Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Grocery Shopping

Wednesday is almost always grocery day. It's when the sales are, and oddly enough, it's also almost always my day off. I spent a little time this morning writing down all of the meal plans I've had in my head for this coming week, and compiling a grocery list. Last week and the week before I overspent quite a lot at the grocery stor: stocking up my pantry and loading up on necessary household food items (I generally buy the coffee around here, unless I'm feeling resentful about it and let a roomate take a turn) in addition to buying unnecessary stuff like ice cream and soda. I want to get back on track this week, and am doing at least a little bit of cooking from my pantry (which is really well stocked at the moment). I'm also trying to get back in the habit of eating lots of vegetables (when eating in a hurry I tend to fall back on more filling items, grain and protein). So I've made a plan.

Some of my friend have been asking how I do all this, so I'll explain it here. I don't know how other people plan meals and organize shopping trips, but this is what works for me.

1. Figure out how much time you have to cook. Cooking is something I do for fun as well as for nourishment, so I'm happy to spend several hours on a day off preparing food for the rest of the week. If it looks like it's going to be a slow week, I plan for more elaborate meals and spending at least a little bit of time baking. If the week is going to busy, I plan to fall back on simple pasta dishes, casseroles, and slow-cooker food.

2. Allow for snacking. My diet has always been a little... eccentric. I don't sit down for 3 square meals a day, I snack. Even after a large meal with meat, I'm hungry 2-3 hrs later. More than once my roommates have found me sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor (tables are inconvenient), eating slices of bread, cold leftovers, or a bowl of frozen veg. The trick is to keep a wide variety of healthy food on hand that requires minimal prep, for snacking. Usually I eat leftovers from the big cooking days, but I also keep things like frozen edamame, yogurt, and fresh fruit on hand (frozen mixed vegetables in the summer, since I eat them right out of the bag).

3. Before shopping, check your staple items. If something is getting low, write it on the list. If it's not something you need right away, you can always just check the price when you're at the store. If the item is on sale or you find yourself with a little leeway in your grocery budget, then you can stock up.
4. If your favorite grocery store sends out sale fliers, check them out. I don't usually buy a lot of the processed foods that go on sale but I like to check out the deals on produce, meat, and dairy. And every once in a while there's a great deal on things like canned beans and toilet paper. There are 4 different stores in my area that I like to shop at, depending on where the sales are and what I need that particular week (one store has a wide selection of dried grains and beans, but not so great in the produce section. Another has great produce, but I'm not too happy with the state of the baking aisle. Etc.)
Once I've done all this, I make a list of things I plan to cook in the upcoming week. This week my list looks like this:
  • spinach and meatballs (carryover dish. I didn't get a chance to make it last week and have everything I need on hand)
  • porridge
  • split pea soup
  • potatoes, cabbage, and sausage (I have some cabbage, potatoes, and apples on hand)
  • bread
  • yogurt (saved some yogurt from last week for starter, need milk)

Then I look over the list and figure out what items I need to buy in order to make those foods (this is where I feel glad that I went over my pantry earlier). This includes looking over my recipe notebook to make sure I have all the necessary seasonings (ever started making a big pot of chili, only to find that you only have about 1/2 tsp of chili powder in the bottom of the jar? Not fun). I write down all the necessary ingredients, as well as snack foods, and pantry items I'm low on. Sometimes I try to write it down in the order of the departments I'll be shopping in the store, but this week I just made a sort of general list. Here's what it looks like for this week:

  • Steel cut oats
  • green split peas
  • red lentils
  • black lentils
  • carrots
  • celery
  • sausage
  • peanut butter
  • gal. milk
  • flour (10lb)
  • cornmeal
  • jam
  • honey
  • snacking fruit
  • 2-3 cans assorted beans (if room in budget)

That should allow for meals and snacking. Since I only need a couple of carrots and stalks of celery for the pea soup, I can snack on the rest. If my sweet tooth starts acting up, I can make a cake out of the apples left over from last week. Or peanut butter cookies. Those are always good. Or I can have yogurt and stir in a spoonful of jam. Or put sugar in my tea.

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