Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Grocery Shopping Review - Meal Planning from the Market

A few months ago I started buying my groceries on the envelope system. For the most part, it is working really well. My food budget for the month is $125, so I take that out around the first of the month and tuck it in a special spot in my wallet, then just spend that when I shop. I have gone over a few times, usually at the end of the month when something unexpected comes up, but I am not going over by very much (or very often) and I am going over my budget a lot less than when I was using my debit card instead of cold hard cash.

This month I started my grocery shopping by going to the farmer's market. You might not think there would be a lot at a farmer's market in Michigan in November, but you'd be wrong! There was a ton of produce to choose from. As part of my effort to soak up sunshine before the winter darkness sets in, (and me trying to get a bit more exercise,) I walked down to the market on a crisp fall morning. I bought celery, carrots, beets, leeks, onions, Brussel sprouts (still on the stalk - I love that!), ham, turkey, eggs, kale and potatoes. There were also tons of things I didn't buy - squashes of all colors, pumpkins, apples, radishes, parsnips... the list goes on and on.

Anyway, you might already be seeing the problem with my trip... I bought a lot of root vegetables and you know what? Root vegetables are heavy!! I was so tired bringing home my haul that I had to stop over at a park on the way home and just sit on a park bench for awhile and rest my arms! It was good though, more exercise than I planned on certainly (next time I buy that much I'll bring my car!) but overall a worthy trip.

The next thing I did was start putting together my menu...

Normally I put together my menu and shopping list before I hit the market, but it was fun to change it around a bit and instead let the market inspire my shopping. I piled up all my produce on the dining room table, got out a couple of favorite cookbooks, grabbed a cup of coffee, and then picked out my menu according to what I had. As I figured out how I was going to cook each thing, it got put away. And while doing that, I also made my shopping list for the additional ingredients I was going to need (and, of course, added the nonfood items like aspirin and window cleaner to my shopping list.)

I then went through my coupons and hopped online and found a few more. As I did, I broke my list into parts depending on where I wanted to shop. More and more I am hitting certain stores for certain things, rather than getting everything at one big megamart. For example, I got those locally grown products at the farmer's market, then I went to a small butcher shop/market for some other meat and produce I couldn't get at the farmer's market. Next I hit Save-A-Lot for some canned items, aluminum foil and dried lentils, Rite Aid for pharmacy items (I had a $25 gift certificate) and finally the megamart for the last items on my list - and the ones I had coupons for.

So basically, when it comes to fresh vegetables and meat, I buy it locally and look for the best quality. I may pay a little more than at the megamart, but I am okay with that.

I do try to use Save A Lot for canned and dried items that I don't have coupons for. It isn't one of my favorite places to shop, but their prices are so low, it is worth the trip.

I waiver between CVS and Rite Aid for pharmacy type items. It just depends on who is running the better deals.

The megamart becomes the last step. Before I used to go there first and get everything, but now I pretty much only get there what I can't get elsewhere - or when I have coupons.

It's been working well - my savings tend to even out. I may spend a little more on free range eggs, but I save on the non-produce items. All in all, its a system that is working for me. Here's just a few of the things on the menu for this month:

Tex-Mex Turkey Chili
Risotto with ham, portabella mushrooms, carrots and peas
Quiche with turkey sausage, leeks and mushrooms
Homemade onion soup
Grilled chicken salad with artichoke hearts
Steak, oven roasted beats and Brussel sprouts with pecans


Photo by: freeformkatia
via flickr

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