Every week, I write two lists: a grocery list and a dinner list.
I know a dinner list seems a wee bit fussy, particularly from me and my Zero Tolerance For Fuss… BUT I’d say the half-hour I spend writing the dinner list saves me at least a couple hours a week and saves me money besides.
Here’s how I do mine:
Step 1: Assess the state of your pantry and jot down any meal idea based on what you can make with what you have on hand (or with the inclusion of one or two ingredients). For example, at the bottom of my list is an entry for tacos (because I found I had taco shells in one of the cabinets), so tacos went on the dinner list and sour cream and salsa went on the grocery list. I usually try to make this list after I hit the farmers’ market that week, but I’m in a kind of Greenmarket limbo since deciding I need to try shopping at a different one.
Step 2: Pick something new to make. I get bored really easily with the same foods over and over (to the point that I usually don’t even eat leftovers the next day if I don’t have to) so I try to include some new recipe every week. This week’s list is slightly unusual, due to the fact I bought a copy of Donna Klein’s Supermarket Vegan this weekend, and I’m going through a MAKE ALL THE THINGS! phase with it. My parenthetical page numbers on this week’s list are all from that book.
Step 3 (optional): Check out the grocery sales. I don’t always do this, but if I’m really hard-up for dinner ideas, I’ll go to the supermarket’s site and see what’s on sale that week. Otherwise, I just pick up some sale items while at the store and they end up as part of Step 1 in this process.
Step 4, possibly the most important step of all: PUT THE LIST ON THE FRIDGE. I don’t even want to discuss how many times I have made the dinner list and then failed to take it out of the notebook and put it somewhere. Seriously. It’s shameful.
With the dinner list on the fridge, I am saved my usual staring-blankly-into-cabinets-at-5pm-and-sighing time and can just get cooking without having to think about it (last night was the pasta puttanesca and it was crazy good) AND I know that the items that ended up on my grocery list have an actual use that week, which keeps me from buying perishable items on impulse and regretting it later (yeah, I’m looking at you, flaccid carrots).
What’s your shopping strategy? One list or two?
Payday arrives every other week here, and the check that’s closest to the first gets a big chunk taken out for rent. (Too big, frankly, which is part of why we’re moving.) That leaves us with one week or so per month, between having paid the rent and waiting for the next payday, that ends up being a pretty lean week. This week is one of those weeks.
Enter Wally, the handsome man on your right.
He’s 11, which is not ancient for an indoor cat, but it’s not youthful either. Sunday afternoon was spent in the vet’s office trying to diagnose what’s making him have a runny nose and keeping him from eating. [Short answer from the vet: “uh, I ‘unno.”]
After leaving the vet’s office several hundred dollars lighter than when I went in, I immediately started thinking about the week ahead. While my pantry was already pretty well-stocked with my usual staples, I started to think about what else I might need for the week… and I realized I have a handful of go-to ingredients that are cheap and would to brighten up boring food (like beans and rice) without spending a lot.
I hate to hear people trash-talk potatoes. I once had a friend sniff, “I don’t consider potatoes to even be a vegetable” and I rolled my eyes and flipped her off (which, okay, I could do because I was actually online chatting with her at the time). Potatoes, in my mind, are pretty much an absolute good and I feel rather protective towards them.
Remember a couple of years ago when food prices shot up and then suddenly staple grains were all crazy expensive, and there were protests and riots in parts of Africa and Asia over food prices? Well, that’s what globally-traded food commodities can get you.
Rice, wheat, and maize are the top three sources of carbohydrates in the world and they’re all subject to price fluctuations, but potatoes don’t keep well enough to ship very far, so they’re not globally traded—which is great news if you live in a developing country and you’re now royally screwed because rice/wheat/maize is now too expensive for you. Potatoes can be grown by almost anyone, anywhere, in any country. So long as you have dirt and people to water said dirt, you’ll get potatoes and you’ll get fed.
But here in the rest of the world (I hear you say), we don’t have that problem.
My stomach’s been squidgy and unhappy of late, so I’m trying to cheer it up with this rice porridge made with fresh eggs, some soy sauce, and just a little toasted sesame oil. Eating it with the Hamtaro spoon helps, too.