Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping

Or, How I Go to Work, Prepare Dinner and Still Stay Sane.

It sounds scary doesn't it? MEAL PLANNING. I mean its something my mother did that never seemed to make sense. But now it makes all kinds of sense. Planning out what I'm going to cook everyday saves so much of everything. It saves money because I can plan around what is on sale, it saves time because I very rarely forget that one ingredient and doing need to run to the store before I start cooking, and most importantly it saves my sanity because I'm not worrying about "what am I going to cook tonight". Sure not everything always goes exactly as planned. Sometimes I forget to put dinner in the crockpot. Sometimes I just really want Chinese. But most of the time, I feel good knowing that I will have dinner ready within 30 minutes of getting home. And I don't have to stop at the grocery store on the way home. Which is annoying.

So below is how I do it. Take what you like and ignore what you don't. For me it works.

1)Get everything you need: For me that is: a pile of cookbooks and cooking magazines, my laptop with bookmarked recipes from blogs and such, the current sale flyer from my grocery store and my handy-dandy meal plan and shopping list spreadsheet.

2) Figure out your need each night of the week: My schedule changes every week. Some nights I work 2-4 and I can make are "real meal" easy but some nights I work 4-8 and those are crockpot nights.

3) CHECK THE SALE FLYER: I look through and see what's on sale and look for recipes for those ingredients. Usually there is some kind of beef, chicken and seafood on sale every week. For example, salmon was on sale this week for 5.99/lb and so I found a recipe for salmon burgers (they were delicious). I also check for when staple ingredients are on sale. Then I buy a bunch of them and store them in the freezer. For example, this week Jennie-O ground turkey breast was on sale (!) which I like to substitute for ground beef when I can but ground turkey is more expensive usually. So I bought 4 packages of ground turkey and threw them in freezer. Turkey chilli anyone?

4) Double check everything: I plug everything into my spreadsheet and check every recipe to make sure that I have every ingredient either in the pantry or on the list. I also double check the pantry for things that are running low. It would suck to be making chicken parm and realize there are not enough bread crumbs :-(. Don't forget to add breakfast, lunch and snack stuff.

5) Have a shopping partner: I usually take The Boy. I go by myself sometimes but it goes quicker and is less of a chore when I have company.

6) Stick to the list (most of the time): I do allow myself to get a few things not on the list (like graham crackers or something else nibbly to have with my tea) but for the most part I stick to it. Sticking to the list helps me to not overspend.

7) Bring It All Home: I usually put the meats for the next two days in the fridge and all the other meat goes in the freezer. Longer than a couple of days in the fridge and you will need to go to the store and get another pound of ground beef. Ask me how I know this. It was not my brightest idea. I take meat out of the freezer the night before I need it, stick in in the fridge and it is usually ready by the time I need it (although you can usually get away with using frozen meat in the crockpot). Check the meat couple hours (or before you leave for work) before you need it, if it is still frozen solidish, wrap it in plastic, fill the sink with cold water and leave the meat in there. It will be defrosted when you get home. Like magic. It's so cool.

Well that's all for this post. I think I will be posting the recipe for what is in my crockpot right now tomorrow.

Seriously, I'm going to go take a picture right now.