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Efficient meal planning

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 

     I'd like to step-up how efficiently I consume the groceries I buy. I know this means I need to develop a meal plan but, I've never really done anything this rigorous. I'm wondering, should taking an inventory be the first step towards being efficient with my resources? I was then thinking of outlining these ingredients various functions and once I have such a list I'll develop a meal plan.

 

    I'm thinking this will take some time. So I'm thinking I'll start either this weekend or Monday next week. Tonight while in the kitchen, I'll take inventory and approximate how much of what I have and when it will expire. This may sound crazy to some but, to heck with them, I want to be an efficient home cook. I think this will also help me in finding the multiple functions that ingredients have to offer. Any input or advice would be appreciated. I think I'll post my list and see what I can set up. Hopefully this can be a good resource for other home cooks seeking the same thing.

 

post #2 of 19

I reckon there's many many ways to work on the problem - but doing an immediate inventory has limited value - unless you've got a room full of shelves chock-a-block full floor to ceiling as one sees on the TV super couponers.....

 

for me, a weekly "meal plan" is the basic organizing document.  it's just a Word document with two sets of "blocks" - down the left side is the day/meal, in the right block what ingredients I may need to buy.

 

doesn't take long to do this - it's not really super rigorous.  but if you do a roast chicken on Tuesday and figure there will be left overs,,,, Thursday looks like chicken salad / cream chicken over toast / pot pie, etc.

 

and if I run into something special at the grocery store, the plan changes!

 

being empty nesters, cooking for two presents a major challenge in 'downsizing' dishes - my idea of a really good meal is: "no leftovers" - fix it, eat it, move on.....  there are exceptions - stuffed shells / lausanga gets done in two dishes - one for the freezer.  "small cooking" makes the 'plan ahead' thing even more important - I can buy half a head of cabbage, but not half a head of cauliflower....  so I need to have a plan on when we'll be eating up the fresh produce.

 

I can get pre-prepped veggies in trays - at a significant cost increase.  actually I do buy the pre-prepped mixed fruit stuff, time to time - altho it's much more expensive, there's no economy in buying a whole watermelon and throwing half of it in the compost heap.....

 

obviously one has to keep tabs on perishables, what's in the pantry, etc.  but if by 'expiring' you mean a can of soup that's been on the shelf for three years, that's a different problem.

 

something else you may find useful - I have a list (Word document, easy to add / edit...) of main dishes and side dishes we have prepared and liked.  it grows every month - but when you're sitting there pounding your head on the counter wondering "What shall we have . . . " it's often useful to peruse the list - typically results in a "gosh haven't had that in a while."

post #3 of 19

I've always been interested in this. It is hard to do, but you can certainly accomplish it using a combination of preservation techniques and smart planning when it comes to your ingredient selections. I suppose a chicken is the classic example. You can purchase a whole chicken for about the same price as three chicken breasts. Assuming you have the skill and knowledge you can de-bone the chicken having two chicken breasts, two thighs, two drums/wings, and a carcass that can be used for stock.

 

I'd suggest investing in a vacuum sealer if you can afford it. It really prolongs the life of things you want to throw in the freezer. I much prefer freezing things for later rotation as opposed to having to eat chicken in some form or another for 3 nights in a row.

 

I look forward to seeing your list.

post #4 of 19
Thread Starter 

Thank you very much for your contributions!

 

Dillbert, would you mind sharing this word document you've prepared so that I can have a better idea of what I should be aiming for? Perhaps others interested in this could use it as a reference also.

 

I have the example that's been listed here about chicken down pretty well. Another member on here encouraged me to practice baking chickens and portioning out the meat into various meals. First, I do "baked whole chicken and rice" I usually use the legs for this dish and freeze all the leftover bones and carcass. Once I have three I make stock in a big caldron. Any aromatics that I think are soon to spoil or various trimmings that are aromatic go into a gallon size ziplock in the freezer. So this has worked well but, it's not enough for me.

 

To be quite honest I'm going to feel somewhat exposed or vulnerable by listing what's in my kitchen. Be ready, I'm a big fan of Rotel's habanero diced tomatoes.

post #5 of 19
There are ways to go about and you have to find what works for you. You shouldn't make a complicated system unless you know you can stick with it.

Taking inventory is a fine step. My pantry is small so I have no need of this but I know others who keep a list on the inside of the panty door of what's in it. The list works well so long you update it continuously.

I have a meal plan but its flexible. I shop everyday, keeps me active and I can buy the freshest things and most importantly it keeps my fridge sparse. I clean the inside of my fridge very regularly so I never forget what's in there.

I keep a running grocery list on my smartphone on the notes section. I update that daily.

At least once a month I do a freezer raid. I just cook up whatever is in there. The key for me is to keep the freezer, fridge and pantry sparse.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #6 of 19

it's not rocket science . . .  but there's no option here to upload or attach or include either a Word doc or a pdf file.

post #7 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dillbert View Post
 

it's not rocket science . . .  but there's no option here to upload or attach or include either a Word doc or a pdf file.

 

If you really wanted you could post it on google docs and link to that.

post #8 of 19

thanks for the idea.

post #9 of 19
Thread Starter 

Well, I only typed up what's in the pantry. I still have the fridge and "grain/starch" cabinet above the stove. I am glad to say I used up: my last carrot, the end of a giant bottle of Tabasco, the last desirable stalks on some celery and some panko bread crumbs I forgot I had, making meatloaf last night. It was also my first time making meatloaf and I hate to say it, it might be better than moms :suprise: but not granny's. No one shall defeat the granny.

 

At any rate, I need to stop by the grocery store to pick up more aromatics and a whole chicken. I'll organize and post my list later.

post #10 of 19

When organiing like this, I much prefer to use a spreadsheet rather then a word processor- much easier to keep a neat and consistent format, and when you need to make an add or a change, you don't bump everything in the document around.

 

I can strongly second the vac-packer.  Gives you a lot of shopping flexibility, take advantage of bargains, prepare double/triple portions to store for easy meals- well worth it.  Find a source for moderately-priced bags - this site has discussions - because the vac-machine makers kind of stick it to you. It's how Gillette got rich: cheap razors, expensive replacement blades (the only ones that fit your cheap razor.)  ;)   There are other vac bags available.

 

Mike

travelling gourmand
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post #11 of 19

'cyto-

 

In your quest for ruthless efficiency and greatest economy, you should be very aware how much you pay for packaging.

 

It's a LOT.

 

Just check how much you pay for a two-pack of paper towels versus a 12- or 16-pack. It is very likely double the price per roll compared to the big package. If you have any kind of storage space - and shelf life is not too much a problem - you should absolutely GO FOR THE BIG PACKAGE. The unit price almost always falls dramatically as package size increases.

 

Even worse is the 1/4 ounce of spice in the cute little grocery store bottle. Compare to the bulk spice price at Whole Foods, Penzey's, Spice House, etc. If any of these is even reasonably close, you can run in to buy as needed at maybe one sixteenth the price per unit, avoiding the shelf-life problem and... how else can you check out of a Whole Foods for 26 cents?

 

Be stingy. Be shrewd!

 

Mike  :D

travelling gourmand
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post #12 of 19

I do the "bulk" of my shopping (staples & necessities) online. They deliver, & it saves me time, gas etc.  I buy/shop seasonally - fresh fruit, produce etc.  Rather than make a list, go into the market, and see what looks good. Check the produce, seafood meat & poultry section. Keep a well-stocked pantry - pasta, grains, some canned tomatoes, some dried herbs, & keep in a cool dark place -- not over the stove. Try to shop the outer aisles of the market - fresh food, as the center aisles of the market contain prepackaged, processed foods & canned goods. Collect & save recipes, when you need some inspiration.  I keep my recipes in Mastercook (a computer program).


Edited by Cerise - 2/8/14 at 9:50am
post #13 of 19

I downloaded an app called "Out of Milk"  to my phone and find it very handy for keeping multiple shopping lists: One for the fruit market, one for the supermarket, one for the Asian Markets, one for the Indian market, etc.

 

There's supposedly a feature that allows you to download sale information for your local supermarket but I live in Illinois and the app thinks my local market is somewhere in California and I have been unable to convince it otherwise. I do check the sale papers for the two local supermarkets every week, but mostly to see what meats are on sale.  Most of my shopping is done at the fruit market and ethnic markets. Far less expensive than the grocery store and I am lucky enough to have markets from every part of the world near my apartment. My diet is mostly vegetables and fruit with a bit of meat and poultry.  I buy what is in season--which is what always looks best and is well-priced.

 

I keep running lists on my phone of what I need to keep my refrigerator and pantry stocked. I have a small, well-stocked pantry--mostly oils and vinegars, spices and herbs, nuts and dried fruit, grains and a few different kinds of beans.

 

There are a few fresh  things I always keep on hand--lemons and limes, garlic and onions, cilantro and parsley, carrots-- and a few things I always keep in the freezer--chicken stock chief among them. 

 

When I worked less than I do now I was able to go to the markets several times a week and only buy what I was going to cook that day .I don't mind eating the same thing a couple of days in a row and I live alone, so I only really have to cook dinners a few nights a week.  I was very efficient when I was shopping every day or two.    

 

My downfall is condiments. I have condiments of many nations in my refrigerator.  I do use them, but not nearly fast enough. 

post #14 of 19
In going to check out that app chicagoterry.

Funny, I'm a mustard girl. I've got mustards from all over. Whenever a friend travels I tell them to bring me back mustard.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #15 of 19

I assume you've heard of the Mustard Museum, Koukou'. If not-

 

http://mustardmuseum.com/the-mustard-museum/

 

The founder, Barry Levenson, was a rising star on the Wisconsin legal community when he decided to chuck it and start this museum. He is also a witty and accomplished raconteur. He stocks and sells hundreds of kinds of mustards.  The first time we visited, I had spent over $75 on mustards before my wife dragged me out of the place. I too have a thing for mustard.

 

If you're ever anywhere nnear south-central Wisconsin, you owe it to yourself to visit!

 

Mike :thumb:

travelling gourmand
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post #16 of 19
Of course I've heard of it smile.gif

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #17 of 19

I think what is probably needed next is a chili museum, dedicated to chilis and the myriad chili pastes and sauces from all over the world. 

post #18 of 19

One thing I have been trying to add to my meal planning is a short list of what's in season right now - that way, when I'm planning meals, I'm better able to figure out what is likely to be less expensive or more available.

post #19 of 19

Terry-

 

You know, I think you have a good idea about a chili museum - there must be as many chili-based pastes and sauces as as there are mustards, if not a lot more.

 

You would need another screwball genius like Barry to get it off the ground, though.

 

Mike

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