*Note to readers (all 3 of you): Proceed with caution. You may be bored to tears. Can’t say I didn’t warn ya’!
Yesterday I tackled my semi-weekly monumental chore of making out my menu and grocery list. We even managed to make it to the stores and complete our shopping.
Sure, there are folks out there who can eat out almost every day of the week, but for those of us who envy aren’t like you, we have to figure out our approach to keeping our bodies fat and happy. That said, here’s my story (for anyone who’s still reading).
Stage 1: Clueless Cook
I began my adult life with very little cooking experience. My kitchen experiences were pretty much limited to baking brownies, pies, brownies, cookies, brownies, biscuits, and more brownies. One highlight of my girlhood culinary career was the time I “supervised” my younger sister who was making Choc-oat Chip Bars. The oven caught fire. (Hey, you can supervise from the living room, can’t you?)
While teaching in Utah, I subsisted off of pasta sides and a few dishes from my mom’s recipe box. I hadn’t yet learned the art of preparing ahead, so I was constantly calling my mom (aka the “Salmonella Hotline”) to see if it really was safe to use the chicken I had let sit around for a little too long.
For some reason, the concept of using a freezer to preserve food was lost on me. I would make dishes that served 6 people and keep the leftovers in the fridge, dutifully eating the same dish for an entire week so I wouldn’t waste food. Let me tell you, Crowned Beef Bake gets old real quick with that kind of repetitive menu. It just never dawned on me that I could freeze some of it so I didn’t have to eat it all at once.
Stage 2: Spontaneous Shopping
I moved into the next phase of my menu planning when I married Stephen and moved to Indiana. It was no longer just me that needed to be fed, so a pasta side for dinner wasn’t going to cut it. My new approach was to make a handful of meals that I was comfortable with over and over again. My menu imagination was zilch; I wasn’t adventurous at all. Poor Stephen quickly realized that he didn’t marry me for my cooking abilities. He was the one pushing me to try new things. I was able to add some of his mom’s recipes to my repertoire, but planning ahead was still a short-coming. More often than not, I’d come home around 6pm from teaching all day, realize I hadn’t thawed any meat, and try to create some sort of dinner on the fly. In my morning rush, taking some meat out of the freezer was just too much for me.
Shopping trips consisted of walking up and down every aisle and throwing things into my cart that looked familiar. Sometimes I’d make out a bare bones list, but it was more my style to chuck appetizing looking food in my cart as I walked around the store. Needless to say, we ate out quite a bit.
Stage 3: Economic Elisabeth
By the end of our three years in Indiana, I had developed a much broader food palette, thanks to our ability to eat out a lot. Once we moved to Arizona, however, our budget for eating out became non-existent. It was a tough adjustment. Eventually, we subscribed to E-mealz, an online menu service that plans a weekly menu around the sales at your favorite grocery store. E-mealz exposed me to new dishes, helped me swallow my pride and begin buying the generic brands of food, and gave me an organized way to make out a grocery list. We ended our E-mealz subscription after 3 months, but I still use their shopping list organizational method (and I still stock my cupboards with Wal-mart’s Great Value brand).
My grocery list is sorted into the following categories to make it easier to shop sanely.
- other (any non-food items)
Stage 4: Planned Preparation
My most recent approach to menu planning is to write out my menu for 2 weeks. I do look at the sales for our local grocery stores and sometimes try to plan meals around the meats they have on sale. Then, I write down my categorized shopping list of all the needed ingredients. Post-E-mealz, I’ve been going through my old Taste of Home magazines to find recipes. I also mix in recipes from my mom, Stephen’s mom, and a few online recipes. We always shop for groceries at Wal-mart because you just can’t beat the prices. Like I alluded to earlier, we will go to other grocery stores for sale items and (a recent adjustment) for produce.
In Wal-mart, we shop for our non-food items first, and then go to the back of the store and work our way forward. It helps to have a routine so we don’t waste time retracing our steps. We’ve become quite familiar with our Wal-mart layout, but we sometimes still need to backtrack. Stephen and I have often lamented the absence of kiosks that could tell you where to find a particular item. Since all stores organize their groceries differently, a kiosk would lower our stress level! It would be cool, too, if you could go to the store’s website, enter your grocery list, and have it map out an efficient shopping path for you to take so you don’t miss anything on your list. Maybe that will be Stephen’s new invention for which he can win the Nobel Prize and take me to Europe.
Stage 5: Mystery Mama
I’m beginning to feel like I might be moving into a new phase of menu planning/shopping, so I’m not really sure what to call stage 5. I’ve never liked the thought of couponing, but maybe that’s something I’ll eventually add to my already long process. To me, coupons are clutter. I keep checking the expiration dates to see if I can throw them away.
Maybe next I’ll turn to the internet for most of my menu ideas. We’ll have to see how Silas affects our family’s eating habits too. I’m hoping there’s more variety than chicken nuggets and hot dogs in our future.
If you’re still reading, thanks for hanging in there. How do you plan your menus and grocery lists? What’s your approach?