Friday, June 24, 2011


Thanks to my mom, the knowledge of how to plan a week's worth of meals and buy groceries has been embedded in my brain since childhood. And it is so helpful.  Every week, I cook all but one or two meals at home. What makes this pleasurable, instead of a pain in the ass, is knowing what's on the menu and being assured that I have all the ingredients on hand to make it.  So today, I thought I would share my process, and maybe help out anyone who is still learning how to do it.

First I look at the store circular that comes in the mail on Wednesday and see if there are any sale items that jump out at me. This week, corn and pineapple are super cheap, so I start my grocery list with those items and keep them in mind when planning my meals.

Next I make my menu for the week. I ask Tony if he has any requests. I get out a couple of cookbooks and browse through them, writing down recipes that sound good. This week, I made all my selections from Appetite for Reduction. I looked for recipes where I can use my sale items. Pineapple collards? Perfect.

One thing I try to do is put the more produce-heavy meals at the beginning of the week. You don't want to be looking forward to that veggie curry on Friday, only to open your crisper and find that your zucchini are looking sad and wilted because you bought them a week ago. This isn't a huge worry for us right now because the produce I get here usually stays fresh longer than a week. In New York, for some reason, things went bad more quickly, so I really had to keep that in mind.

OK, this is my menu. The number after each recipe is the page number in the cookbook. (If I use more than one cookbook, I use little abbreviated designations like "AFR 80" or "VYY 43.") That way, when it is time to cook, I can flip right to the page.

Saturday - eating out
Sunday - Butternut Coconut Rice (80), Pineapple Collards (93), Blackened Tofu (147)
Monday - Cauliflower Pesto Soup (211), fingerling potatoes with rosemary
Tuesday - Chili Lime Tofu (155), Shaved Brussels (92), Creamed Corn (94)
Wednesday - Smoky Split Pea Soup (223)
Thursday - Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad (45)
Friday - eating at relatives
Also going to make - kale chips, chocolate tofu mousse

I don't make a breakfast or lunch menu. Tony rarely comes home for lunch, and the kids and I typically eat leftovers or graze on whatever we feel like. So I just take a minute to think about what we might want to eat, and make sure to write down anything we need, such as sandwich bread or chickpeas for making hummus.

At the same time I'm writing my menu, I am making my grocery list below it. I look at each recipe and write down any ingredients I don't have. Often this involves getting up and checking the pantry to make sure. Then I check the dry-erase board in the kitchen, where we jot down staple foods as we run out of them. After adding those items, my list is finished.

This week's list:

1 pineapple
3 ears corn
1 sm. red onion
1 med. onion
Brussels sprouts
1 butternut squash
1 shallot
Big piece ginger
3 limes
1 lb. collards
1 cauliflower
1 cucumber
4 oz. string beans
2 c. mixed greens
1 red pepper
3 tofu (2 firm, 1 silken)

Lime juice
Split peas
Granola bars
Spaghetti sauce
Tortilla chips
Pickled jalapenos

That's my list for the supermarket. I try to write it in the order that the items are arranged in the store, but usually I just end up having two columns -- one for produce and one for everything else. I don't need any "specialty" ingredients like nutritional yeast this week. But when I do, I make a separate little list for the health food store.

I do my grocery shopping on Thursday or Friday. I hate going on the weekends because it's so busy. During the week, even though I have the kids with me, I can get in and get out a lot faster.

This is just the way I do it -- I know everyone has their own method. For me, these steps make grocery shopping as painless as it can be while pushing two toddlers around in the "race car" a.k.a. the Hummer of shopping carts.

Some suggest immediately washing and prepping all your veggies as soon as you get home. That is a great tip because then everything is ready and waiting in the fridge.  The kids are usually demanding lunch by the time we get home from the store, so I wait and wash my produce that evening or the next day. It's a time saver for sure. If you wash all your greens at once, you only have to wash the salad spinner once, instead of every time you eat greens that week.

 I love a freshly-stocked fruit bowl, don't you?

Have a great weekend!


  1. I have a very similar plan of action. My problem is in the middle of the week when I decided I must have something other than what I planned for dinner...

  2. that happens here too. sometimes i just want to graze or go out. then everything gets pushed back a day. or two.

  3. Your grocery list is so summery and packed full of of my favorite foods! I want to try pickled jalapenos though... that would be a great addition to my grocery list.

  4. This is great; thank you and your mom! I go food shopping a lot because I eat a lot of produce and it goes bad pretty quickly, it seems (why is that in NYC?) Nice tip about the produce-heavy meals in the beginning of the week, though. It seems obvious but I've never really thought about it like that.
    It must be a tough job getting it all together for a family of four! My boyfriend usually eats some of what I make for dinner but other than that, he can take care of himself.

  5. We do this same type of process- make a list of meals for the week, then get everything we need for that list at once. It helps out a lot with us both working full-time with two teenagers!

  6. I love a full fruit bowl too! I usually go to the farmer's market and buy anything/everything I can or that looks good. Then I plan my meals around my fresh produce. It is kind of a pain to have to make a separate trip to the grocery store though, for items like bread or almond milk. Then there's a SEPARATE trip to the health food store for things like nutritional yeast, chia seeds, and vegan cheese. Thats three stops for one shopping day! yikes