Times are tough and even if you aren’t directly experiencing the effects of this bad economy you’re likely, at the very least, being more careful with your money. I’ve started doing a once-a-month major grocery shopping trip to both cut down on impulse buys and make it easier to track where my food money goes. I’m still working this whole planning ahead thing out (I’ll update on my progress later) but there are a few things I’ve observed.
Make it all about you– I cannot stress this enough. You already have habits, recipes and schedules. This is about refining and re-working what you already do; it is not about starting fresh. Take inventory for about a month–pay attention to how you shop, what you buy, what you cook, when and what you eat out or order in. Then decide what you want to change about your habits and begin planning for gradual change. You cannot simply pull a menu plan/shopping list from a magazine, cookbook or website and expect it to work for you–you have to plan around what you already do. This you-centric planning does require some work and time, but it will pay off in the end because your plans will be much easier to stick to.
Write it down- Again, you have to figure out what method will work for you. I generally plan a week or two in advance on a cute little menu plan note pad that I picked up at a bookstore and my shopping list is kept on an iPhone application. That seems to work pretty well for me at the moment. I know a woman who has a calendar page that has a different meal in each box. She just cycles through each day and starts at the beginning when she is done. You could also plan on index cards, with computer software or with a blank book. Whatever appeals to you. The important part is that you have the plan where you can reference it.
Stock your pantry/fridge/freezer- Buy the ingredients you use most in bulk or plan to buy them fresh on a regular basis. Magazines often run checklists of the five, ten, fifteen or so essential items you must keep on hand, but you might not actually use those things as often as the people writing those articles do. I say: do your research. What are you constantly running to the store to replenish? I discovered that in my household we almost always use two gallons of milk and three large containers of apple juice a month, among other things. I now buy these at the beginning of the month and I’m not running to the store every week just to pick up more(and whatever else catches my eye.) You are less likely to deviate from your plan if you have the ingredients you need on hand.
Make ahead- This goes hand in hand with the last bit of advice. If you have quiet weekends or free and easy Wednesday nights use that time to make extra or prep meals for the rest of the week. Incorporate leftovers into your plans too. I use leftover crock pot roast and mashed potatoes to build a shepherd’s pie. I toss it in the freezer, all ready to go, and all I have to do is pop it in the oven. Oh, yeah… it’s also really, really tasty.
Stick to the plan, but be flexible- Make your plan. Write it down. Buy your groceries. Do these things, but keep in mind that there will be some days that the plan just falls apart. Don’t beat yourself up if you order pizza because you forgot to thaw the chicken. If you see a recipe that looks really good, well, go ahead and make it instead of the pasta primavera you’d planned. Don’t be afraid to deviate from or change up your plan, instead use it to keep yourself in check.
Do it- Make an effort and be really vigilant about following your plan(at least most of the time) for two months. You’ll discover what works best for you and it will become habit by the end of that time.
So, what are you waiting for?
Get started by taking inventory. What do you have on hand? What have you used over the past month? How many times have you eaten out or ordered in? Check your bank statement and/or credit card statement and add up how much money you’ve actually spent on food. This all might make you say, “Ouch!” It might be a great big eye-opener. It was for me.
Now, make your plan.
(If you don’t feel confident doing this by yourself, then hire someone to help you–it’s very likely to be worth the cost.)