Thursday, 14 November 2013

Making lists on scraps of used paper.

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)
Onions 80p
bacon  £2
Mushrooms  £1
Milk  £1.30
Butter £1
Coleslaw 50p
Condensed milk  £1
Coconut flakes £1
Cheese £2

That comes to approximately £11.60 I reckon

And my Menu plan looks like this

Meat and potato pie   x3
Pizza x2
Carbonara x2
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!


  1. Dan, your potatoes will keep better out of the fridge, they need to be in a dark place in a hessian bag if possible. Barn eggs are 65p for 6 on Philip Cross Butchers stall inside Rawtenstall Market. His meat, cheese, bacon and sausages are all excellent. Meat and sausages come from the family farm in Bacup. They also stand on Bacup Market on Friday and Saturday (I think) Rawtenstall is Thursday and Saturday.

    1. Thank you for that info, sounds great!

  2. Have you tried cooking your baked potatoes in the slow cooker? Uses very little electricity and always turn out delicious

  3. just started doing potatoes in the slow cooker great...I make plenty and use the extras for fried, mashed, and frittata...

    I've always make lists too...using every scrap imaginable...

  4. I always have an on-going list on which I jot down things as they occur to me ready for shopping day. My list is a pile of backs of junk mail letters etc and we are still using backs of papers from my husband's work (even though he retired years ago!) and anything which is plain on the back mostly cut into A5 size and kept together with a bulldog clip - it works for me as it is a big enough wadge to not get lost and it usually lives on the kitchen table along with a pen.

  5. Years ago, some one gave us a small square box of loose leaf paper to jot notes on. Never paid to top it up, we cut up scrap paper to fit and refill it! Meals sound good.

  6. That is a sensible, flexible way of planning. Being from Canada, I am always in awe of UK grocery prices. Even taking currency exchange into account, ours are so much higher - $2 for a litre of milk and $4 for a pound of butter.

    1. That's interesting, we all think ours are extortionate.

  7. You are more organized than you think you are. Here we are forced to make lists, which is a good thing. Living 30 minutes from the nearest village and 1 hour from the nearest city, you have to think twice before driving to a grocery store so we also have an on-going list which we revise just before we set out to shop.

    1. I think there is something to be said for not having a shop on your doorstep. Convenience is what makes people spend more than they would normally. If I run out of something I do without it until the next shop, because it is a special trip to the supermarket. Okay, not, as far as you, but enough of a distance to not want to have to go just for an item.

  8. I have an on going list and add to it until the point going shopping is a must. Like you I think of what the two of us will eat for the week and get all together with the needs and with what is on hand. You are pretty organized it seems to me!

  9. You are doing great with your lists. That`s exactly how I make mine. I still use paper to write on that used to be part of old exercise books from my children`s school days. I usually cut the paper into long strips and fasten them together with a staple. That creates instant shopping list jotters for me. I`ll be in scrap papers for several years with this idea. I also write down whatever we run out of during the week and add this to my final shopping list every Tuesday night. Shopping day is Wednesday evening for me. I usually have my meal plan for 1 week all worked out by Sunday before then, and just make the shopping list ready on a Tuesday evening. That works fine for me.

  10. The pasties sound yummy, going to give them a go.

  11. Thank you! Wonderful post..thank you especially for sharing the thought process. I think I try too hard & I complicate my life by emulating those who have lovely plans and things dated in the freezer with lists etc... and I put a lot of pressure on. I like this approach! Much more my style. Hmm... I shall have to investigate the pasty. It sounds wonderful for lunch.

    1. I might do a pasty post sometime.

    2. Yum! Hope you are enjoying the house & books! Winter is the perfect time for reading!!

  12. I always have a shopping list ready to take ... I just have to remember to take it :-)

  13. I thought everyone did this; except my wife who goes for colours. She'll grab at anything red one week, anything green the following week, and goodness knows what the week after that. This is why I do the shopping (and the cooking)!!!

  14. I sometimes start a list, then after a couple of items I can't think of anything more to put on it, so I try and remember what I want when I am in the shop. I usually forget something.

  15. When I read the title thought you were saving them up to use, bigroll

  16. That should, of course, read BOG ROLL

  17. I have a 'write on - wipe off' magnetic board on my freezer. List goes on there during the week as stuff gets used up then I take a photo of it on my phone before I go shopping. I forget lists on paper but rarely forget my phone!
    Incidentally baking powder can lose it's potency - helpful hints here to test it out. :-)