24 October 2009

Panel Series: Cooking

Wow...is it just me or did that week go by really fast? Welcome back for the third installment of the cooking panel series. I can see that you've all found the scones (ala Bainbridge Island) on the back table, please try all of the varieties and don't skimp on the butter and homemade jams. This week we're talking about something that is crucial to keeping your family alive and fed: grocery shopping. Love it or hate it, it has to be done. I personally am looking forward to hearing what our panelists have to say as I have been putting off this weeks' grocery shopping, well....all week.

Weekly Chore—Grocery Shopping/Meal Planning :
How do you approach grocery shopping? Love it/Hate it? Do you plan meals ahead of time or make it up as you go? Care to share a sample menu?

Jaime: Hmmm, used to love it, but life seems busier now. I certainly don’t hate it though. I recently took a trip to the grocery store all by myself (no toddler in tote) and spent forever wandering the isles, reading ingredient lists, spending time comparing items—all things that are hard to do with an impatient toddler. I usually try to grocery shop only once a week, but typically end up doing one big shop and one minor shop where I pick up everything I forget/couldn’t find. Plus different grocery stores offer different items. Unfortunately there are three grocery stores in my area I like to go to for different things—meat at one, produce at another, and everything else at the third. Meat can freeze, so I visit that one less frequently and since we buy so much produce, we go to the “produce” grocery store every week. I try to make the grocery store trip fun though by going to the store I typically find the most enjoyable; even if it is a bit more expensive, I’d rather pay a little more and leave happy than save some money and leave irritated. I show things to my daughter and we talk about food and why we buy some food and how pretty the produce looks, etc. Consequently, she thinks grocery shopping is great fun, and when she’s happy and well behaved it’s soooo much easier to enjoy life. :)I always plan out a menu before grocery shopping—I aim for a week’s worth but usually only get 5 solid plans in, which is fine because sometimes there are leftovers, going out, nights when we need something FAST, nights when I just don’t feel like what I’d planned, etc. I always keep a few fast meal supplies on hand—tacos, spaghetti, stir fry, and sometimes even a frozen dinner (like when those Bertolli frozen pasta dinners go on sale…). When I make my menus, I first write down a few things that sound good, then I look at my list of recipes-to-try or stack of recipes on my fridge for new things I want to try, and then if I still need ideas, I look at a list on the inside of my cupboard of basic food I pretty much know how to make. That list is divided into international categories (Italian, Mexican, Eastern, etc.) and I can just use my tried and true recipe or look up a fun new version to try—whatever I feel like. In the summer I try to do one salad a week and in the winter I try to do one soup/crock pot meal a week. Usually I try to do a big meal with leftovers early in the week (my husband takes leftovers for lunches), and I try to do something a bit fancier or more fun on Friday for date night). By making my menu this way we tend to get a good variety of international dishes, variety of new/old dishes, and variety of easy/more complicated dishes.

My menu for last week:
Aromatic Pork with Figs (new one to try—it was amazing)
Homemade pizza (Friday date night)
Satay lettuce wraps
Cream chicken and veggies (crock pot)Skillet ravioli

My menu for this week:
Bean burritos (lots of leftovers)
Butternut squash pasta (new one to try)
Grilled chicken and veggies with rice
Taco salad
Curried vegetable soup (new one to try—it was OK, not a keeper though)

And as a side note, this is a really fun blog about food and menu planning: http://thisweekfordinner.com

Makenna: I love grocery shopping! I always have. I loved going with my mom growing up (we always stopped at the deli and got an egg roll), but it is definitely more challenging with two little ones tagging along. I am an admitted coupon addict. Luckily for me, I work weekends at the hospital so I can usually get a sizeable stash on Sunday night. I have been known to make my husband accompany me to the recycling dumpster if it is an especially awesome coupon week. All the hard work is worth it when you get that receipt back and see your savings. My best trip ever was to CVS where I got $100 worth of makeup and 8 bottles of tide (lasted for 1 year) for $8! Not food related I know, but just a little encouragement to start using those coupons!

I am terrible at meal planning. I feel like I often get in ruts, which I'm sure planning ahead would help me avoid. Meals can also be challenging due to two very picky eaters...one being my husband. He's a meat and potato man...no veggies, no fruits. My two year olds only source of nutrients come from yogurt, bananas, apples, and chicken nuggets.

This week we've had:
beef stroganoff, wheat rolls, green beans (one veggie my hubby will eat)
enchiladas suizas, spanish rice, refried beans
potato soup, french bread and brie
hot dogs, tater tots, apple slices
oven baked pork chops, risotto, steamed broccoli, and carrots

Michelle: Here's the thing. I love shopping. Grocery shopping is no exception. I love looking for recipes, I enjoy cooking. But for some reason, when it comes to planning the meals for the week, I get burned out. Sometimes I just want someone else to plan out what to have. I would happily do the shopping and cooking! Now I understand why my mom would get a little whiny when she made her grocery list for the week, asking everyone what we should have for dinner. I didn't have any ideas then. I wish I had helped her out!

Part of the problem is my own, since I get tired of making the same things. One thing I've started doing is keeping a folder of recipes I'd like to try on my desktop -- something I can turn to when it's planning time. I probably try one or two recipes a week and then cull through the old standbys for the rest. I also have a Frequently Used Recipes list, because I'm telling you my mind seriously draws a blank when it's planning time...

I usually shop for about 4 days' worth of menus. I find that with leftovers and the occasional take-out night, this is sufficient for the week. I definitely plan it all out. There's nothing I hate more than getting ready to cook and finding I am missing a crucial ingredient or two. I do a little scouting around for good deals. When I find a great price on something that I use all the time (like chicken breasts), I stock up and freeze the excess. When red peppers are $1 each, I dice them and freeze them in Ziplocs, etc.

I also tend to have staples in my pantry that I can use to whip up a quick meal in a pinch. One of my go-to pantry meals is Pasta With Carrot/Shallot Sauce. You've got to have a few recipes like that in your repertoire!


I found that a flexible, planned scheduled worked best for each week. I plan 6 meals, allotting myself at least one night to eat out. Because I inevitably want to. Okay, it’s usually two nights. But in that case, I have a CHOICE between my last two meals for the end of the week, or I can extend my weekly plans one day later. How smart is that??

I kind of hate meal planning in the same way I hate cleaning my house. I can live without it but it involves lots of whining and pouting. When I finally make myself do it, I look on my accomplishment with immense pride and insist my husband coo over the menu list/clean living room.

Most of my meals need to double for lunch the next day, or at least be turned into a second dish the next night. A sample:

Sunday – Pot roast with rosemary potato wedges and roasted Brussels sprouts.

Monday – Beef tacos (with leftover meat)

Tuesday – Spinach pie (a house favorite, like a quiche with lots of spinach and feta)

Wednesday – Simple spaghetti bolognase with home-made marinara and steamed broccoli (if it’s a good week, I’ll make the noodles from scratch)

Thursday – Mac and cheese “deluxe” from a box with broccoli (a good meal when you don’t feel like cooking)

Friday – Sloppy joes and glazed carrots

Saturday – Eat out!

Sarah: Grocery shopping is always tough for me - no car most of the day and a baby on a strict nap schedule makes it a little harder to go. I go once a week and then if I forgot something I try to have my husband pick it up on the way home from work.

Here are my tips:
- Use produce that will go bad faster earlier in the week, frozen or long lasting later in the week
- Buy what's on sale and make your menu around that (you'll save money. I promise.)
- Have staples on hand always (I always have the stuff to make spaghetti or stir fry = my go-to's)
- use leftovers creatively (ie pork roast becomes BBQ pork sandwich for lunch)- be flexible

On an ideal week I look through the adds and my coupons, plan what I will buy at the store, make a tentative menu, go shopping, buy what's on sale and what produce looks good, and adjust my menu as needed. Sounds like it takes a long time, but it isn't so bad. I try to plan out every meal and snacks - that way I know I have my 5 servings of fruits and veggies in. :) I have them in a binder so if my husband wants to help or go shopping, the list and recipes are there for him

Sample Dinner Menu:
(I try to do a typical Sunday, comfort meal; Friday is a date night meal; and Saturday is usually something fun)
Sunday: Pork Roast, mashed potatoes, green salad, rollsMonday: Chicken with Roasted asparagus
Tuesday: Homemade Pizza
Wednesday: Take out
Thursday: Hawaiian Haystacks
Friday: Shrimp Scampi
Saturday: Oven Roasted chicken, coleslaw, sweet potato fries

Staci: I used to marvel at my grandmother’s fruit room. If you ran out of something in the kitchen, you just went downstairs to the storage room and pulled it off the shelf. When Grandma grocery shopped, it was to replenish the storage room – not to fill the kitchen.I’ve talked about my kitchen being one of the deal clinchers for buying my house, but the storage room (all concrete, in the basement under the front porch) was one as well. We immediately put shelves in there and I began earnestly bulking up our storage. Thank goodness!
Over the past couple of years, money has been tight at our house. There have been weeks that it would have been nice to grocery shop, but the cash just wasn’t there. This required us to utilize our food storage.
I knew we had enough storage to only have to shop for dairy and produce for at least a year. It was very self-fulfilling at first, but I quickly realized that if we ate all of our favorite items first, meal time would become quite unpleasant. So I made THE LIST of all the potential dinner items, including a couple of favorites each week. I rotated each boy’s choices so they were getting “their” dinner at least once every other week.Things have either gotten better or we’re just more used to this method, but I still keep THE LIST on the refrigerator. THE LIST also allows me to maintain a general mental inventory of what’s in my freezer or storage and what I need to put on the grocery list.
As my boys have gotten older they’ve learned to forage, and a couple of them like to snack on non-sweets. My hubby isn’t great about packing lunches, but every once in a while he will do this for a couple of weeks. He doesn’t necessarily inform me when those weeks are – so he also confounds the food supply. I was not a very happy person when I would go to the fridge only to find that dinner ingredients disappeared a few days earlier. Having THE LIST where everyone can see it allows them to cross something off if they realize they’ve used what would be necessary for dinner, and I avoid last minute panic attacks.
Sometimes my grocery shopping trips are “me” time when I end up smelling lotions, perusing paper backs, or hunting for that one perfect green pepper. Other times it’s a quick in & out with all 3 boys in tow – no one is ever happy at the end of these trips. Every once in a while it turns into one of those unforgettable one-on-one Mom/son experiences with just one of my boys. I’m amazed at what sparks a conversation – Carson and I discussed food preparation for masses v. small families and why some people are good at one but not necessarily the other. This started off with him asking if I ever wanted to cook school lunch – we were standing in front of the rice & pasta at the time.I do not like to grocery shop with my husband because he questions everything that goes in my cart and complains about the cost of miscellaneous goods. I know how much stuff costs – I see it every time I enter the store. I don’t need to be reminded; I just need to get it in my cart.
I cannot grocery shop at warehouse stores. I purchase garbage bags, paper towels, Ziplocs, etc at these stores, and I will pick up milk and bread while I’m there. I cannot go specifically to buy milk and bread – I get too many cart fillers while I do this. I save more money shopping grocery store case lot sales (small jars of peanut butter, cream-o-something soups, chicken and beef broth, green chilis, tuna, mandarin oranges, tomato paste/sauce/diced/stewed, 8 oz bags of shredded cheese, yada yada – all my basics in the size I need them).
I have a few items that are never really included in my menu plan but are always on THE LIST. These include tortillas, fake cheese (individually packaged slices because they “melt cool” and they’re typically inexpensive), cup-a-soup, lunch meat, and real cheese (Muenster, havarti, sharp cheddar).
Here’s THE LIST this morning. This one didn’t have a lot of variety – basically hamburger, hotdogs, and pastry.
I’m going out of town for the weekend, and I’m pretty sure my boys will not eat anything on THE LIST while I’m gone. They’ll have lots of peanut butter, eggs (scrambled, boiled, microwaved), grilled cheese, and perhaps French toast. Do you see a theme? Bread, eggs, cheese? Not the greatest, but it could be worse…

Many thanks ladies. It looks like I'm not the only one who sometimes has a hard time with meal planning, or needs to go to multiple grocery stores to get what I want. Also, raise your hand if you loved the sample menus! It's so fun to see something as personal as what a family is eating for dinner right? Now I'll once again turn it over to you. What is on your menu for the week? How do you feel about grocery shopping?

Next week is the fourth and final cooking panel post. The prompt is Crunch Time; what to do when you have to get dinner in a hurry/time savers in the kitchen. Also, if you have any other questions for our panelists, now is the time to speak up so they can answer your questions next Saturday!


1 comment:

Emmylou said...

I went to a Relief Society meeting last week about meal planning and freezer meals. I would like to know if any of the panelists have done freezer meals and if so, what freezes the best for them. I love planning out my menu. This week we are having: Meatloaf, BBQ chicken, Potato Cheese Soup, leftovers, Dinner in a Pumpkin, Brats and Sauerkraut. I used to love grocery shopping and now I am scared to death to take my two kids grocery shopping, but they actually love it and if I would just do it, it wouldn't be that bad.

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