15 January 2018

Food shopping, organising recipes and menu plans

January, week 2 in The Simple Home

This is another of those topics where there will be vast differences in the way all of us do things. I know people who shop everyday for their fresh food, I know others who, like Hanno and I, shop weekly and grow some of their food. I know quite a few people who grow most of what they eat and just buy beans, pulses, dried food and occasional fish or dairy. All of us are living simple, all of us organise our food in a different way.  I wonder what you do.

It's easy enough to wander down supermarket aisles and put products into a trolley. But to shop well and to get value for money, the food shopping we all do should be part of a plan that has been thought through. Hopefully, this week you'll be able to do that. Think about how you intend to shop, cook and store food. Our moderns times have given us a lot of choices. It's your job as a homekeeper to work out which choices work for you.

Most of our food conversations will take place in March.  This is to set us up with good habits and techniques until then, so it's mainly thinking about how we organise our food shopping, getting value for money, buying as much seasonal and local food as we can and involving children in the family food choices. Recipes and how to cook will come later.

One thing to note early here is that there is one thing that we should all be doing - involving the family in our food choices. It's the best opportunity you'll have to discuss budgets, food prices and nutrition with your children and a really good way to teach them about home-cooked food. Getting the family on board with the food choices will mean they'll be more likely to eat what's put on the table every day. And having your children grow up with a good idea of what food costs, where is comes from, how to store and cook it, will be a great help to them when they leave home and already have a good understanding of how to feed themselves and how much it costs.

When planning your food, think about:
  • Nutrition
  • Your recipes
  • Your budget
  • Where to shop - markets or supermarkets
  • How much time you have to cook
  • Supplimentary food from your back yard, freezer or bartering
This is lemon curd/lemon butter made with our backyard lemons and eggs. 
Home preserves - these save money because you buy the ingredients when fruit and vegetables are in season, at their peak and cheaper, and you get a much better product than the supermarket version.  For those of you near an Aldi, they have cucumbers for 79 cents each until tomorrow, Tuesday.  I'll be buying a dozen for bread and butter cucumbers, click here for my recipe.

In The Simple Home I suggest you write a set of summer menu plans/winter menu plans that you can use in these early months of the year. We will address this topic in greater depth again in March but we need to eat now, so let's get some plans happening. You can either do plans for eight weeks, or create a four/two week plan that you repeat. You may already have your menu plans up and running, or be one of the many people who do it a different way.  Menu planning can be done in a number of ways, here is a post I did on the subject.  If you're new to this, try it for a few weeks, modify the process to suit yourself and see how you go. Again, if you do have good ideas to share with us, go ahead and write it up in the comments so newcomers see that there are many ways to do this. Don't forget to plan for leftovers and easy days when you just re-heat something home cooked in the fridge or freezer.

Once you've got all that sorted out, the main part of this week will be about collecting and organising your recipes.  I have about 20 recipes that I cook over and over again, with occasional new recipes thrown in and a set of recipes for celebrations and baking. When I try a new dish, if we all like it, that stays in the month's rotation.

I have been using the app Paprika for a few years now. I have it on my computer and it is the best recipe organiser I've seen.  Version 3 has just been released and it sells for around AU $8. It organises your recipes, allows you to search the internet and save recipes, has a good set of timers, helps with menu planning and gives you printable shopping lists and a calendar with your monthly menus. You can sync it to your phone or ipad and it's available for Apple and Android. There are more details here.  If you need some help sorting thorough your recipes and having a place to store them, Paprika might be what you're looking for. I have no association with this company.

This is part of the meat section in my Paprika. I have version 2.

Creating a set of recipes that you're happy with is a great help in the kitchen. Try to include ideas that are thrifty, nutritious, easy to prepare and something you know the family will eat.  Remember to include work and school lunches and drinks because that will save a lot of money. Do you have good food containers that will keep lunches fresh and looking good until they're eaten?  That can mean the difference between food being eaten or not. Think about where you'll get your food from too.  Can you barter anything? Do you have a good local butcher, baker, green grocer, fish market or local farmers' market? This is the time to work out a strategy that will help you later in the year to provide the best value for money food you can.  I'm not saying to buy only cheap food, I'm emphasising value for money, local and in season. There's a big difference. Think now about how you can substitute other foods for meat and fish, which both cost a lot of money.  Find a few recipes for vegetarian meals, or meals that use less meat. Many of us eat too much meat and you can cut down on it without giving it up completely.  And regarding fish, we live in an area with a lot of fishing boats but the fish we bought for many years is now $50 a kilo and I'm not prepared to pay that much for it.  So we've cut out fresh local fish and I buy the occasional bag of Norwegian salmon and tinned red salmon from Aldi. I refuse fish from Thailand and most places in Asia. Yes, I know Norway and Alaska are a long way from here but we either eat that fish or none and I don't want to give up fish completely.

Sunday lunch - Aldi frozen salmon with homemade potato and garden salad. 

Take a bit of time and think carefully about how you shop. Can you make it easier, quicker or cheaper?  Set up some good habits now and improve on them them as you go on. If you can, it will make a big difference over the course of a year because food shopping is something you'll do forever.

Good luck with this. The work you do this week has the potential to make your job as a family food provider much easier during the year.  I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of good ideas here. Share how you organise yourself with the food you grow and buy and tell us if you have any little tricks that help you put great food on the table.  🍏🍎🍏

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