We seem to spend a shocking amount on food every month, and yet there are nights when I find myself at a loss for what to have for dinner, what to cook, why everything in the fridge has gone bad, what the heck is all that stuff in the deep freeze, and let’s just have cereal.
In this year of reorganizing my life, 2015 has to be The Year We Quit Wasting Food. It’s like cable TV – a million channels and nothing to watch, or a houseful of food and no ideas on what to eat. I tend to shop for food the way I shop for clothes…randomly choosing items that I think look good, that are not purchased with an eye toward what to pair them with, and the result is a lot of individual items and no combinations.
Last week, I started by cleaning out and reorganizing my refrigerator. I had the help of some really terrific bins I bought online from The Container Store (you can find them here and they’re priced right). I confess, I originally thought I would use them for hanging file storage, but they’re a tad too wide so I put them to better use. I took everything out of the fridge and tossed a few condiments that were old and or nasty. The lesser used condiments went into a bin on the bottom shelf of the fridge (salsa verde, tartar sauce, sriracha, etc.). The next bin was for cheese: mozzarella for pizza, shredded cheddar, chunk cheese and laughing cow brand for lunches. The next bin is holding all our lunch/sandwich supplies: ham and smoked turkey, Swiss cheese, American cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches, and a jar of dill pickle chips. The other bin on the bottom shelf holds a few bottles of beer, a big bottle of Starbucks caramel macchiato, and a bottle of grapefruit juice. Stuff we don’t drink all the time, but keeping it contained means it doesn’t end up in the back of the fridge getting forgotten.
In the middle of the fridge is a stack of containers of leftovers – I switched a while back to clear glass containers to see what’s in them better. Next to that is a space for my daughter’s school lunch box. Then another bin! This holds small cans of V8 for lunches, little cartons of orange juice, and a couple of cartons of coconut water (which I do not care for but am hoping someone comes over and wants to take them off my hands as they were $1 each). Then there’s hubby’s milk (he and my daughter drink 2% milk) and then my lactose free milk, which is so inexpensive at Aldi!
Top shelf, a couple of cans of soda for hubby, and behind it, a basket containing a carton of cottage cheese and a large carton of Greek yogurt, which we use for yogurt and as a substitute for sour cream in recipes. Then 2 dozen eggs (we eat a lot of eggs), then a carton of grapes, and a container of high protein energy bites (recipe here – don’t freak out over the ingredients: I’m here to tell you they are awesome!). Behind it is some tonic water for adult beverages.
In the fridge door are pickles, a carafe of cold water, orange juice, club soda, salad dressing, ketchup, mustard, butter, etc., etc., etc.
The big things I did, though, after this? I inventoried my freezer, deep freeze and pantry. THAT. WAS. A. PAIN. Also? A revelation. I froze a lot of leftover soups over the past six months, which will be a good thing in the weeks to come. I threw away only a few things and I didn’t take a picture of the freezer because it was that boring. But here is a picture of the inventory. (By the way, visit this blog for some kick-ass printables, which I used in making my lists).
First, the freezer list:
There are little boxes to put a slash through, and when you use up the item, make it an “x” to indicate it’s all gone. I found a lot of things the husband had bought and thrown in there, so now we have a list.
Then, the pantry lists – man, that was a weird inventory.
Cans of fire roasted tomatoes with jalapenos, dried mushrooms, lentils, dry beans, lots of pasta, a lot of things I bought when hungry.
I went through the lists of what I had, including frozen leftover soups, frozen meat, canned items, fresh items…and came up with a list of 22 separate meals I could make just with what I have on hand (buying occasional fruit and veggies as sides), with a few repeats for a total of 32 meals.
Last night, I sat down and had my husband look at the list and pick out a few meals he liked for the next two weeks. I wrote out which ones, taking into account our schedules and whether I would be home in time to make dinner or if he would have to, what would need to go into the crock pot, what meals would create extras for later that same week and so on. Then I assigned meals to days, and went the extra step (which I’ve found I need based on past experience of spacing off taking things out of the freezer!) of putting small post-it notes on each week’s meal plan to remind me of which day I need to visit the freezer to take out food to thaw. (I LOVE the magnetic pad for these meal plans – it sticks on the fridge and I enjoy using the tear-off pages)
Week one, above, includes one evening of “BFS” or “Breakfast for Supper.”
My grocery list for each week is very short, since there is so much already in the freezer: just milk, eggs, some produce and maybe some hamburger buns unless I get really ambitious and make them from scratch when I make homemade bread. Which probably won’t happen. So I had better buy buns.
Now listen to me: I know YOU ARE BUSY. But if you could see the hours I’ve put in over the past several weeks/months, you would know I’m pretty dang busy myself. I’ve sold 15 houses in 14 weeks, and that’s including two weeks out of commission (pun intended) to recover from surgery. I show houses or meet clients four evenings a week right now, and often spend all day each weekend at work. To do this planning, all of the effort work was maybe four total hours over the past week, plus maybe an hour printing off the stuff to make lists. But it will save me many hours and many dollars to use up what we have already. I’ve even put links in here for the printables, the meal planner pad, the containers….it’s not hard.
Now that I have some health issues to monitor, I have to be vigilant about not skipping meals, taking my supplements with food, keeping my metabolism going. But getting organized is not just about myself. I find my stress level drops markedly, which is good for my whole family. Having a meal planned out in advance means one less thing to worry about on a busy day, and it’s good for our budget and our health to avoid a desperation fast food or restaurant meal.
Wouldn’t we all benefit from more home cooked meals with family, if it’s possible? We still plan on restaurant night once or twice a month as a treat…and this will help us to budget for it better.
What’s your meal planning system, if you have one?