Meal organization

colebugFebruary 21, 2007

How do you organize meals and grocery shopping? Do you have a standard list? Do you always eat hamburgers on Monday? How do you ensure there are healthy snacks and enough of the basics are in the house?

My situation is that my husband and I share the food preparation and purchasing chores. Neither of us are big into fancy food, in fact, my husband could eat the same meal for a week without a problem. However, we have two small children and variety and freshness is a good goal. We are currently running to the store two to three times a week because we are out of the basics or need vegetables for dinner because we didnt plan far enough ahead.

So what do you do? What makes your life easier in this area?

Thank you for your help.

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This might not be what you're thinking of, but my friend went to a dietitian and was given a weekly grocery list. This was a list of the food products, with specific amounts, he should buy in an average week to meet his nutritional requirements; for example, 4 chicken legs, 6 potatoes, 2 lbs of frozen vegetables, etc. One could construct such a list based on government "food guides": buy your favorite items from each food group multiplied by the number of servings required per person per week. You would, of course, still have to figure out what to serve for dinner each day.

Just an idea to start with.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2007 at 6:05PM
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in our houose we make sure basic staples are always there. These include cooking ingredients, spices, flavoring condiments, baking, fresh fruit, veggies ,dairy and meat. I have a freezer in addition to the one with my refrigerator so I can freeze larger amounts of meat bread pasta etc. Then the weekly shopping consists only of things we have run out of or something seasonal that is a great price that week (like pears were .79 a pound this week so I bought a bunch for peat tarts) That way we can always have the things on hand to make most of whatever we feel like having from grilled fish to a home made pizza.

We also only eat out about once a month as a money saving thing.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2007 at 6:21PM
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I keep a number of staple foods on hand, with the help of a master shopping list. I cook from scratch and don't use processed foods but it's still quite impressive how many decent-quality foods are available frozen, dried, and even canned. And many things that aren't sold frozen freeze well, for example shredded cheese for cooking.

I also keep an inventory of what's on hand. Many foods hold up well in the fridge -- with experience you'll learn how much you need and how long you can keep various fresh foods, including how these vary with season. For those things that I'm likely to run out of, or that may spoil on me, I try to have some kind of backup.

Lots of people follow a menu pattern so that they know if it's Monday it must be meatloaf, but it doesn't appeal to me. What I do instead is use a list of every kind of protein we eat, aiming at using each of them no more than once a week (except when I deliberately make a second dinner for a rushed evening). At times I do this as much as a month ahead, but I don't consider it written in stone if I feel like making something else. Since we use mostly fresh vegetables I don't plan the side dishes until I've shopped, but I always buy a variety of vegetables so I have choices. (Yes, sometimes the fresh stuff spoils before I get to use it, but the waste isn't all that much and probably costs less than the gas and time I save by not having to run out for things.)

    Bookmark   February 21, 2007 at 8:30PM
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The food section of the newspaper is often on Wednesday and the new ads come out for the grocery stores. Some people look at the ads, see whats on sale and make a list for once a week shopping. That way they know whats seasonally available and get it. So you alternate fresh veggies at the beginning of the week and later you can go to frozen which is one of your staples.
Actually if you buy veggies at Costco or Sam's club, you really don't run out.
Day l after you have shopped would be fresh meat, fish or poultry with fresh vegetables & potatoes or rice. Fresh fruit for dessert.
Day 2, fresh veggies, fresh meat, fish or poultry, etc.
Day 3 could be pasta with canned sauce and any leftover poultry or meat and leftover veggies in the sauce
Day 4 you can go to frozen shrimp sauteed in butter & garlic, with frozen vegetables and rice (lots of it)
Day 5 would be Fried rice made from leftover rice from the day before with lots of veggies added.
The idea is that you build in leftovers to serve another day in a different form. That saves trips to the store.
Lots of cooks have celery, carrots, onions and potatoes in the house all the time. So you can always chop carrots, steam and add frozen peas. You can grate potatoes and make potato pancakes.
You may be trying to be really creative. Kids are happy with grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner. Make your life easy. Fresh vegetables are nice, but frozen work just as well. We have romaine lettuce and tomatoes on hand all the time, so we have salad every day with the meal. We just change the salad dressing and what we add. Today I added toasted pecans, little bits of salami and cheese for a chopped salad.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2007 at 2:37AM
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I live in the country and have a large garden so I can about 500 jars of produce every summer. We try to have at least 150 qts of tomatoes, tomato juice, salsa on hand at all times.

We also make our own cider, catsup, fruit juices, jams and can fruits from the farmers markets in light syrup.

We buy our beef from relatives and spend approx $2.25 lb for a half of beef -- now that may seem expensive if you eat hamburger but it is really cheap for prime rib.

I have 2 freezers -- an upright and a chest freezer. The upright is used for veggies, baking goods (such as nuts that I buy on sale and whole wheat flours that can go rancid)cheese and juices. The chest freezer is used for meat.

Healthy eating is the issue for us so my grocery dollar goes for whole wheat pasta, beans, seafood, chicken, milk, cheese and fresh produce.

I love to cook but I do work so I plan meals to my work schedule --- if I work late at night -- the meals are simple things that I prep in the morning and have ready to prepare when I get home.

There are many great sites to get simple healthy recipes online -- Kraft food has a lot of good ones that take minutes. Many use too many processed foods for my taste but they can be easily changed to fit my preferences. Weight Watchers is another great site for simple easy healthy meals.

Keep a magnetic pad on the fridge and when you run out (or are close) of an item --jot it down. Count the number of meals you cook in a week --- do you take lunch or do you eat lunch out? If you fix supper and lunch daily -- that's 14 meals a week so 14 servings of veggies. That helps you estimate exactly what you need from the store.


    Bookmark   February 22, 2007 at 8:07AM
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we live a half a block away from the grocery store, we just run out and get what we need. Ah, the joys of city living!

sorry, I know that's not much help.

My DB and his wife, back when money was REALLY tight for them, used to draw up a weekly menu. Then they'd buy the stuff they needed for it. They were pretty strict with themselves about not deviating from the plan. They could swap Wed. for Thurs, if perhaps Wed's supper took longer to prepare and they realized they didn't have time. But that was all the deviation they allowed themselves.

I think they drew up the list on the computer. And I think they had about 10 suppers they'd drawn up, complete w/ accompanying shopping lists, to choose from. And then breakfast, and lunches were done that way as well.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2007 at 10:26AM
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This is a nice site that has weekly menues, a shopping list and recipes. lots of good ideas here.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2007 at 10:36AM
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I haven't read all of the responses but here is how I do it:

I plan meals out for two weeks at a time at a minimum. Usually I plan for a month and just stay ahead by two weeks. If I am going to use a recipe I list the meal and put what page and cookbook I'll need for the recipe. I list what I want to serve and then on the side I list what I need for that meal. (Even if I have it) Then every two weeks I go shopping. Before I run out the door I grab my meal plan and cross off everything I already have on hand. If I run out of something during the week I try to make do and not go to the store until it's the time to go. I put that item on my list of shopping.

So for example:
I plan the meals for next two weeks and I say I'm going to cook lasagna. Next to it I have a list sorta grouped out by where it is in the grocery store I'll list - lasagna noodles, hamburger, cheese (ricotta) etc etc. The day I go to the store I take ten minutes - cheese cheddar- yup! cross them off the list. lasagna noods - nope leave them on the list. Then off I go.

I also have a frozen meal for every two weeks for those days that I can't get situated or organized or run out of time.

I have found some cookbooks to be very helpful in coming up with good recipes. Crockpot cooking, Grilling. (LOVE Both my grill and crock pot because they both are fast and make great meals). I also use the cookbooks Dinner Dr. and the one from the FLy Lady Recipe lady. I forget her name.

Good Luck.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2007 at 11:57AM
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I make a list of at least ten days worth of main meals. Then I make sure I have everything in the house to make those meals. I try and include at least a couple of crockpot meals in there for the busiest evenings. I do like apoem and group my shopping to the layout of the store so I'm in and out ASAP. We have an ongoing grocery list so that I can keep the pantry items well stocked.

We are at the end of the food line for fresh food. It is air freighted in daily. I shop for milk, bread, fruit and fresh veggies a couple of times a week, but those are short trips. We tend to snack on the fresh fruit rather than work it into meals, since it goes bad very fast.

I try not to serve the same meals more than once a month. I can't eat the same thing over and over and I've found with lots of variety, my kids aren't picky or at least know that the meal they don't like won't come up too often. I have my list of meals, but I don't decide what to fix until the night before. Our schedule changes frequently and I don't always know how much time I will have to fix things.


    Bookmark   February 22, 2007 at 1:33PM
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Cooking for 2 here, and use very little processed food. Helps that there are 3 excellent grocers, a fishmonger (CNN rated nationally in the top 10 by CNN, the only inland market in the US to make the list) and a seasonal farm stand all within a mile, and just about anything if I go another mile or two including: ethnic markets, an organic coop, Target, Kmart, Walgreens, heck even Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. My favorite market, 2 miles away, has pretty much just fruit, vegetables, cheese and wine - no packages. Yum. We eat lots of fruit and produce.

I have a habit of scribbling down the supermarket specials from the newspaper inserts into a little spiral notebook I keep in my purse. New week, new page of specials. Then if my commute takes me near one of these places, I know what to stop in for.

Like others, I try to stay stocked up with all the staples. And since I'm doing lots of quick "mini"-shops through the week, I don't have to buy, say, the milk on a given stop if I don't like the price. I stay a couple days ahead on perishable dairy.

For meals, I usually have enough on hand for a couple days' meals, but I don't do plans. I'll stop for fish or start with one of the supermarket protein specials and pick from the produce on hand. Then time, mood, energy, cravings and creativity all might affect what ends up on the plate.

One other thing: I rarely throw any food out. Using up what is on hand will trump any of the above factors and drive a meal plan. This usually works out, but has led to some odd meals.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2007 at 1:20AM
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Like most people have mentioned, I keep staples around the house at all times. Our family's staples, based on the foods we like to eat, are the following: pasta, brown rice, whole grain bread, soft tortillas, potatoes, onions, olive oil, canned legumes, nuts (we keep them in the freezer), peanut butter, jelly, pasta sauce, canned salsa, tomato products (I mostly use whole packed tomatoes and tomato paste), a few types of Progresso canned soup, milk, eggs, butter, some simple cheese for cooking, certain fresh fruits and vegetables (apples, oranges, bananas, broccoli, carrots, celery, baby spinach), certain frozen vegetables (peas, carrots, green beans, corn), canned pineapple, frozen meatballs (my own), a couple pounds of frozen ground beef and/or turkey (in one-pound packages), and a couple pounds of frozen chicken pieces (also in 1-1.5 pound packages), and a few frozen dinners. I'm sure I've forgotten things, but you get the idea. Oh, and in addition to the baking supplies, condiments, sauces and herbs and spices I always have on hand, I keep around a package or two of brownie mix, in case my (live-in, like-a-daughter) niece tells me she needs something to take to school tomorrow.

These staples are the things I buy over and over, whenever needed. I used to have a list that I kept on my computer and printed out each week, but I've been doing it so long I don't need that any more. And if I buy something I don't need yet, I know I'll use it. I buy the canned staples in bulk when I can get a good price, and I try to get the best price possible on the rest, but I honestly don't worry a whole lot about it. I practice FIFO (first in, first out), too - if I buy a few pounds of chicken this week, but still have some chicken left from last week, I'll freeze the fresh chicken and use the frozen.

With these staples, I can always prepare a meal without having to run out to the store. I don't plan meals ahead of time, but I have a general idea of things my family likes to eat, maybe two weeks worth of meals. As I'm making dinner one night, I try to think ahead to the next night and make a tentative plan for what we'll have. Sometimes I'll even do some ahead-of-time prep, though not often (usually only if I want to put something in the crockpot).

In addition to the staples I always have on hand, I also buy meats, produce, or other things that look good or are on sale, but only if I know I can use them in the next day or two. I go shopping a couple times a week for produce, bread and milk, as my favorite market is four blocks from my house (not as good as Tally Sue, but not bad!), so there's always another chance to look for something good on sale. I do the same thing as Celticmoon, too, keeping a short list of things to get if I happen to be near a place that has them on sale.

If I were you, I'd start this process by making a quick list of meals your family likes to eat. Take no more than five minutes to do this. Then take another five or ten minutes to make a quick list of ingredients in these foods. Voila! There's your list of staples to keep around at all times.

Use the list to give you ideas of what to make on a given night. If you have some time, maybe it's tacos or roast pork; if you're rushed, omelettes or spaghetti and meatballs. All with your staple vegetables or whatever you've found on sale that week.

Make another quickie list of snack foods for your kids. The basic snack foods we keep around are carrot and celery sticks, oranges peeled and pulled into sections (I just peel one at a time, then do another when Chloe eats one), turkey slices from the deli rolled up with cheese slices, nuts, raisins, fat-free yogurt, whole wheat crackers to spread with peanut butter or top with cheese, and apples.

Sorry if I went into too much detail. Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 23, 2007 at 3:00AM
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Thank you for all the replies. It is fun to read how everyone works on this basic issue and what the trends are.

From reading the responses, it seems like making a list of what we like to eat (meals, stacks, etc.) would be a great place to start. From there we can build a staples list, meal plan and shopping list.

While the above may be obvious, running a household is much different from being single or just a couple. I can call tortilla chips, an apple and ice cream dinner, but it is not such a good idea to do that with kids.

Well, off to start making lists. I look forward to other responses and suggestions.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2007 at 4:13PM
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My wife and I started off by collecting grocery receipts for six months. At the end of the six months, we listed out everything we had purchased and determined where in our grocery store it was. We organized our list by aisle and which side of the aisle it was on (yes, we're obsessive), and we now are able to complete an entire week's worth of grocery shopping in 15 minutes. It took a little more time up front (and I don't know of anyone else who has ever done this), but we'll never need to figure out what we might be missing when we go shopping. We check off everything we don't have from the list before we leave for the store. I am planning on making a couple changes since we run out of some things consistently (fresh fruit, meats, etc.) but I haven't decided how I want to change our list just yet.

If this is helpful or spurs some ideas, please share!

    Bookmark   February 23, 2007 at 5:18PM
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This is the one thing I have organized and have stuck with it for almost 2 years. It just works that well for me.

I plan meals for a family of 6, 2 adults and 4 kids. I plan and shop for 2 weeks at a time. That's 10-11 dinners, counting on leftovers, pizza order and just sandwiches to fill in the gaps. I live in the 'burbs, multiple groceries are convenient, I just don't like going.

I have an index card file divided by category: chicken, beef, pasta, etc. As a meal comes into the plan it gets written on a card. I find a recipe I want to use, goes on an index card. So all meals in the rotation are on a card. Every two weeks I pull out the meals I plan, with input from DH and kids. I am more aware of pulling from all the categories so there is variety.

Then I make a list (sometimes on the computer, but sometimes I go to the coffee shop alone with my cards and make my list there, next to the grocery store, my little secret). Column 1: the meals; C2: the produce needed; C3: the meat needed; C4 the dairy needed; C5 the box, can or frozen items needed. That the order of the section in the grocery. On the back I write reminders for the "others" like paper products, snack, standard lunch box items or the basics like milk, bread, eggs, cheese.

I fold that paper so the meals show and stick it on the frig. I put all my cards for the week in a bagie and stick that to the frig. So I can see my choices for the week, plan according to what activities are going on, and the card for the day is showing for anyone who asks "What's for dinner?" They also see the list for the rest of the week and can see what they have to look forward to (or not). The kids know now that they can check for this list.

At first, this took me extra time to prepare before I shopped. But now it's habit and goes very quickly. I hate deciding each day what to make for dinner. This way, I've made myself a to-do list for dinner for 2 weeks, I just check my list. I also dread grocery shopping in general, so every two weeks is a relief to me. It does take a long time to put away, though. But I'd rather that than going more often.

I do deviate from the list sometimes, I'm flexible. I buy snacks and certain high frequency items at the warehouse club store once a month and store it in the garage cabinets.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2007 at 11:49PM
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Well, this was an on-going problem in my household. What seems to have finally worked is a monthly calendar. I print it from my Outlook calendar so that I can see what events we have coming up. This gives me an idea of what mornings I need to put something in the crock pot or the nights I need to defrost something to grill or the nights I have time to let something simmer. I plan my meals for the week on Sunday night. I ask for input from my family while we're eating dinner on Sunday night. I write it in pencil. If the plan changes, then I am able to correct it on my calendar for future reference. I keep these calendars in a 1" binder so that I can flip back to the previous year and get ideas of what we had that week. The first year is the trickiest to get started. We tend to eat seasonally, so it gives me ideas. I do have a master list of meals that we can go through to remind us of what we like. I basically rotate these meals. I introduce new meals and we decide if it's a keeper. These go on the master list of meals.

Then, I order my groceries online. Most of the grocery stores in our area have this service. I am able to save various grocery lists based on the meal. So . . . I create my new grocery list off of the meal lists I have saved. I also have a master grocery list of items that I buy weekly. I'm able to drive-through the grocery drive-in on Monday and quickly pick up our food for the week.

There was a local gal that had a front-page newspaper article written about her method of meal organizing. She has a cooking day two days out of the year. She plans and cooks her meals for a 6 month period and freezes them already cooked. She labels them and has them organized in her freezer. She and her family eat out only twice a year - on her cooking days. I ran into her in a restaurant on one of her cooking days. We had a great conversation. She said it made a huge difference in their lives. She actually went to her local library to get ideas for her meal plans. She even freezes her children's peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. I cracked up on that one, but she said they love it because they're defrosted by the time they eat it.

When I cook something that can freeze, such as a spaghetti sauce, I will make extra and freeze it. A good tip for storage space is to freeze it in plastic freezer bags and lay them flat so that they can be stacked.

I hope this helps. It's basically planning and sticking to the plan. As our diets change, we have had to adjust the meal plan.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2007 at 4:34PM
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I've changed my method over the years but what I do now seems to be working the best. I type any recipe that I will cook again into the computer and keep them all in my computer's recipes folder. I plan which meals I will make for the next 2 weeks, print out these recipes and make my shoppoing list. I hold these printed recipes on a magnetic clip on the side of my refrigerator which faces a counter. I feel this gives me the flexibility to pull any recipe from those hanging on any given day since I already have the food in the house. I also keep soups in the freezer that DH happily accepts on those days that I won't be home in time for supper. I also plan which days I won't be cooking because of appointments and know that we will be eating take-out on those days.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2007 at 8:30PM
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I am full of admiration. This is an area I have not tackled. I know it would make my life easier, my husband happier and probably save lots of time and money.
The few times I map out meals for a week, schedules change. All of a sudden I have all this food and no one around to eat it. We end up wasting so much food. It is very discouraging.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2007 at 8:35AM
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Everyone has posted interesting methods, but no one has hit on what I consider to be THE answer. Believe me, what I am about to recommend will absolutely change your life (and no, I am not a paid advertiser!) I am just a frustrated housewife who has no talent for meal planning and takes no pleasure in it. I discovered a fantastic website called The savingdinner method provides you with a weekly mealplan with recipes AND best of all, the shopping list so you get all your ingredients ONCE a week and never have to return to the grocery store! About $10.00 registers you for 3 months worth of meals and you can choose from meals for 2 or 4 people, and low carb, kosher, or "regular" meals. The recipes are generally one skillet main dishes with recommended healthy side dishes. They take about 30 minutes to prepare, and are full of variety and don't waste ingredients. For instance, if Tuesday's recipe calls for 1/2 can of chicken stock, then Friday's recipe calls for the remaining stock. I found the savingdinner plan to be delicious 95% of the time, and always healthy, plentiful, and with excellent variety. My husband and child loved it too. I experienced tremendous freedom, felt like I could finally be competent at this daily and arduous task, and we never ate better. HOWEVER, now my husband's job requires him to be away a lot at suppertime, and my child's extracurricular activities are also beginning to encroach on the dinner hour. So I discontinued the savingdinner plan. I found it worked best when I could devote 4-5 nights to a real family mealtime. Savingdinner wants family's to eat together --- which I heartily agree with --- but our schedule has become too erratic for now. With only one child and no additional adult, the food just doesn't get eaten. Otherwise, it is the best plan out there for meal planning. It doesn't cost much to try it out! Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 8:58AM
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I'm glad Leanne's website and meal plans have worked for your family, liz. I've tried her plans at least three different times, bought her cookbook and my family gave it a resounding thumbs down! I would advise anyone interested in her plan to download the free week she offers. We just found she uses too many frozen chicken breasts, too much canned broth, brown rice over and over, etc. Maybe with her newer low carb stuff, it's different, but I'm too burned out on her stuff to try her again.

Once Flylady mentioned her so much, I have to admit it was the first time I ever really thought of meal planning. I knew to keep groceries in the house, but I didn't realize people actually sat down and planned what they would feed their family other than at a holiday meal or something. My mom certainly didn't.

Once I started searching, I found there are several online meal planning subscriptions. I haven't tried them, but just do my own. (a planning template)


    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 10:01PM
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