Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bare Cupboards, Full Bellies, Fatter Wallets

After my last post, SnowyWhite commented that she would like to know some tips about how to shop to aim for an empty fridge at the start of the next shopping week. Thanks, for asking, SnowyWhite!

This topic is something that I've really struggled with. I hated tossing things out. So much so that I would wait until I had gone shopping again and, while the ice cream was melting and the milk was sweating, I would toss the fridge so fast that I wouldn't have time to feel the guilt about all the things I was throwing out.

Just toss toss toss, place new items in fridge, admire fridge and how neat and clean and, well, edible everything looked and vow not to waste anything from this week's shopping. Needless to say, that wasn't really the best strategy. I had to think more about what I was buying and using- or in that case, not using.

First is the thing everyone tells you- menu plan. Oh how my eyes glaze over when I think about menu planning. It is a necessary evil, though. It keeps you on track at the store so you don't spend more than you need to as well as it keeps you on track during the week to know what you are meant to be making that night.

One of the things I hated about menu planning is that I would set out which days to have what dinners. When that day came and I just didn't feel like eating that thing, I would want to bail on the plan. Takeout, anyone?

Now, I just make a plan and I use it with more fluidity. I can have whatever dinner I want for that night and I don't feel like I've deviated from the list.

One thing that I've been experimenting with the last few weeks is the idea of a main dinner staple. My thoughts were that making a lot of one versatile thing that could be used in different ways for different meals would keep my budget reasonable and the dinners varied and more streamlined.

Two weeks ago, I made a tray of roasted veggies- eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, and onions. I used them in a veggie pasta with a white sauce one night (and leftovers another night) and then as a topping for a homemade pizza another night. They also made great veggies for the boys to have for their meals, too.

Last week, my staple item was chicken cutlets on sale from the grocery store. I breaded and baked a tray of them. I had them first with potatoes and then second with sauce and cheese as chicken Parmesan. Both ways made leftovers and they were completely different dishes.

With half of dinner already precooked, it was much easier to stay on track for eating all of the food I had purchased.

So, menu planning, one staple item.....what else?

Of course, another oldie- making a list. Making a list does a few things for you. It keeps you from deviating and spending too much at the store, it makes certain that you buy everything you meant to buy to fulfill your menu plan, and it makes sure that you don't end up with a cart full of drinks one day- and hardly any food- just because you were really thirsty while shopping.


Anyway, yes. A list helps you make sure that you have all the ingredients and all the side dishes to make your meals. It helps make sure that you don't double buy because you make the list at home where you can check your stocks. You also have the opportunity to ask Husband if there is anything special he'd like that you would never think of- or remember.

One other thing that helps me is to plan fewer meals than you have days of the week. Planning for and buying 7 days worth of dinners sets you up to buy much more food than you need. I always plan at least one, usually two, leftover days during the week. It saves work and makes sure that you eat what you already have rather than reinventing the wheel every. single. night.

You can make it fresher by buying an extra side dish to make with the leftover entree. Sometimes that's all you need to perk up leftovers. Or, whip up a batch of bread sticks or some homemade salad dressing to liven things up a little.

Lastly, and this might be the most important, LOOK in your fridge. Trying to remember what you have in there might not be terribly effective. How many times have you peeked in there and said "oh, I forgot about so-and-so"? But, by then it's dried out, molded, or just otherwise inedible. It ends up as part of the toss fest during the next grocery haul.

Looking in the fridge and seeing the fruit you need to eat (or plan something to use it for) and how much milk you have left (if you need to dream up some recipe to use it in) or the veggies that might be ready to go off (you can toss them in your future soup bag in the freezer).

The more you keep out of the trash, the more goes in your belly and the more cash you can keep in your wallet!


  1. Great tips! Another thing that helps me make dinner easier each day and to plan is using my crockpot. I use it at least 3-4 days a week and it is a HUGE time saver for me. The prep is usually quick and can be done when the baby is napping then I only have the side(s) to make when its ready. I buy large bags of frozen chicken breast and hamburger meat at Costco for additional savings and its a time saver because I always have it on hand. (If you'd like any recipes let me know!) Meal planning also helps me with couponing too, I have a larger stock of things on hand and really only have to shop whats for on sale that week and the basics. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  2. As a ridiculous coupon and deal freak, I have a goal of one day purchasing a chest freezer for my garage, where I can stockpile plenty of frozen meats, fruits, etc., that I have purchased at rock-bottom prices. This way, I can create stockpiles of those wonderful fresh foods, in addition to all the other household items that don't spoil when saved.