Thursday, September 24, 2009

Menu planning and grocery shopping

Last week or so, I ran an informal and completely unscientific poll about grocery shopping amongst my friends locally and on Facebook. I'm a voyeur when it comes to food. (I love to know what people eat, how they shop, where they shop, what they buy, etc.) With the exception of two people, everyone I asked grocery shops once or twice a week, same as we do. Only a handful shop at Farmer's Markets. One shops daily because she likes to grocery shop, and it's on her way home from work. The other shops almost daily because he has two teenagers with squirrely schedules, and it's anybody's guess whether they'll be eating at home, or grabbing something fast before a soccer game. Also, he lives in a small town, and his groceries are within a few minutes of the house.

The reason I put this question out there in the first place is because of my cooking magazines. The ideal is to cook the "European" way - go to the market, see what's fresh and appealing, skip home with your basket and make a delicious meal out of it. That's the dream. Let's look at it a minute. Isn't it pretty? Ahhhh...

OK. Time to wake up. Let's look at reality square in the face. Well, at any rate, MY reality, and the reality of the friends I've talked to.

First of all, none of us (meaning the peeps I asked) live in big cities. Or Europe. We live in towns with sprawling suburbia, where the nearest supermarket is a 10 minute drive, for the most part. Ten minutes doesn't seem like all that much, but when you double it (for driving there AND home) and then add in the time it takes to get out of the car and go in there and buy your stuff, you're talking 30 - 40 minutes. When you tack that on to every single day, it's a significant time chunk that personally, I'd rather spend doing something else. If it was a fresh European market, I'd happily spend 30 minutes a day wandering through there. But the Teeter... not so much.

Then there's the "fresh" factor. I wouldn't exactly call the food in supermarkets "fresh". At least not open-air market fresh. The stack of Braeburn apples they're restocking with on Monday came in a big ol' shipment last Thursday that left the processor in a truck three days before that. It's being kept in the back in a refrigerated area. So "fresh" is relative there. If you go in Tuesday, you're getting the same batch of apples you got the day before, the day before that, and three days before that. Perhaps I exaggerate, but you get the point. Shopping daily at the supermarket does not get you meals that are any fresher than going once a week, for the most part.

Of course, there are an increasing number of Farmer's Markets, and I love 'em. But ours is downtown, and once a week - on Saturday mornings. For my friends who live farther out, and have little kids, forget it. We're fortunate that it's convenient for us, since we live close to downtown. But there again, I go and buy a bunch of stuff and use it through the week. By Thursday, it's certainly not new anymore. Newer than the supermarket fare, yes, but not all shiny.

So to make the best of a situation that isn't ideal (by cooking magazine and chef standards), I try to plan a week of menus. When I take the time (and it DOES take some time), we eat better, and there's less waste. I try new things, and we don't wind up with a variation of the same old last-minute meals. You know what I'm talking about. "Crap. It's 6:00, and I haven't started dinner. Hmm... I guess I can roast some potatoes, and cook some chicken." We eat healthier, too. As I've mentioned time and again, vegetables are my nemesis, and I either cook them in ways that get left on the plate (see yesterday's entry), or don't have any to cook in the first place because I didn't plan and it's Thursday and we're out of everything except frozen blackeyed peas.

MasterCook makes this tons easier for me. It lets me browse my cookbooks for things I've stuck in there that I want to try, assemble a week of menus, then export a shopping list for it. I can go in and edit the shopping list for the location of the items, too. It automatically puts a grocery store location for standard items, and I can change that to "Farmer's Market" or "Costco", for example, which lets me then organize the list as I go place to place.

So this morning, I have a Salad and Soup cookbooks sitting on my desk, and at some point this evening, I will sit down and plan this week's menus. I've already decided that since it's a free weekend, I'll be playing Domestic Goddess. I'm going to cook a bunch of vegetable soups (I have a chicken thawing now to roast for dinner tonight and will make the remains into stock tomorrow), and we're going to try some new salads this week. Saturday morning will be Farmer's Market and grocery - oop - actually I bet we wind up going to the grocery tomorrow. Someone is out of bananas for his breakfast smoothies. (He hasn't discovered that yet. I'm expecting some swearing from the kitchen shortly.)

So stay tuned and tomorrow we'll do some menu planning together!


Anonymous said...

You might like Social networking. Dinner ideas. Recipes. Pretty cool. --Christina,

Andie Reid said...

Thanks, Christina! I'll check it out!

Holly said...

I am so totally pumped to find someone else for whom vegetables are a battlefield. Nemesis is the perfect word. Rock on.