As I work on my grocery list for shopping tomorrow, I start to dive through my recipes and explore new ones to try. I’m much of a type A personality in this department, I have developed a grocery and cooking strategy so I have enough to last my family 2 weeks (sometimes more) of healthy meals. I hate going to the grocery store or other food resources a few times a week, as I have enough to juggle on my plate already, between working full time, keeping up with housework, enjoying one of many crunchy hobbies, and now being a new mom. It’s also proven that many small trips to the store lead to more impulsive buying, and hence spending more money. My strategy also helps in that every night there’s no searching for what we’re going to eat or spending money on take out, there is a list posted on the fridge, that’s what we have to pick from and all the ingredients are within my fridge and pantry, ready to rock.
I have a great checklist on my fridge that organizes food items by category, hence helping to make sure you don’t forget something when you are in that section of the store or say at your local produce connection. I believe I got it at Target for only a few dollars, you could also make your own and print multiple copies. I’ve seen some great templates on Pinterest for things of this nature. As we finish items, I check off that we are in need of something over the 2 week period. Then when the fridge and cabinets start to empty and it’s time for another trip, I use the same checklist to add any items I’ll need for the next 2 weeks of meals, in addition to any odds and ends I checked off previously. I get out my recipes, cookbooks, and sort through some new resources I may have found, coming up with 8-10 meals, and a few additional items (think muffins, hummus, quinoa salad) for breakfasts, snacks, or easy lunches. Yes there are 12 days, but when you cook 8-10 times, you typically have enough to have leftovers a few nights and also we do occasionally treat ourselves to take out, dinner with friends/family, or go out for a meal. If this is too ambitious for you, make it one week, say have 5-6 meals planned out instead, whatever works for you.
I also try and base my recipes around things I know are in season right now that I might be able to get at a local discount produce supplier, farmers market, from my own garden, etc. Sometimes I don’t need an entire butternut squash for one recipe, but if I’m cutting it up already, might as well do the whole thing and not waste what’s left. So one night I might make butternut squash risotto and the next, butternut squash soup and so on. I am big on making large meals for dinner and having them as leftovers for lunch the next day or dinner another night. I love roasting a whole chicken and then having extra chicken left to repurpose for another meal and/or make broth out of the remnants for delicious soup or future uses. If you are going to spend the time, why not go the extra mile and conquer two meals at one time. I will say, although I do shop for 2 weeks at a time, sometimes produce can’t make it that long, so I may have to pick up a few things the next week to make sure items don’t spoil in the meantime. I also look at the grocery store flyer, are there items on sale right now I need and can use for multiple meals? Unfortunately the type of items I shop for usually aren’t the ones that are the cheapest, but you’d be surprised. Our local Giant has items on sale in the crunchy section often and produce as well, if I can’t get it locally at the time. Whatever I can’t get there of course I find through other resources, and like to hit them all in one day when possible. I check everything I need for my 8-10 recipes off on my list. I hate to admit it, but I sort of LOVE the day I go food shopping. I wish people would pay me to do theirs!
My deep freezer is also my best friend. If you’re buying say, half a cow from a local farmer, or your husband brings home a whole deer (welcome to my life), having a deep freezer is great to package the meat into smaller portions (I also have a FoodSaver Machine, works great), and unfreezing later as needed. This is a huge cost saver, buying in bulk and freezing. Also if I find I have a surplus of leftovers, I individually package into smaller meals and freeze as well. It’s nice when you’re busy to just be able to pull something out and put it in the oven, or your lunchbox for the next day at work. Last summer we had a huge surplus from our garden, and being that we were expecting our first child, I took the opportunity to make some homemade baby food (more to come on this in future blogs) and froze in individual portions for use later. I’m sure I’ll be thankful in a few months when I just have to go to my freezer and grab something to thaw for Sophia to eat! Before I make my 2 week list, sometimes I survey what we already have available in the cabinets and my freezer to make sure I’m using what we have and I’m not buying something already at my disposal. I tend to buy multiple of non-perishable goods at a time when they’re cheaper..ie: coconut milk or beans are on sale, I’ll buy a bunch, and then have a stock in my pantry to use later.
A great resource for making large, freezable meals, even in one day if you choose, is a website I found called Once a Month Mom. Although they have traditional menus and recipes, they also feature a Whole Foods, Gluten & Dairy Free, and even a Paleo Menu. I frequent all of these, as new items are posted every month, usually seasonal as well which I love. All their recipes and link to recipes are free of charge. However if you are feeling ambitious and have a little extra money, you can pay to have access to meal plans for a month, including grocery lists and spreadsheets in order to help determine what you need to feed any x number of people and how to cook all of it in just one day, freezing for use throughout the month. I use their resources myself for the recipes and meal ideas alone, as obviously I have my own shopping and cooking strategies.
So with checklist in hand, re-useable grocery bags, and my meals planned, I head to the grocery store, my local produce source, and sometimes farmers markets (along with baby wearing husband in tow)! Again a little OCD, when we return from the store, I organize everything in a way that the oldest is up front to be used, and items are viewable so I know what I have. Our list of meals is posted on the fridge, and we’re ready for 2 weeks of deliciousness! Yes this takes a little bit of thought and time, but it’s well worth it on those busy weekdays.
What strategies do you use for meal planning and grocery shopping? Do you have any crunchy, whole foods, or specialty recipe resources you utilize? Check out our local resources page for ideas on where to buy your food!