Monday, April 14, 2014

Step 5: Write down your monthly grocery list!

This is the final step in developing a monthly shopping list!  If you are interested in starting from the beginning of my system, click here.

Pull out your meal plans from the last 4 weeks.  If you liked what you did, you can call this a monthly meal plan.  If you are not ready to stick to it that closely, just use it to estimate your needs for a monthly shopping list.

Using the meal plan as your guide, write a list of all the ingredients you used over the last month and the amounts. For example, if you eat ground beef twice every week, write down eight packages of ground beef.  Be sure to include staple ingredients like flour and sugar.  Plan to freeze anything possible, like meat, but skip fresh ingredients like vegetables and milk.

Congratulations!  You now own monthly shopping list. Several great money and time saving strategies are within your reach!  I will introduce a few of my favorites, starting with my next post. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Back to a Master Grocery List, Step four: Household items

My series on grocery planning was interrupted by the craziness of moving, and the drive to eat as much of the food that we had on hand as possible.  Now that we're settled in our new home, I have taken up couponing again and am giving alot of thought to taming our grocery situation.  My master grocery list has been a great help.

Step four is pretty easy.  Start in the bathroom, and write down everything you (and your family members) use as part of your personal care routine.  Make note of brand preferences.  Next, write down every cleaner that you ever use.  

There's only one step left to developing a monthly master shopping list.Make sure to keep up and hold on to those weekly meal plans!  Once you've developed your list you'll be ready to shop sales, coupon, save money by buying at bulk stores.  If you are like me, you will also lower your stress load, because you won't forget to pick up necessary items before you run out. Well, at least not as often!

Monday, November 18, 2013

How I am finishing my house work with a lower energy level.

About two weeks ago, I realized that my energy to work ratio isn't what I wish it was, and will not be for a while.  Some experts say that I need more outside help.  My mom would love to help, but she is ten hours away.  My husband does help, but he also works full time and is involved with the kids.   Our financial goals are such that the idea of paying someone to come in isn't attractive, so I am going to need to find some different solutions during this time.

 One of the steps that I took was to write down my weekly and monthly chore lists, laminate the page, and post it on the fridge.  I have framed it under glass instead for the same result in the past.  Every time a chore is finished it is marked off with a dry erase marker.  

One monthly chore is done during each "weekly" rotation.  Nothing is repeated until the whole weekly list is done, which now takes more than a week. As a perfectionist, I would like to do my whole weekly chore list every week, but right now I can't.  Doing all the weekly chores before starting at the beginning again does balance the house work, and result in a cleaner house.  
A second advantage of posting the chore list is that it helps my husband know what needs to be done.  I really appreciate his help, and this method allows him to get involved when he has some time, while I remain his wife and not only the keeper of the house.

When writing the list, I tried to list the chores so that each would take fifteen minutes or less.  Previously, I would have an hour of "work time" in my day.  Finding an hour is difficult right now, and staying on my feet is too.  Instead, I try to find opportunities to cross just one thing off the list before sitting down to rest.

Another change that I made was to my meal plan.  I have introduced a few faster, albeit less healthy options, and am repeating the less time consuming meals more often.  Once a week I am trying to make a favorite that requires more preparation time.  If you have some quick wholesome recipes, please share!

How do you keep your family's quality of life high, when your energy level drops?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Aromatics, the secret ingredient

Today, as I was putting together spaghetti, I was reminded of a fun little trick that I learned last summer.  

I had been on the hunt for the perfect tomato based pizza sauce. Attempt after attempt was falling flat. My pizza boasted a mostly whole wheat crust, vegetarian toppings, and preprocessed sauce--if it was going to get the family thumbs up.

Then my husband's aunt gave me a copy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. His pizza sauce recipe called for crushed garlic, sautéed in oil. Eureka! That was it. Of course, I had used garlic before, bit the trick was sautéing it first. Now my pizza recipe was simple and complete. 

As I worked through the recipes I started to notice a pattern. Any sauce or mixture, such as refried beans, started with chopping and frying one of several vegetables. I now know that these vegetables are called "aromatics" and include garlic, onion, celery and even carrots. Oil or butter can be infused with aromatic flavor in just a couple of minutes by simple frying, and the result is an ingredient that will take almost any recipe from edible to yum!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Step three: Rounding out my weekly meal plan

Once I am in the habit of writing a weekly meal plan, and using it efficiently, the next thing to do is round out the meal plan so that it includes everything we we eat, not just dinner.   Planning decreases my personal chaos, and if you are looking for ways to improve your health, intentional eating has to be near the top of your list. 

 Four areas need to be considered.  


We eat cereal, specifically oatmeal, six days a week.  Once a week, my husband makes a lovely full breakfast.  My part of planning breakfast is easy, just multiply the amount needed, and I get the rest of the list from him.


We usually eat up our left overs for lunch. but sometimes we run out of left overs. We eat more than the average family with pre-schoolers.  Right now days that we run out of leftovers, we eat sandwhiches. so lunch-meat, cheese, bread, and pickles need to go on the shopping list.  Hummus and pita or quesadillas make nice on- hand back ups too.


An easy snack is whichever fruit is ninety-nine cents per pound.  When that was nothing, and the budget was tight, we a pounds and pounds of carrot sticks.  Cutting them up ourselves resulted in a happier eating experience.  Pop corn is another cheap, reasonably healthy snack.  Bulk nuts are a recent easy, though pricier, addition to our snack menu.  

We also enjoy home made dessert and ice-cream.  Making more healthy baked and cooked snacks is one of my current menu goals.


When you regularly rent new places it often takes some work to get drinkable water.  My husband has done a great job of solving that dilemma, but in the mean time I need to be sure to buy water.

We also find that intentionally having drinks like tea on hand decreases the likelyhood we resort to less healthy options like soda.

The key to this step is to write down foods that you and your family will actually eat, then make a point to buy them.  If the food is going to take preparation, I need to schedule that as well, especially for snacks. 

 In this post, I tried to give what I believe to be easy options, but what is easy at my house may not be as easy at yours.  The most important thing at this stage in the game is to make an intentional decision.  There is plenty of time to make a better decision later.  At the beginning, the most important thing is to discipline myself to write down an intentional plan every week.

In your home, do you have categories of food that do not fall under breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and drinks?  If so, what are they?

Other posts in this series:

Step Two: Using my weekly meal plan

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Step Two: Using my weekly meal plan

This adorable apron was gift from my roommate's mom!

In my last post, I started a series that outlines my steps to a complete grocery shopping system.  I have followed these steps several times now.  Each time we move, I find it helpful to repeat. This post will be more useful if you click here and read  that post first.

Here is what I do with my meal plan

Write a grocery list

As soon as I finish laying out the meals, I grab a piece of paper and start checking my kitchen for every ingredient for every meal.  If I do not already have the ingredient on hand, or if it is almost gone, I write it on my grocery list.

Right now, I do one major shopping trip per week.  We usually make a couple of extra stops back at the grocery store later in the week for milk and items that spoil quickly like avocados.   I write that short list in my planner, so I that I can grab it quickly, or more likely, text it to my husband on his way home from work.  When I knew that it would be difficult to make a second trip to the store, I planned the meals that required those ingredients for the day after the grocery run.  Of course, sometimes it makes more sense to shop every day.  In that case, just write down a new list for each day.

On the other extreme is monthly meal shopping, but we aren't ready for that yet!

Check my meal plan for what to cook

Ideally, I check my meal plan at three different times.  First, I glance at it in the evening before bed.  This alerts me if I need to soak beans, or pull meat out of the freezer to thaw.   Second, I glance at it again in the morning.   This way I am sure not to forget to put in crock-pot meals, make bread, or run by the store for last minute ingredients.  Finally, I often look at it an hour before dinner.  Sometimes, I don't look at the meal plan and just make what I think it says, which is often what I meant to cook a different night!

Rearrange meals

Life is not predictable.  One of the great things about having a meal plan pre-written is that it makes it easy to change course midweek.    I usually plan a simple meal with no ahead of time preparation for the last night of the week.  Then, if I did not get time to do the intended prep work today, I simply make the no- prep meal that I planned for later in the week. 

Step one, writing down a seven day meal plan, and step two, using the meal plan are steps that improve my ability to put dinner on the table efficiently the first week in our new home.  Every week, the process becomes a little easier.

In my next post I'll talk about extending the meal plan to make it even more useful.  

Do you use a meal plan?  Can you think of other benefits?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Grocery Master Plan, Step One: A write a one week meal plan

I am slowly becoming a fan of using multi-step programs to improve one area of my life or another.  My latest favorite is The Granny Plan from Granny's Vital Vittles.  As we have been bouncing around the country, our grocery habits have been rather eccentric.  As we have been settling into our new home, I have also been settling into a routine of grocery shopping and cooking.

The one problem with the "Granny plan" is that Granny did not move nearly as often as we do.  The whole concept of building up a pantry (a key step in the program) is thwarted, when you continually move in a matter of months, rather than years.

So, I thought I would share the system that I have developed over time to help me stream line the store to table process both financially and time wise.  I find it useful to start this process at the beginning every time we move, although pieces of it can be reused.  Ultimately, using this system you can switch over to shopping for staples monthly,  or even less often.  Or, you can plan to start utilizing all the great tricks for purchasing needed goods at the best prices.  Or, you can just be sane and get dinner on the table without stressing about it too much.

Step one:  Write down a what you are going to cook for dinner for the next seven days.  

Here are my rules for writing down this week's meal plan.

1.  The complete menu for each dinner is written down--either on a list on the fridge or in my planner.  I can't decide which place I like better

2.  No more than one new recipe may be included in any week's plan.  Cooking new recipes takes more time than cooking things I have already mastered.  This rule keeps me from overwhelming myself.

3.  Repeated meals, purposeful leftovers, frozen pizza, and restaurants are all valid entries on the meal plan.  The point is to plan ahead, so that on a given day you can swing into action rather than using time and energy to make a decision in the moment.   There is plenty of time later for becoming super woman of the kitchen.

That's it.  Go ahead and write yourself a quick meal plan.  In my next post,
I'll share what I do with my seven day meal-plan.  In the mean time, please share any hints you have on how to write a successful meal-plan.