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(post, Elizabeth Evans)
I'm caught between two opposing virtuous ideals. The Frugal American Plan: I'm working hard at meal planning -- trying to plan a few days worth of meals ahead -- my eventual goal is to plan and shop no more than once a week. This will keep my food expenses down and reduce my use of convenience foods. It will keep me out of the evil clutches of fast-food joints and supermarket marketing gurus. The Seasonal Gourmet: The peak of this ideal, in my romantic imagination, is the European housewife who wanders through the market daily, selecting only the freshest and most perfect seasonal produce, the best cuts of meat, the wedge of cheese cut from the wheel instead of wrapped in plastic. What I really do in summer: I go to the farmer's market with a strict cash-only budget, load myself down with so much produce I have to stagger to the car (usually with the assistance of vendors who are happy to take personal checks when I run out of cash), and then let it rot in the refrigerator because I don't have time to cook and I did my planning in my head while I wandered around between vendors trying not to drool. And also because the other person in my household is a Picky Eater with Allergies whose appetite is spoiled by the sight of green flecks in his food and who thinks chevre is Weird. With a capital W. What I need is some sort of flexible planning. Here's my idea, to test this weekend. Step 1) Make a meal plan, or at least a recipe list, based on what I expect to be available at the farmer's market: Lettuce, asparagus, perhaps some other greens like chard, kale, collard greens, and if I'm lucky, sorrel. Step 2) Take the plan with me on Saturday morning. Plan for a simple meal like chicken breasts with a salad or easy vegetable side for Saturday night. Check off items as I find them. Allow room for one or two impulse buys if there are good deals or wonderful surprises available. Step 3) Fix my simple but fresh Saturday supper and revisit my menu plan for the week. Incorporate the one or two impulse buys into the menu. Make a shopping list of everything else that I need for the week and shop for those items on Sunday. Step 4) Follow the plan for the rest of the week. Of course, this entirely leaves out the problem of planning around fresh produce from the garden, which always seems to arrive on a feast or famine schedule. And once a week shopping means very little fresh produce after midweek...some things just don't keep. Anyone else have an approach for reconciling these different approaches to meal planning? I'd love to hear what works for you.