This takes practice. And patience. After a number of years of trial-and-error, I’m now in the habit of printing off a monthly calendar for the fridge. Together with my wife and kids, we spit-ball food/meal ideas for the coming week or two, to help focus our grocery and market shopping. In my experience, this planning helps reduce food costs and food waste, especially around fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Bulk-buy purchases of anything that can be stored or frozen are still fair game. Here are some tips to help you get started; most are probably obvious:
TIP #1: Stock your cupboards and pantry with non-perishable items common in many recipes, like:
- canned tomatoes
- beans (kidney/cannellini, black, etc.)
- lentils (dry and canned)
- tomato paste
- chicken and beef broth
- pasta of all shapes and sizes
- noodles (e.g., vermicelli, egg, etc.)
- rice – long and short grain
- spices (ALL)
- soy sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- oil (olive and vegetable)
- sauces (pasta, pesto, stir-fry)
- vinegar (red wine, apple cider, white, balsamic)
TIP #2: Buy bulk. Costco, here we come!
TIP #3: Only buy what you need. This is important if staying on budget is main priority.
TIPS #4: Buy and freeze your protein – chicken, pork, beef, lamb, etc., in various cuts. It saves you money, plain and simple. And often, with those savings, you can afford better quality cuts, if your heart desires.
TIP #5: Separate your meet into strategic portions before freezing: e.g., 3-4 chicken breasts per freezer bag, 500g-1kg ground beef per bag, etc. Make sure to package your meat flat; this makes it easier to store, but also quicker to thaw.
TIP #6: Plan your weekly menu with variety in mind. Vary your pasta days. Alternate veggie and meat. But only if you really want to!
TIP #7: Think about how to use ALL your ingredients. For example, if your recipe calls for a handful of fresh coriander, basil, or parsley, consider how to use the rest sometime during the week. Don’t waste anything, if you can help it!
TIP #8: Consider your own work-life schedule. Use the crockpot on days when you know there won’t be enough time to cook anything substantial. Have the rice cooker ready. Think about how much time the whole preparation and cooking process will take, adjust accordingly.
TIP #9: Keep the following items in your fridge, if you can:
- hot sauces
- lemon and lime juice
- Hoisin sauce
- Cheese (any kind you like, but definitely a little parmesan)
TIP #10: Remember what works, what you liked. Diversify and experiment a little each week, but don’t lose sight of (or forget!) the winning meals. Come back to these on a rotation, but try not to overdo them.