The Topic: Save time, money, and your precious produce by VN Associate Editor Jennifer Chen
The Dish: Going to the grocery store to me is like the proverbial candy shop. I could spend hours wandering Berkeley Bowl West, checking out new products and exploring the bulk bins. I would toss everything that interested in me in my cart (hello, shiittake mushrooms), rack up a hefty grocery bill, then get frustrated that I loaded up on quality organic produce and ended up throwing out mushy veggies or rotten fruit. I came across a handy menu-planning article in Real Simple that changed my life, and will change yours too!
1) Plan ahead. Using this simple checklist, in the menu column, I write down the recipes I want to make during the week. Then I list any ingredients that I'm missing under the appropriate column so when I'm grocery shopping, I know exactly what I need. While the meal planner does list meat, poultry, dairy, and fish, I simply use those columns for my proteins like tofu, tempeh, or beans, and list my non-dairy products in the dairy column. I usually plan over two weeks so that I don't have to shop every weekend. Bonus! Write down the cookbook and page number or website you got the recipe from directly under the day of the week and you'll never have to scramble for it when you're crazy starving after a long day at work.
2) Divvy up the work. Got roommates, a partner, or even able-bodied kids? Enlist them in your menu planning! In my household, my husband and I divide up our menu based on our schedules so that if I have a busy Tuesday night, he can tackle that dinner. We use our weekends to make our own seitan, cook beans, or bake up a big veggie lasagna. During the week, we pick simple 30-minute recipes and save the fancy ones for the weekend like this Seitan Bourguignon from the Martha Stewart vegan episode.
3) Grow your own herbs. Instead of buying a small $5 container of sage for Biscuits with Creamy Sage Gravy, I simply go to my backyard container garden and snip some fresh sage myself. I'm not the world's greatest gardener, but my mom is slowly teaching me how to be a better one. I have a simple herb garden of parsley, rosemary, tri-color sage, and Italian oregano growing in containers in my backyard. Rosemary and sage are pretty sturdy plants so if you're a newbie like me, you won't kill them instantly like I used to do with basil plants (sorry, basil!).
The Final Word: Spending some time planning out your meals will not only save you from throwing out valuable produce, it will save you the stress of the 7pm mad dash to figure out what you're making for dinner every night. And with all the money you're saving, you can even splurge on a nice meal out with your cooking partner.