I used to be totally overwhelmed with grocery shopping & meal prep. I used to go to Whole Foods and buy a bunch of random fruit, veggies and meat and then cook sporadically throughout the week. This caused a few huge problems.
First, I was spending a ridiculous amount of time cooking. Every night it took at least 2-3 hours to sort through my fridge, remember what I had bought, figure out what I was going to cook, Google a recipe, then prep all the produce and cook the meat. I’m not an experienced chef and I’d have to watch YouTube videos and read articles about how to properly blanch veggies or peel garlic cloves. I felt like I’d leave work, get home, and spend the rest of the evening toiling away in my kitchen. Like Cinderella. (Ok, that’s an exaggeration.)
Second, if I found a recipe I liked, I usually didn’t have all of the ingredients required- which is why shopping before creating a meal plan or a weekly menu is dumb. So I’d cook the recipe minus some of the important ingredients in the recipe (also dumb), or I’d schlep back to Whole Foods to buy more stuff (even dumber).
Third, this process left an immense amount of waste. Sometimes I’d come home and just want to take a nap or walk my dog or read a book – and I started loathing the kitchen. So instead of cooking, we’d end up at a local restaurant..all of that beautiful expensive food sitting in fridge, rotting. Also, I’d always overestimate how much food to buy – this is an inherited behavior passed down from my mom, I blame her – so at the end of the week I’d always have an extra bunch of kale, or bag of mint leaves, or container of raspberries going bad. I’m no millionaire, and I consider wasting anything I purchase at Whole Foods a cardinal sin.
So, after trial and error – I’ve found an awesome method for planning out my weekly meals and efficient, money-smart grocery shopping. Please note: this is not “labor free” and does require a little time and effort. I believe that what I feed my body is crucial and therefore shouldn’t be a mindless process. Also – most of the things I cook require about 10 whole-food ingredients. I don’t buy things that come in boxes or anything processed (unless my boyfriend is with me – he insists on crackers & ice cream sandwiches). However, over time, this process has become easier and faster as I’ve grown more skilled and comfortable in the kitchen. I am able to whip up random meals with extras in the fridge without having to refer to a recipe. Most of the time I stick with these tried and true steps:
1. I have a couple go-to websites for recipes. I’ve found a couple that I love & have them bookmarked in Google. Here’s one that I’m obsessed with right now: http://paleomg.com/. She also has ‘guest posts’ with other awesome chef’s sharing their recipes – that’s how I’ve branched out and discovered a few other awesome blogs. Here are some of my go-to’s:
2. On Saturday or Sunday I browse through recipes and pick out however many I need for the upcoming week. I bookmark each recipe online so I can easily pull it up later. My personal goal is to cook ALL breakfast & lunch meals at home, and cook at least 5 dinners at home. However, my breakfasts are usually protein shakes and my lunches are almost always leftovers from dinner the night before or something stupid easy like grilled chicken breast with a side salad. So really, my focus is on finding recipes for dinner.
3. After picking out my recipes (and bookmarking them online), I make two lists: one is a “Menu” that gets posted on my fridge. This keeps me on track as I cook throughout the week. The other is a list of all the ingredients needed for my weekly menu. This becomes the “rough draft” of my grocery list.
4. I take my “ingredient list” and go to my fridge and/or pantry to see if I already have some of the items. If I have an item, I cross it off my list. If I see something that can easily be substituted, I also cross it off my list. Also, at this point I consolidate my list: for instance, if I have two items listed twice from two separate recipes (i.e., each recipe calls for 1/4 red onion) I consolidate them on the list as “1 red onion”.
5. Then I sit down and re-write the messy rough draft of my grocery list by organizing all the remaining items into mini-groups: Meat, Dairy, Veggies, Fruit and “Other”. This helps me as I navigate the grocery store so I don’t have to retread any sections I’ve already gone through. Lately, I’ve been shopping only at Trader Joe’s – but if not, I circle the items that need to be purchased from Whole Foods. Now you should have your “final” Grocery Shopping list.
Side note: I use pen and paper. I like it this way. Mainly because I think people standing in the middle of an aisle looking at their phone look like assholes (they are). Another reason is because the two times I’ve tried using “Grocery shopping” apps on my iPhone ended in disaster. Once, my phone died just as I grabbed my cart and walked into Whole Foods. The second time I couldn’t get any cell service in the grocery store and I got stranded without my list.
6. I come home and put away all of my food. Then I take a better look at my Menu and re-organize the order of my meals according to whatever else is going on in my life that week. For example: I know that I like Sunday evenings to be low-key. So I always cook whatever is easiest and the least messy on Sunday evenings. Also, I know that I’ll be home early on Mondays and Wednesdays and I have nothing planned on those evenings. However, I’m busy after 7 pm on Tuesdays and sometimes I don’t get home from work until 10 pm on Thursdays. So I leave my more intricate recipes for the nights I have the most time. I also set aside time on those evenings to prep food for the following evening.
Side note: I used to cut and wash all of my veggies at once in the beginning of the week. I don’t do that anymore. I’ve found that it can cause certain things to get soggy or wilted pretty quickly. And since I pretty much just steam or lightly roast most of my veggies, they don’t take that much time to cook during the week.
Next up: How to pack foods to-go & snack smart!