In New Orleans, we don’t buy groceries. We “make groceries.” Whatever you call it, feeding a family of five is no small task, especially if one wants to stay out of the drive thru lane. Lucky me, I have a chef for a husband and a daughter in culinary school. We’re officially “foodies” now. I know. So cool.
Lately, we’ve been working on a menu-planning, grocery makin’ project. Here’s what we did:
STEP 1: INVENTORY
I’ve learned from my very own Chef that inventory is an important part of menu planning and grocery making. Honestly, it’s something I didn’t do much of in the past, though I’ve done my share of attempts at menu organizing and grocery list making. So we took inventory of everything we had in the house. Every. Single. Consumable. Item.
We made a word document and divided our items into categories so we can see a list of our stock on paper. Knowing what you have on hand is important, right down to the spices, jams, jellies, vinegars, everything. To my surprise, we planned almost four weeks’ worth of meals off of what we already have on hand. This also was a way to reveal the things we’ve had on hand for like, a year, and have never eaten. When something’s been sitting in your freezer or pantry for a year, there’s a good chance it’s either out of date or it’s something your family really doesn’t like. Might’ve looked good in the store or been a great deal, but if you aren’t going to eat it… you get the point. What… ya’ll know you’ve got some Ramen noodles from 2010 just like I do.
My husband keeps an inventory list on hand at work and uses it when he orders groceries every week. (The UNGLAMOROUS part of a chef’s job, my friends. Behind the scenes, they sit at computers, order groceries, spend hours inside freezers and refrigerators and worry about food costs. They endure all of that to bring a smile to your mouth. That’s why they’re so sexy.) So we’ve decided to do the same at home to help us use up the things we have and know when we’re getting low on staples that we use often. I printed our list and put it on the fridge so that we can mark off things as we use them up.
STEP 2: PLAN MENU
In the past, I’ve tried doing this by the week and bi-week and month. I’ve had successes and failures all ways. This time, I decided to just see how far our inventory would take us. ANNND our handy-dandy inventory list kept us from having to run back and forth to the fridge, freezer or pantry to make sure we have an item needed for a meal. Interestingly, we got almost all the way to the end of the month planning meals out of our inventory. I’m not necessarily a proponent of shopping by the month, but I do love the idea of one MAIN trip to the store each month and the rest of your trips are just for perishables like milk and eggs. This is the way it worked out for us and is how we’ll probably continue to roll, considering our time is so limited anyway, and one Saturday morning per month to shop for groceries with a three-year-old is a gracious Lord’s plenty if you ask me.
Since we are a family of food-lovers, we all sat down together and brainstormed our menus. We planned three meals each day, since we homeschool and actually serve all three meals at home. We used some cute printables for this. I’ve found that even though my big kids are capable of getting their own lunch, they do better knowing what’s for lunch that day, which means less blank staring into an open fridge, which is fine with me.
In the future, I’m thinking we’ll put the food magazines, websites, and cookbooks that overrun our home into good use as we brainstorm more creative ideas to add to our inventory and meal repertoire. That’s why they have Pinterest, right?
STEP 3: MAKE A GROCERY LIST
I don’t feel the need to get all crazy with a grocery list. The perfectionist in me considers, for a second, that all the dairy should be together, then the meat, then the freezer aisle, then the staples… then I slap her and just get the list on paper. The reason for having a list is to keep from getting sidetracked by the “deals” at the store on the aisle endcaps, and by the Oreos you always want to buy. Don’t act like I’m the only one.
STEP 4: SHOP
I take the kids with me grocery shopping. I do this because life IS school, and the grocery store is part of life. I do this because I want them to see the REASON behind the math work they have to do. I do impromptu math lessons in the grocery store aisle as we figure out which item is REALLY the best price. Hint: It’s not always the item “on sale.” I also do impromptu logic and reasoning lessons. For example, we bought applesauce this trip. We talked about the fact that there are individual packs of applesauce, but for less money we could get a large jar of applesauce and portion it out ourselves. We discussed the fact that what we were really paying for would be the convenience of not having to wash dishes and spoon out portions. We decided it was worth the price to have a little less clean-up and to have something Caleb can snack on by himself without much help. We also discussed how most prepackaged foods aren’t the best choices and we can make so many things ourselves and save money.
Lessons like these are priceless. If you ask me, it’s fine to spend money on whatever you deem worthwhile, as long as YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING. I want my kids to know where their money is going and how to decide if what you are buying is worth the price TO YOU.
STEP 5: EAT TOGETHER!!!
Ya’ll, none of this works if you still go to McDonald’s most nights. You gotta cook the food, put it on the table, sit down and eat. This is our favorite part, the main attraction. All of the inventory, menu planning, listing and shopping are simply to lead up to the actual EATING TOGETHER.
Makin’ groceries is a big part of makin’ a family.