Typical menu planning involves multiple dependent steps:
- Find out what’s on sale or what coupons you have.
- Find recipes you can cook and want to eat.
- Figure out what ingredients you need to cook those recipes.
- Try to mesh the ingredients you need with what you have and what’s on sale.
- Plan it out in some way that will be helpful at 5pm Wednesday night.
I got tired of spreading out with so many papers and trying to work it all out. I felt obligated to make it as efficient and frugal as I could, and it was a draining project that I dreaded, whether I did it once a week or once a month. I knew there had to be a simpler way. Over the course of three years of intentional paring down, my current method developed.
I decided I wanted a system that met these criteria:
- Grocery shopping and recipe choosing had to be independent rather than integral.
- At the store, I wanted to be able to buy whatever cut of meat was on sale, or take advantage of a discovered discount without disrupting my menu plan or having to find a new recipe at home (one I’d likely have to return to the store to get some ingredient I didn’t know I’d need).
- I wanted to be able to pick up whatever vegetable looked good or was on sale at the store or farmer’s market and know I could do something with it when home — with what I already had at home, without any special trip to the store to secure some special ingredient.
- I really wanted to keep staples on hand and never run out of them and be forced to run emergency errands.
- I wanted to keep the items on my master staple grocery list as minimal as possible, and I wanted those items to be basic ingredients, not packets and boxes containing who-knows-what.
- I wanted meals I could throw together in less than an hour, and I wanted them to be flexible recipes I could cook off the top of my head, or with a simple glance at a reference.
That reference became my eBook: Simplified Dinners
And what do you need to able to cook any meat or vegetable you happen upon at market?
- Garlic & Onions.
- Olive Oil.
I have met my goals and I am very pleased with the results. Keeping fewer ingredients on hand eliminates or at least lessens worries about food spoilage or forgetting about that bottle of chutney in the back of the fridge.
Making simple food from scratch is more wholesome and satisfying, and if the ingredients are already on hand, it is often faster to just make something than go out and get take out or that special ingredient you’re missing.
The trick is knowing what you can do with what you have, even on the days when brain power is low and inspiration is non-existant.