I’m the first person to admit that grocery shopping is no fun. It can take a good bit of time, there are lines, and the whole time you’re there you think “I still have to cook when I get home.”
But the complaints I don’t understand are those concerning cost, having to run out for one last thing (ok, so every now and then this happens, but it’s my own fault), and having food go bad before it’s used.
So here’s the quick and easy guide to once-a-week grocery shopping for people who hate it.
1: Make a meal plan.
Figure out what you’re going to have for dinner every night for a week. I work weird hours, so for instance on Tuesday and Wednesday, my home-cooked meal will be lunch. As I’m figuring out meals, I grab any cookbooks I’ll be using. This week, I looked at Crave by Ludovic Lefebvre, How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, and Baked by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. This should only take about ten minutes. Then. . .
2. Make a list.
This is the obvious way to avoid forgetting ingredients, making multiple trips, and the dreaded impulse buy. I try to separate my list into produce, meat, dairy, baking, frozen, and general items, and the stars remind me of what I’m going to write about on here. I don’t expect everyone to be so compulsive, but having a written list both of the meals you plan to eat and the ingredients you need to make it happen keeps you from having to drive across town just after par-baking a pie crust when you realize that you do not in fact have eggs for the pie filling. Having the recipe I’m going to use in front of me when I make the list means I won’t forget to write down the things I don’t have.
Mistake #1 (and I absolutely still do this) is to buy something you already have plenty of. Wednesday I’m having pasta with carrot sauce and peas. But neither carrots not pasta made the list, because I have about six kinds of pasta in the pantry and almost a pound of carrots in the fridge. I’m low on peas, though, so I wrote that down. I wrote down flour, too, even though I already have quite a bit, because I’m doing a good bit of baking this week and it’s not particularly perishable.
Mistake #2 is to freak out if the store doesn’t have something or what they have doesn’t look very good. Substitutions are fine. For instance all of the bananas in the store today were way underripe, so I skipped them and got some yogurts for breakfast instead. I also saw some colorful fingerling potatoes and decided I could smoke those instead of making mash next Sunday with my Cornish hen.
Mistake #3 is to buy perishables in bulk because of a sale. Mr. Blackbird’s mother does this constantly, and I do not understand it. Five pounds of broccoli, while delicious, is way too much broccoli for two or even four people to get through in the five to seven days before it gets ooky.
So in short: grocery shopping is no fun, and neither is list-making, but doing both once a week means that this household of two is having a delicious home-cooked meal for seven of the next eight days, plus ingredients for simple breakfasts and my lunchbox (yes, I have a lunch box) for $90. which is actually more than usual, as it includes $10 of pecans for the two pecan pies I’ll be finishing up tomorrow.
Oh, one last thing. Just because you want to keep it simple and cheap doesn’t mean you can never go to a specialty market or store. There’s a cheese shop in downtown Dallas where I can get crazy cheeses and the occasional smoked salt. I love the asian market where I can find miso paste, mirin, a wide selection of rice and plum wines, and whole frozen duck for 1/3 the cost of the regular grocery store (which only carries duck around the holidays anyway). It never hurts to stop in at the local farmer’s market and see what’s fresh and good, either. Just make sure you have a culinary plan for all the delicious things you find, and don’t overdo it. Now stop admiring my mighty fine lunch box and collection of Cthulhu games and get cooking!