse happens.
I know some foodies keep a spreadsheet of foods in the freezer, fridge or pantry. I haven’t figured that one out yet but the concept is interesting. My mom makes a laminated master list of commonly purchased groceries organized by store aisle so that she only needs to write down quantities when making her list. That’s something I plan to integrate into my system soon.
What’s your system like?