Monday, January 17, 2011

How To Buy Groceries: Part III Building the Menu

When I am ready to start a shopping list the first thing I do is create a menu plan for the pay period.  This may sound backwards to some, but truly it's surprising once you sit down with an inventory list of foods on hand, how many meals are available from what we initially think is 'nothing to eat'.  I've done this too many times and know it is true, lol. 

Remember at the end of Part II I suggested you look over your calendar to see what's coming up in the week(s) ahead that will be covered by the menu plan.  It makes a huge difference if you know that only half the family will be home for dinner, or a late evening is ahead, etc.  Now that Kay has left home, I often will not prepare any food on the days when I attend synagogue or I'm out with Mama for the day.  So I generally leave those days blank on my home menu. 

How do I plan meals?  I start with the main dish always.  The main dish is the most expensive portion of any meal and usually the one that requires the most preparation.  Side dishes are seldom so detailed in preparation or costly.  Now here's how I generate savings in my home:  I try to balance the cost of my main dishes in this way:  a more expensive cut of meat will be preceded and followed by an inexpensive main dish.  I personally prefer a meatless meal twice a week or will balance the week by having one meatless and two dishes that combine a smaller amount of meat with rice, beans, or pasta.

I plan as many meals as I can with just the foods I have on hand.  If I find I don't have enough main dishes to cover the pay period then I make a note at the top of the page that will become my shopping list: I need 4 meat meals or I need 3 meat and 1 meatless main dishes.

I do not worry if my menu is not complete.  The point of this exercise is to see how many meals we can make from what we have.  We'll fill in the holes in the menu plan in a moment.  First I want to talk briefly about meal planning.

As said, the first dish on my menu is always the main dish.  A main dish should include a protein, which may be meat, a combination of meat/pasta or rice, cheese with rice or pasta, eggs, or dried beans and rice (which make a perfect protein where our body is concerned).  With a meat main dish the traditional menu would include a vegetable, a salad, a fruit and a starch.  With a main dish of pasta or beans and rice, I try to keep starchy foods to a minimum.  Including a raw fruit or vegetable dish (perhaps as a salad) with any meal you will add bulk, which increases the sensation of fullness.   

I believe the most satisfying meals combines complimentary flavors with opposing textures, and the foods on the plate appeal to the eye as well as the palate.  So plan for varying textures and as much color as you can in every meal.  I try to do this with the menus I plan weekly on this blog, so feel free to study them to gain an idea of how to combine foods into meals that will please.

A good saving technique is to maximize a meat main dish over several days.  For instance, if I prepare a beef roast I will almost always plan to have two or three meals from it if possible.  So the first meal, the 'show' or fancy meal, will be roast beef with appropriate side dishes.  This is perfect for a Sabbath day dinner.  Then I'd follow that meal in a day or two with a second one made from the roast, perhaps roast beef and gravy sandwiches with french fries and a salad, and then in another day or so, I'd take any remaining roast, the gravy and diced potatoes and onions and make hash which I'd serve with coleslaw and green peas. 

Now let's talk about filling in those holes in your menu.  Gather your sales papers for the grocery where you shop (most can be accessed online) and look at the front page and the page devoted to meats.  Note those meats that seem to be a good buy.  For instance, this week's Kroger sales offers up a whole roaster for $3.99.  A roaster chicken is slightly larger than a broiler fryer and will likely weigh in at around 5 pounds.  That's about $.80/pound for the whole chicken.   I can easily make three meals from a whole broiler/fryer chicken and with a roaster, I'd likely be able to make four meals from it.  So I'd be sure to put that roaster chicken into my menu plan.

My first meal would be a roasted chicken dinner and I'd probably use about half that chicken to serve four.  Either I'd slice the breasts and serve only white meat, or if the family preferred a mixture of white and dark, I'd slice the breast to serve two or three and cut the leg and thigh into two pieces to serve two more.  The remaining portion of the chicken would be used as follows:  dark meat to make a casserole dish with rice or pasta.  The remaining breast would be cubed and creamed to serve over toast or made into chicken ala king and served over rice.  That leaves us with the carcass and wings which would be boiled with water, onions, carrots, celery.  This would make a wonderful soup or stew.  The average cost of meat per meal would work out to about $1 per meal...

Now look at the page of fresh vegetables and fruits that are on sale.  The lowest priced items are likely those that are in season.  Eating seasonally is a great way to not only save money but to help the body build immunity.  Our Creator has a perfect plan for our body's nutritional needs and if we eat seasonally we promote that plan.  I supplement the seasonal foods with a few canned or frozen fruit and vegetables.  Why frozen or canned?  Because those foods were frozen/canned during their peak season and it's a less expensive alternative when fresh foods are limited (as in winter months).

I found this chart which helps show which fruit/vegetables are in season and when.  I enlarged the page to 200% to see the chart more clearly:

Complete your menu plan using those items that appear to be the best buys.  In Part IV I'll share how I build my lists (yes that is multiple, I carry more than one) for shopping.

1 comment:

Tracy said...

A wonderful series! I am learning a lot. :)