He thanked me for doing this every month, and said he realized how much work it was.
That meant a lot. Keeping a stocked pantry, stocked cupboards, a full freezer and a meal plan is something of an art. You need to know what you consume. What you can fit in the space you have available. Monitor what you have in the house. And track ingredients for a series of meals.
It takes a while to really figure out what you use, and even then, sometimes it's easy to miss. Like yesterday, when we bought a big box of crackers, even though I discovered we had crackers at home after we got back. So now we have a lot of crackers.
We like crackers, so this isn't too big of a problem. But I've bought plenty over the years that didn't get used up in time, or we bought too much of, or stockpiled something that we didn't end up wanting as regularly as we thought.
I've managed to get us to a point where I think I know our needs well enough to mostly get it right. Here is a few things I've learned over the years:
- Locking yourself into a weekly or monthly menu where every night has a pre-defined meal may work for some, but it does not for us. Deciding today what I want to eat in 3 weeks is impractical. I might find a fabulous sale on something we love between now and then. Or there are leftovers we need to use up, or a veggie that will go south if not used.
- That said, I do have a menu plan that I fill in slowly over the course of the month. I really like the calendar meal plans at www.cindysporch.com and www.calendarsthatwork.com. It helps to be able to look at the month.
- I constantly try new recipes. I flip through my collection of cookbooks or look online. One of my favorite sites is www.epicurious.com. I've gotten some really great recipes there. I try to add at least one new recipe a month. It gives us variety, justifies my cookbook addiction, and has added some fantastic recipes to our monthly repertoire.
- If you buy meat in bulk, immediately break it up into meal-sized portions, even if you don't feel like it. There's nothing less enticing than a 5-lb block of frozen chicken, you, and a chisel after a long day at work.
- I make a monthly grocery list, divided by both category and store. I literally start mine for March the day after I go do a big stock up shop for February. This means anything I decided we don't need more of quite yet, or I forget is rolled onto the next month's list. If it can't wait a month, I leave it on the current month's list.
- While you are making your list, actually check your cabinets and pantries. I'm all for a deal, but if you can't fit more kleenex and shampoo in your cabinets, you probably have enough.
- Aim for the ability to eat for 2-3 months out of your pantry in an emergency. That means buying things you like to eat, and cycling through them, not buying 10 cases of macaroni and cheese and sticking them in a bomb shelter and forgetting about them. The former is practical. The latter makes you Captain Nuttybananas, the weird neighbor with the bomb shelter full of mac n cheese loving rats. It's a fine line, don't cross it.
"But MoneyPenny, gorgeous, sweetie, I hate to plan!" you whine and sulk. "I don't know what I want to eat for lunch, much less tomorrow or the next day. And besides, isn't a stocked pantry all full of crap like ramen noodles"
"No, my little Smurf" I say reassuringly. "Nary a package of ramen has crossed my path in years. Ramen is yucky, sodium filled, and did I mention yucky?"
My pantry has in it things like Massaman curry, coconut milk, bamboo shoots, rice noodles, baby corn, fish sauce and basmati rice in case the mood for Thai strikes. It has chick peas, black beans, kidney beans and falafel mix in case southern or middle eastern sounds good. Pasta and sauce, of course - add a little cheese and you've got a good quick meal. Diced tomatoes make almost anything taste good, and are wonderful on homemade pizza. A few jars of olives for various recipes. Couscous in abundance - add a little grilled meat on top flavored with spices and some sauteed onions and peppers and you have a meal fit for...well, me at least. Clams and clam juice for our ubiquitous clam chowder.
And there is some Annie's Shells and Cheddar in there too. Because occasionally that's just the thing.
And I can make it all with a minimum of notice. So what are you in the mood for?