My hubby and I genuinely love to cook. He’s the better cook, but I’m the better baker, and together we have a great time in the kitchen. We really didn’t take meal planning or grocery shopping too seriously back when it was just the two of us. It was easy enough to run to the grocery store when we needed something, or dine out at one of our favorite eateries in Fairfield County.
But in the past year, my grocery shopping and cooking habits have changed quite a bit, and not just due to the extra mouth we have to feed! We’ve gotten into the habit of making our meal plan/shopping list for the week and then sticking to one big shopping trip per week. It’s been working great. I still end up at the grocery store at least one other day mid- week (due to having a small fridge and not being able to stock up on essentials like milk or juice) but overall I feel much less crazed when dinnertime rolls around! Here are some tips that have been working for me:
- Keep a recipe collection. There is nothing worse than sitting down with a blank shopping list and having no idea what you feel like cooking and eating for the following week. When that happens, I peruse our recipe binder (a simpler version of this one). When we find a recipe that we love, I copy it into the binder. Many recipes are online now and some prefer to print them out and keep them that way, but I love handwritten recipes. Between our recipe binder and our favorite cookbooks, it doesn’t take much time to create a meal plan with a few entrees and side dishes for the week.
- Keep the weekly sales flyer in mind. I shop at Caraluzzi’s (locations in Newtown, Bethel, and Georgetown) and I love it. But wherever you shop, you can generally get a copy of their sales flyer for the upcoming week. I often let the proteins that are on sale guide my meal planning for that week. For example, this week salmon and the “pure” (antibiotic/hormone free) chicken tenders were on sale at Caraluzzi’s. Once I saw that, I decided we’d be having Eli’s Asian Salmon (cut way back on the soy sauce!) and Tamarind Marinated Chicken Curry (from our favorite Indian cookbook). Done!
- Keep the weeknights simple. The weeknights where I end up prepping, cooking, and cleaning the kitchen are not my favorites. Especially when there is an adorable 17 month old hanging off my legs! The hubby and I do a lot of cooking on the weekends when we have more time. Also, since our meals last more than one evening, there’s always a “cooking night” and a “reheating leftovers” night. On those leftover nights, it’s a huge help if I can prep/chop/measure ingredients for dinner the following night. The rare leftovers night when there’s no prep for the next day are my favorite!
- Keep your fridge and pantry stocked with backup meals. I LOVE pasta. We honeymooned in Italy and I got to eat it for lunch and dinner every day…it was heaven! So keeping a few jars of our favorite pasta sauce and boxes of dried pasta in the pantry make for an easy, quick dinner any night of the week. Or, for something more substantial, there are a ton of yummy frozen raviolis available (my favorites are from Villarina’s) that cook up in no time and have a long “shelf life” in your freezer. When we cook something that makes a big batch like chili, meatballs, or soup, we frequently freeze half to have later. Pulling something out of the freezer for dinner the next day makes my night!
- Keep an eye out for potential recipes. Sometimes, even after looking through all my favorite recipes, cookbooks, and the sales flyer, I am still stuck! When that happens, I go to Food Network, Epicurious, or Weelicious. On each of those websites (or apps), I have an online recipe box where I save recipes I might like to try. Often I come across a recipe or two I hadn’t even remembered saving! Yum.
Now that we’re getting ready to welcome Baby #2 this summer, I’m remembering how tricky grocery shopping was in those newborn days. Once the enormous infant carseat was placed in the shopping cart, I could hardly fit any groceries around him! We may be eating a lot of pasta come August.