>>Do you plan your menus from the sale flyers in advance, or buy the sale items and then come up with a menu after?<<
I’ve written about menu planning, and I’ve written about shopping to fill your pantry. I do both. But I suggest something else that I rarely see advocated, but is very advantageous to your food bill.
Most people make their menu, and then plan their shopping list. And that’s really good – it’s a huge step above what most people do, which is to not plan much at all. But what I like to do is stock my fridge, freezer, and pantry first. I buys lots of whatever is a good price, buy a variety of fruits and vegetables (no pricey non seasonal veggies), and whatever else rounds out my basic pantry list for the month. (I’ll try to share a list of what I try to stock my pantry with another time.) Then, and only then, I make my menu, by looking at whatever I already have in the house.
How does this help? Firstly, you’ll always have the ingredients you need on hand – you know you have them, and that’s why you planned each particular meal! Secondly, and more importantly, is that you are always eating sale priced items. Let’s say that thanks to buying only sale items, your monthly discounts on groceries average out to 30% less than what you would have paid at full price. That means that you are either a) saving 30% of what you would have otherwise spent, or that b) you’re spending the same monthly total on food, but getting 30% food more than you could have otherwise, which can last you 5.5 weeks instead of 4. That adds up to a big difference, don’t you think?
Some of you may object, saying that you can’t buy a lot of what you need ahead of time. But I think running out daily for milk and bread is a habit more than anything. And then people get used to it and can’t imagine shopping differently. But even items like bread and milk can be purchased in advance. Bread can easily be frozen and then defrosted before needed, or toasted if you prefer. Milk can also be frozen, and if you’re not buying raw milk, then the consistency when you defrost it will be the same as before it was frozen. Raw milk is fine to freeze, too, but the consistency changes – the cream will be in tiny chunks. Meat and chicken can stay good in the fridge for several days, in the freezer for a lot longer. Fish is kept the same as the chicken or meat. Cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, butter, yogurt, and hard cheese can be frozen (I’ll do a separate post soon on some specific suggestions for freezing hard cheeses), and all of them easily stay good in the fridge for at least a week. Don’t freeze sour cream, though – I tried this recently and when it defrosted, it was liquid. So I used it for cream style grits for breakfast.
Root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas) can all be easily stored in the winter without refrigeration. Fresh vegetables that are more perishable don’t need to be purchased more than once a week. And of course, frozen vegetables are nutritionally pretty good and can be bought much more than a week ahead. Winter fruits store well in cold weather, too, like apples, pear, and citrus. If you like to buy fruits out of season, then just refrigerate them.
So buying food ahead shouldn’t be too hard – just shop the sales, and stock up. It’s a different way of thinking about shopping, and will take some time to get a full variety of pantry items stocked, but not nearly as long as you think.