Thursday, February 14, 2008

#174 - Main Menu

Meal Planning To Save on Food Waste

You're going to be seeing quite a few posts from me on reducing food waste. It's all part of Crunchy Chicken's Project NO WASTE, a challenge that combines reducing both individual caloric consumption AND household food waste. I LOVE this challenge as it involves both my poor body image and my struggling budgeting skills.

Anyso, one of the most effective means I have found for reducing our household food waste is to create a bi-weekly meal plan. I have been an on-again, off-again meal planner for ten years now and I can attest that meal planning does more to reduce my monthly grocery expenditures more than coupon-clipping and sale-hunting combined. This reduced expenditure translates directly into less food waste for us. The less we buy, the less we toss, you know.

I don't know how a professional meal planner goes about it, but here's what I do:

Step 1: See what you've got. Check the pantry, fridge, freezer and garden. What have you got that needs to be used up? How can you incorporate it into a meal? Can certain items be combined (ie: lots of tomatoes and some frozen ground turkey sounds like the start of a good chili, goulash or spaghetti & meatballs)?

Step 2: See what's on sale. Check the flyers for your local grocery store. What are they putting on sale this week? Can you stock up on certain items? Do you have space in your freezer, fridge or pantry for them?

Step 3: What are your meal goals? My main goal is to ensure variety in our weekly menus. I hate having chicken two nights in a row. Since I'm also trying to reduce my caloric intake, another meal goal of mine is to make sure each dinner is around 500 calories.

Step 4: Make the menu. I write my meals on the family calendar so I know I'll look at it every day. Write out not just the main dish, but whatever sides you're going to serve too.

Step 5: Now use your menu to make your list. You saw my super-anal grocery list a couple of months ago. You may laugh, but this uber-organization keeps me from trapsing back and forth through the store (which would most likely result in me tossing more crap in my cart).

Now there are two exceptions to the list...Ethan and Daphne. My little helpers go shopping with me and the highlight of the trip for them is to be able to pick one item out of the "snack" aisle to put in the cart. It ain't always nutritious and it's never organic, but it is usually damn tasty, and might even sport a picture of Spiderman or Hello Kitty on the front.

So that's my style of menu planning. When I don't do it, my bill runs about $200 per week, when I DO meal plan, it runs between $125- $150. Need I say more?

I'd love to hear any tips or suggestions you might have on the subject, since I tend to overlook the obvious!


Gruppie Girl said...

Food waste is a huge problem for me.

Thos veggies wedged at the back of the fridge that I forgot about. Leftovers that no one wants. Old takeout that is growing fuzz.

I like the idea of writing down a daily menu!

N. & J. said...

Another way to keep variety is to make meals that can easily be frozen so you can have dinner one night and then freeze it for a week and have it again. That way you aren't eating the same meal back to back.

Anonymous said...

The biggest problem I have with this plan is I have a no junk mal sticker on letter box - hence on fliers. I do something similar, but let it slip now and again. I find 'minestrone' soup is a good 'clear the fridge' meal prior to shopping (and the leftovers freeze well). I have shopping list a bit like yours, and also a list of favourite meals - so when Im planning the meals I can run down the list and I dont have to think so much. Another thing Ive done is simplify what we eat - I was doing the fancy gourmet we are more likely to have a salad and grilled chicken or meat and 5 vege a couple of times a week and everyone is happy(ish). also I bake a cake or biscuits every week (with wholemeal flour of course!)and freeze them - it makes packing school lunches easier and you arent as tempted to buy so many prepackaged snacks for the lunchbox (except the grocery store bribe of course)

MamaBird said...

Wow, I really have grocery list envy. What I've done to cut down on our waste, aside from just making less food, is to try not to go to the store. Sounds simple/silly, but we a)get local, organic milk delivery, b)joined a CSA that will deliver to our neighborhood, and c)drive out to a drop point once a month for a local farm for meat. That means I can get away with not shopping very much. Just need to start baking my own bread....

Jennifer said...

Hey Erin-
A bunch of Moms from the FlyLady site swear by the Saving Dinner menus. Most are there for a small fee but there are free menu samples on the site too.Give you the menu, the shopping list and what do do with the leftovers. Phil and I have tried a few. I really like the spinach quiche recipie. Anyhoo, go check it out.

There are also books by the sam name by the same woman.

teartaye said...

I love how you compromise with the kids... They get ONE item, not a multitude of mysterious add-ons discovered at the till!