A lovely reader has made a request of me to talk a bit about how I do my shopping, do my lists, plan my food week, based on my frugal food challenge this month. I am more than happy to do that as it is a pleasure if a blog post can actually be useful to even one person.
Unlike so many, and contrary to popular belief, I am not very organised. My brain is rather haphazard and my memory is appalling - I am one of those that can go to a shop for 3 items and instantly when I get there have no idea what two of them are, I think my head is too full of the complete script of 36 operas and there is not much room left for anything else.
So my answer is lists. I have learnt through bitter experience of wasted shopping trips that if I don't have a list I will not buy most of what I needed, I will spend more money and I will buy something that the clever old supermarket pushed on me without me realising it.
Some people have beautifully drawn up charts of what their menu plan for the week (even for the month in some cases) will be, and I am in awe of these people, I can't be that organised and it is good for me to have a bit of flexibility in my plan. And there is certainly no beautifully drawing up. In fact mostly the plan is written on the back of an envelope as I can hardly ever find a piece of paper when I need one.
I usually write my list, both menu and shopping list on a Sunday night. It doesn't take long, can be done in 10 minutes if you get a move on and don't get distracted by Antiques Roadshow. Two bits of paper, one for a shopping list, one for a 'menu', I start with writing on the shopping list what the house needs, that may be nothing, or it may be stuff like loo roll, washing up liquid, etc. Also it may be a kitchen cupboard staple that I know that I am running low on - sugar or tea or something like that. This week it happened to be baking powder as I noticed when I made some scones last week that my last dregs of baking powder was best before October 2012. No idea if baking powder loses it's oomph but don't want flat cakes.
Then certain things go on every list just about - eggs, butter, milk, cheese. I tend to get through one of these a week, give or take, maybe a fortnight with butter, depending on baking.
Next I just cast my muddled head through the week, and see if there is any day I am going to be out, whether I will need a packed lunch at any point etc. This week happened to be a very easy week. So then it is worked out, 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches and 7 dinners.
Breakfast is easily dealt with as it will always be either fruit, yoghurt or toast, or a mixture of the three. What fruit is in the basket? Do I need yoghurt?. That is breakfast dealt with as I make my own bread.
Lunch I keep simple, something on toast, a baked potato, a sandwich. I need to quickly jot down 7 possibilites. I know that I have certain things left over from last week, I made sweet potato and blue cheese pasties and have 3 in the freezer, 2 portions of Boston Baked Beans in the freezer so these will be remembered as possibilites. So this week had down eggs on toast, mushrooms on toast, baked potato and cheese and coleslaw, my blue cheese and sweet potato pasties, beans on toast. All can be made from stuff I had in, and it doesn't have to be written in stone as some is frozen and can be used any time, next week, next month even if I don't get to it.
Dinner is slightly more complicated in that it takes more cooking and usually has more specific ingredients. I will think what I have in the freezer, if there is some beef that wants using or some pork chops or whatever. Then I jot down enough for 7 meal possibilities. Pizza went down twice, with my blue cheese and pear topping (there is still some blue cheese and some pears from last week, so well worth doing again. Carbonara will do a couple of meals as I really enjoyed that and all I need is bacon, mushrooms and a tub of Quark (these get jotted on the list) and finally I know I have potatoes in the fridge and some minced beef in the freezer so I will make my favourite comfort food meat and potato pie which will do three portions. So that is it. Scan through all of those things and make sure I have the ingredients, if not, pop them on the list.
Finally I will usually try and make one sweet things, either a cake or a dessert and here I tend to scan through a recipe books. This weeks happened to be some fruity flapjacks, I had most of the ingredients and popped down what was missing.
As you can see, none of my meals are assigned to a particular day and there is a lot of flexibility in what I choose to eat when, but I have a good skeleton frame-work. I will then look down the shopping list and give everything an approximate price to check there is no overspend, if I know something is much cheaper in a particular shop then I will make a mental note to get it there.
This week my shopping list looked like this:
Baking Powder £1
Eggs £1 (Free range eggs are this price in Lidl and Aldi, more expensive everywhere else)
Condensed milk £1
Coconut flakes £1
That comes to approximately £11.60 I reckon
And my Menu plan looks like this
Meat and potato pie x3
Cornish Pasties x3
Beans on toast x2
Eggs on toast
Mushrooms on toast
Baked potatoes with cheese and coleslaw
Now I know that there will be leftovers here and there from this week that will go onto next weeks plan, I may not eat all of those pasties or all of the beans. There will probably be a baked potato or two left.
As for timings, well I know which of those things I will be cooking are very quick and which take most time and effort. The meat and potato pie will take most effort so will probably get made on a day when I have lots more time. Baked potatoes get put in the mini oven in twos, to save time and money. One will be put in the fridge until I want it while the other is eaten there and then. I tend to, kind of, decide each morning what I will eat that day, so if something needs defrosting I can get it out, but I am fairly relaxed with it all.
So it is not an exact science with me, just a 10 minute effort on a Sunday night, It actually took me far longer to write this than it does to make that small preparation and it is great when I get into the supermarket with my list in my hand (so long as I didn't leave it on the kitchen table) and zoom from one place to the other, not looking at anything extraneous and there is a lot of satisfaction when I see that a whole weeks worth of food has come in well, well under £20. It's a game to try and beat what last weeks was, but I know, for example next week will be more expensive as I need loo roll. Pop it on a list!