Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Few More Tips and Tricks on Menu and Meal Planning

So, you have your grocery list in hand, menu sketched out, now what?

Psychsarah made a comment in my last post about how she makes her grocery list with items sorted by aisle. She says:

I find this doesn't take extra time to make my list this way, and it saves me tons of time at the store, because I don't go down aisles I don't need anything from, and I don't have to double back because I get everything I need in that aisle all at once.

Her comment was very timely because I was going to recommend doing the same thing! My ex and I used to have a word doc that we would print off with different grocery categories: Produce, Dairy, Canned Veg., Meat, and so on. Now, because I prefer to jot my list on the back of a junk mail envelope (with my coupons tucked inside, naturally.) I just roughly group items together by where they are in the store. Produce goes on top, then I leave a little space and jot in meat items, then a bit more space and put in dairy, etc. It isn't perfect, sometimes I end up writing something in sort of crammed in on the side because I didn't leave enough space, but for the most part it works - and, as Psychsarah said, it saves going up and down the aisles.

So, you are about to go to the store, what now? I make sure I have my calculator, a pen, my list and coupons. I also try to make sure to grab the recyclables (in Michigan you can return soda bottles and cans for $.10 a piece. Since you can do it at the grocery store, I consider my bottle return money a grocery coupon.) Finally I get my reusable cloth bags. Now, here's the thing. I find I have to put my recyclables and reusable bags in the front seat. If I don't, I forget - guaranteed. I won't remember until I am deep in the freezer aisle and getting ready to head towards the check out, so my goal is to always make sure I have those things where I will remember them. Some grocery stores will give you a small credit if you bring your own bags, but that isn't why I do it. I do it because I hate what plastic bags do to the environment.

But it is my calculator that is my true shopping friend...

Math is just not one of my strong suits, and remembering strings of random numbers, even less. On the back of my envelope, I jot down the price of each item as it goes into the cart. When I have 5 or 6 items, I pull my cart over to a quiet spot and add them up. This way I can keep a running total of my purchases and not end up going over. This is really important when using a cash system for grocery shopping. If you don't know how much is in there, what happens if you get to the checkout and find you are over? Do you have the guts to ask the sales clerk to put something back? I don't - I get embarrassed easily! I would much rather know I can afford everything in my cart before it is rung up.

My calculator is also my friend when it comes to figuring out item unit prices. My store usually has it on the shelf label, but not always, and especially with sale items. Buying the larger package isn't always the better deal. As I said, I get embarrassed easily and at first I was a bit self conscious about walking through the aisles with calculator in hand, but I quickly got over it. In this day and age, everyone has their own ways of saving a few dollars and this is one of mine.

So, you've got your groceries, you've gone through the checkout, loaded all your purchases in your reusable bags - now, don't forget to check your receipt! At some places I can see everything as it rings up, but some times it is hard to do. If the number is drastically different than what I have calculated, I try to find out why. I admit, how hard I work at this depends on the amount and whether I have ice cream melting, but people are fail-able as are the computers they program - more than once I have found errors on my receipt.

One more tip that has saved me money - when I get home, I try to never put produce in the "crisper" drawer anymore. Most of my produce now goes on the second shelf - right in front of my face when I open the refrigerator. For me, that simple change really helps prevent spoilage. In fact, I noticed this morning that a cucumber I bought at the market is looking a touch wilted. Tonight I am going to make refrigerator pickles so it doesn't go to waste. Having the produce where I can see it reminds me to make the dishes that have perishables in them first, and save the dishes that call for frozen and/or canned items for later.

Hmmmm... writing this article has just made me very hungry!

Photo by another meal planner: Kurt Wagner
via flickr


An ostrich named Sam said...

A good use for the cucumber is to peel it, dice it, dump it in a container, add Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and let it marinate. Add salt, papper and feta cheese when you decide to eat it. I don't measure the amounts of anything that I add to it, i just do it until it looks right.

Dawn said...

An ostrich - that sounds wonderful! My recipe is just a quickie that mom would do - sliced cucumber in vinegar with black peppercorns. Throw in 'fridge for 20 minutes or so and then salt. Nothing fancy, but tasty on a hot summer night.

Anonymous said...

I really like the idea of putting produce upfront and center! Some weeks produce spoils very quickly in our house, so I think I am going use your method!

I have learned that wrapping your celery in tinfoil helps it stay fresh for WEEKS!! And I put my mushrooms in a sealed container with a napkin soaked in vinegar - I am going on 3 weeks and they look as if I bought them yesterday! :) Those little things sure do add up!

Miss M said...

I rarely shop with a list, I'm simply not that organized. But I do have my coupons sorted by aisle, it's much easier to use them that way. Our cucumbers go into salads with red onion, tomato and feta. Then make a red wine vinagrette, yum.

Angelica said...

Thanks for the new post :) You've made us waiting, I was almost starting getting worried.
I´ve followed your advice last week when I went shopping: I had planned what I would eat, I made a list. It was very convenient and I spent surprisingly little.

Angelica said...

Thanks for the new post :) You've made us waiting, I was almost starting getting worried.
I´ve followed your advice last week when I went shopping: I had planned what I would eat, I made a list. It was very convenient and I spent surprisingly little.

getting stuff done said...

I like the tips. good one. will start using. am always overbuying and wasting stuff in those bits of the fridge. also will be making some cucumber pickle.

i keep chees in tin foil too. it seems to help

Anonymous said...

Meal planning and grocery shopping are big things in my house. We live on a strict food budget. $50 weekly for a family of 4. A couple of the biggies that help me are: 1. I have a standing grocery list. Example would be we go through 2 gallons of milk weekly, 3 loaves of bread, a box of pop tarts and so on. That way I just check the pantry and know what staples I need. I then only add the additional ingredients for my meals. 2. I keep my cloth bags in the trunk of the car so they are always there. As you stated, at the begining of the shopping trip the bags get moved to the front seat so I don't forget them in the car.