Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This Week's Shopping List - How to

Since this is my first shopping list post, I want to clarify how I go about making a shopping list. First, check out the previous post regarding keeping up a pantry, specifically regarding making lists. Whenever I find that I am running out of something, it goes on my list on the fridge right away, before I forget.

When I make a particular week's shopping list (as opposed to the running list that stays on the fridge), I start by looking in my fridge to see what I already have, what's about to go bad, and what can keep, if need be. Then I plan my meals for the week.

Breakfast always includes the same choices, so I don't need to plan that. Our breakfasts are really very typical of the American diet, I think, except that they are all whole grain and mostly organic. These are the breakfast options in our house (some are more for special treats, and some are for every day):

- Cold cereal with milk
- Oatmeal with fruit (fresh, dried or frozen), cinnamon, ground flax seed, agave and milk
- Eggs or omelette with toast or english muffins
- Whole wheat pancakes with or without fruit, with real maple syrup
- Whole grain waffles (a frozen indulgence)
- Whole wheat bagels with cream cheese (neufchatel, really) or sliced cheese
- Drinks include milk, orange juice, coffee, tea and seltzer

Snacks, like breakfast, stay about the same every week (although things come and go off the list):
- Fruit (generally whatever is in season)
- Dried fruit (raisins mostly, and mostly for my daughter)
- Yogurt (my daughter and I eat plain yogurt, and my husband eats the sweetened kind)
- Smoothie pops (blended and frozen mixture of frozen fruit, plain yogurt, ground flax seed, veggie powder and milk)
- Dried veggies (From a company called Just Tomatoes ... typically we get the peas and corn)
- Brown rice cakes and Multigrain cakes
- Toasted Nori
- Crackers
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios)
- Granola
- Pretzels

Lunch varies from week to week, but as a rule, I make a pot of something and make it last the week, or almost all week, and then I improvise the rest. In most cases, I make soup, and I make nearly every variety of soup you can imagine, but other possibilities are good for lunch, too. I make green salads, pasta salads, mac n cheese (no, not Kraft!), bean salads, rice & beans, and many others. I try to keep lunch vegetarian for the most part. This is great for cutting costs, since meat is so expensive, and it means that we are not over-indulging in animal fats. I will sometimes add some fish, like sardines, to lunch, but that is very inexpensive and high in Omega 3 fatty acids (as well as calcium), so the exception is warranted. Typically, lunch is also heavy on the veggies.

Dinner is much more variable. I don't have the typical family rotation of 5-10 things I cook. I relish making new things, and often forget that I can make them again. That's my thing, though, and it's certainly not necessary to being healthy or saving money. But it does help make cooking fun, and eating even more fun! Most weeks, I plan to make 3-4 dinners, and eat leftovers the rest of the week. That makes it possible for me to not cook some days. For the odd occasion when I'm just too tired or busy to cook, and there are no leftovers, we do have some bulk foods in the freezer that are reasonably healthy, and not too expensive. We try not to use them, though.

Just as I have a rule to stay vegetarian for lunch, I also have rules about proteins at dinner. I usually make 1 dish with fish (wild Alaskan salmon is most common), 1 dish with poultry, and one dish that is vegetarian. If I make four dishes in a week, the last could be a repeat of a protein, or I may cook bison. Almost never do I cook beef. All of this serves several purposes:
- We don't spend a fortune on meat because we don't buy very much of it.
- We don't overindulge in animal fats, which are generally saturated fats. This also serves an environmental purpose, as well as serving our hearts, as livestock are key contributors to global warming, deforestation, and water pollution.
- We don't overindulge in fish that may contain high levels of mercury (although wild fish has low mercury by comparison to farmed fish), while also giving us enough fish to satisfy our need for Omega 3s
- We give non-animal proteins a role in our diets that allows for greater diversity of nutrients.

It probably goes without saying that almost everything we eat is made in our house. Not everything, but just about all our dinners and lunches, and many breakfasts and snacks. Since we are using a lot of fresh ingredients, it's important to be familiar with what is actually fresh. This means getting to know seasonality of foods. If you know what's in season, you'll have a good idea of what will look good at the market, and you'll be able to plan your meals ahead of time. Just go with the idea that you might need to make substitutions if something on your list looks really lousy.

So, this week's meal plan is as follows:
Lunch: Sort of minestrone soup with beet green and aduki beans (it's what I had around, and it worked pretty well!) with english muffins and sardines
- Grilled salmon over salad with garlic toast
- Chicken breasts (bone-in) with butternut squash, yams & dried apricots over whole wheat couscous
- Stir fry with broccoli, carrots, cashews, egg, turnip greens, onion, garlic and ginger over brown rice
- Spinach and basil pesto over whole wheat capellini (this may get frozen or pushed off to next week if it's not needed this week)

To make my list, I determine what ingredients are needed for everything I will be making. In many cases, I already have what I need, and in some cases, I may need to buy a few things. Then I look over my refrigerator list and see what needs to be bought this week, and what can/should be put off (mostly to wait for sales). Then I look over the supermarket sales flyer (if your health food store has a sales flyer, great! Mine doesn't.) and make a note of the items that are worthwhile buying, along with sizes and prices. Don't just write the sales items on your list. I don't know how many times I've seen sale items not marked as such at the store (especially in the meat department), so make sure you're getting the right price. Next, I look through my coupons, which are very few at this point. I'll get into the art of coupon clipping in a future post. And that gives me my list. I usually re-write the list in the order they appear in the store, just so I don't waste too much time while shopping.

My weekly shopping is typically done at three stores: local supermarket, local health food store (in the same strip mall), and a larger, better health food store about 20 minutes away. These are not the only places I get groceries, however. I shop through two wholesale co-ops, one wholesale club (Costco), and I am a member of a CSA (Community Support of Agriculture) that provides a weekly box of locally grown organic vegetables. So, all of these things factor into my budget, as well. I'll go into each of those in more depth on another ocassion. For now, we'll focus on the list for the supermarket and health food stores. Here it is (all produce is organic, except the broccoli):

red pepper
butternut squash
fresh basil
broccoli crowns (99 cents/lb.)
golden delicious apples ($1.69/lb.)
cranberries ($2.99/pk)
leaf lettuce (99 cents bunch)
dried apricots
canned diced tomatoes (28 oz.)
Sunspire baking chips ($2.99 10 oz.)
puffed corn
Earth's Best waffles ($1.99 box)
sliced cheese
plain yogurt
split chicken breasts ($4.99/lb)
orange juice
fresh bread

I was able to buy everything from this list, except the apples, raisins, puffed corn and waffles (always get rain checks for out-of-stock sale items). Knowing my pantry, I also bought a bag of organic brown sugar that was on sale and good-looking grapes that were a good price at the health food store. Everything I bought (most of which is organic) came to $82.25. My CSA share (although it's already paid for at the beginning of the season) costs me about $14/week. Since we need to spend less than $7 per person per day (figuring my daughter counts as a half person), we have $122.50 per week to spend. That leaves us with $26.25 to spare for the week. I'm about to put in a big food order with one of my wholesale co-ops (mostly spices and such). That will put me over for this week, but that spending will save me plenty in the months to come (spices last a loooooooooong time!).


Andrea Stevens said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this! I will share with family and friends! --Andrea, fellow HMN member, Metro-Detroit

Healthy & Green on the Cheap said...

Glad it was helpful to you! And thanks for passing it on!