Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Meal Planning Part 1
While my cupboard fails to look organized, it is quite functional. Function is important when you want to start meal planning.
Why meal plan? If you follow my method, it's cheaper and easier than what you might be currently engaged in.
So how do you transform a packed, inaccessible cupboard into one that functions for you (and likely no one else :P) The first things to do have nothing to do with the cupboard but with you. What we think we do, and we actually do is quite different. In the archaeologist Rathje's study of garbage in Phoenix, AZ he found that 15% of the food Americans buy finds its way to landfills. That was in the '80's. While we have started discussing more about waste, that doesn't mean we're doing anything about it. As you can see on that link, Rathje discovered something else Anthropologists have known for a long time: what people think they do and what they actually do are NOT the same. The facts do not mirror the perception we have of ourselves.
So we cost the environment and our pocketbooks with this behavior. Provided you spent $100 a month on groceries, you would be wasting $15 worth (provided the measurement is in monetary value. If it is in lbs, it is likely even more money in your garbage can) a month. That's $180 a year. What could you do with an extra $180 a year? That's a fun out of town trip at the very least.
So the first thing you should do if you want to meal plan, is know your habits. Not what you "think" your habits are, but what they ACTUALLY are.
How do you do this? For two weeks to a month change nothing. Keep a food diary, and keep all of your receipts associated with food. If you eat out, keep the receipt, and write down why you ate out. A birthday? Or was there 'nothing in the house'? If it was the second, and you do this repeatedly and you still grocery shop, your choices and your needs don't match. Also, record what veggies you like, and what veggies you eat. These don't always match.
In order to plan your new (affordable) diet, you need to know what you actually eat. Do you prefer pasta? Rice? Or American Home-cooking: Smashed Potatoes and beef and Broccali n' cheese or Macaroni and Cheese? What does it take to "make you eat your veggies?" Freshness? Light dressing/seasoning? Do you eat more veggies in Asian stir fry's? Curries? Pickled? Salad? Raw?
How do you prefer your meats? What meats?
Chronicle all of these things.
If there are dishes you consistently buy out of the house, perhaps you should look for a variation to make at home. Is there something you buy and eat because it is easy, but you never seem to eat as much of it as you think?
Stay away from packaged foods as much as possible. They inflate your grocery bill and are unhealthy.
Buy as many fresh fruits as possible.
If you eat cabbage, a shortcut I've found is shredding and stuffing in plastic bags, for storage in the fridge. When making stir-fry, ramen, or soup it is easy to toss in. Of course, you would have to be using cabbage in large amounts...which I do sometimes.
You will be looking for staple combinations. These are veggies and meat batches that will be able to pull double and triple duty.
Staples that you buy for your cupboard will be seasonings. Oils, spices, wines, vinegars, etc. But in order to select these successfully you need to know what cuisines you prefer.
That returns us to the food diary. Keeping an eye on what you eat before making the shift is essential. In Part 2 I'll discuss how to make the selections of seasonings and combination dishes...all to make daily cooking easy, quick, and delicious.