How many of you heard that story about the woman who planned her family's meals a year in advance as a way to take control of her family's finances? Well, if you haven't, then here is the story. Basically, this woman started planning every meal for every day of the year as a way to save money. It's the old "make a shopping list based on what you will cook this week" theory, only on crack. People assumed I loved this story. It flooded my email inbox and my Facebook wall.
Watch out now, cause Little Mama is about to BLOW YOUR MINDS!
Are you ready?
I NEVER, EVER PLAN ANY MEAL MORE THAN TWO DAYS AHEAD OF TIME, AND I NEVER, EVER SHOP BASED ON A MEAL PLAN.
The exception of course is holiday meals, 'cause if I ever set a Thanksgiving table without turkey, stuffing, cranberry relish and fried apples, Big Daddy would consider it grounds for divorce.
Here's the thing, I tried that "shop to cook" theory years ago, but it simply is too constricting. I like to cook on a whim, I want to open the pantry and be creative. I want to be able to change plans when Big Daddy comes home late or that dead mouse the dog dragged in after lunch killed my appetite for meat. I found that what looked good on paper on Sunday very, very often did not feel good on Thursday. I felt like I was trapped. I can't imagine that what looked good on paper in January will still feel great in sun-soaked July.
Far-planning meals deprives you the opportunity to try new dishes out, or new ingredients you find on a shelf at a rock-bottom price. In order to stay frugal, you stick with the few ingredients you know will be cost-effective. Basically, you are eating the same boring stuff all the time.
The year-long meal plan lady said that she used to do a lot of compulsive shopping and wasting of food, and that they ate out a lot. Certainly, making a meal plan is a good way to get some control, I'm just saying, it shouldn't end there. Shopping to the meal-plan is a lot like hard-core dieting, for most people it works only until the novelty wears off, then you fall off he wagon.
So what do I do? I shop to stock rather than shop to cook. I buy balanced, a fifth of my budget in the dairy, a fifth on meats, a fifth on vegetables, a fifth on fruit, and a fifth on staples and convienience foods. I buy what's in season, what I can get on deep sale using coupons and loss-leaders, and what is unexpectedly at a discount in the store. I stock up on whatever is cheapest that week, and keep my mind open. MOST IMPORTANTLY, I KEEP MY PANTRY, FRIDGE, AND FREEZER STOCKED AT ALL TIMES! A couple of times a week I will poke around and see what's there, and I come up with meals. It also ensures that I use up all the leftovers. After all, the second rule fo tightwadery is
Thou Shalt Not Waste Anything, EVER!
After shopping to stock for awhile, you start realizing that you don't need meal plans, you have complete control of your kitchen and you already know what is in there! You don't need a piece of paper to tell you what to cook, because you have enough practice cooking you can just go in there and whip something up.
This is not a new concept, it is what our foremothers did when they came across this country! Trips to town for staples were few and far between, milk and eggs depended on who was having babies, and meat depended on what got shot on the way home. You kept the larder and the pantry stocked because it was senseless not to (what if a blizzard hit? Can't run out for that one can of cream of mushroom you forgot to pick up!) and you cooked what you had. Creativity and practice saved the day adn fed our families.
Reclaim your heritage! Shop to Stock and throw away all the meal-plans! You'll thank me, I promise!
Lord, I'm getting all worked up over here! Time for a White Russian and a nap!
*you 80's babies know what I'm talking about, but for those poor souls unfamiliar with Moose, Alasdair and Alannis before she was ironic, check this out, ay?