It’s Thursday night, and our household is four full days into our grocery challenge. To recap from Sunday’s post, this week’s goal is to eat more meals at home while spending less money and without purchasing the cheaper “filler” foods such as pasta and rice and that would normally make this possible. The larger goal within the context of this blog is to attempt to define the balance, as a new cook, between making a grocery list that is based on recipes versus defaulting to what you usually buy because you already know how to cook it. Four days in, I am pleased to report that my grocery stash is holding out nicely–and less pleased to report that I didn’t include ice cream in the terms of this challenge.
A Brief Recap of the Meals We’ve Eaten
Here is the list of meals I was planning to make as of Sunday night, with an update on what has happened with each:
- Meatballs with zucchini noodles and probably some tomatoes: Mostly eaten. Do not make meatballs with ground almonds instead of bread crumbs; they fall apart.
- Stuffed bell peppers: Eaten, but we still have leftover stuffing. If stuffing squash into a pepper, poke holes in the bottom of the pepper so the liquid can drain.
- Sausage hash: Eaten. This is my third time making this dish and it’s been so consistently successful that I’ll be posting it here soon.
- Melon salad: Not eaten. The melon is still in my produce drawer. Turns out that I don’t often feel like making a side salad when the main dish involves lots of prep.
- Green salad with pear: Not eaten. The pear is still ripening on the counter. Getting a little worried about the lettuce.
- Drumsticks with roasted apricots: Not eaten. This was supposed to be for tomorrow so the drumsticks are thawing, but it turns out that I might be traveling.
- Broccoli-cheddar quiche: Mostly eaten. Forgot to include the serrano pepper so the flavor is bland, but the quiche was a real help this morning when I was rushing to leave. Not particularly filling, but this might be because I keep cutting smaller slices for myself since I made it mainly for my husband.
- Butternut squash salad: Ate it tonight. I prepped the lentils and squash on Sunday night after shopping, which was a good thing since we weren’t home until 9:30pm! (This is also why I’m posting so late.) Worth nothing that this salad works really well on a moment’s notice if it’s prepped early but does better with cashews than pecans and Puy rather than green lentils.
- Scrambled eggs with vegetables, which probably means leftover leek and Swiss chard: I’ve only made this once, so I have a lot of extra eggs. I’m surprised at how reluctant I’ve been to cook breakfast from scratch, especially since I work from home in the mornings.
- Bacon-wrapped filet, which I’m going to let my husband eat since I already ate the other one: This was a big hit. I served it with chard and scrambled eggs. This is another recipe I will post here in the future.
- Lots of smoothies, including probably two with beet and blueberries: The smoothies are saving my butt every day for lunch, so this is a trend I plan to continue. I’ve used up the beet, one pack of blueberries, half the blackberries, and some chard, but I have plenty of ingredients left for tomorrow!
My cooking and prepping life also got much easier on Tuesday, when an unexpected snow day inspired my husband to go out and purchase the ingredients for chili, which he made and has been reheating for lunches.
What I’ve Learned So Far
1. I already knew that I tend to overestimate what we need, but it turns out that I really overestimate what we need! I have a large amount of uneaten produce in our fridge, most of which is fortunately keeping well.
2. Prepping makes a world of difference. I roasted the butternut squash, the broccoli, and the beet on Sunday night while I worked on dinner, and I shaped the meatballs on Monday after serving stuffed peppers. Having those ingredients ready allowed me to relax about cooking because it cut my prep time for the quiche and squash salad by more than half.
3. Having the right equipment also makes a world of difference. We are indebted to my in-laws, who gave us a Ninja Kitchen System for Christmas. This thing is a minor miracle. I have used it probably every day since unwrapping it and sometimes twice. I wouldn’t be eating smoothies for lunch, and I also wouldn’t be serving up vegetable noodles, if we didn’t have it.
4. It’s difficult to balance spontaneity with budgeting. I don’t miss eating out, but I do miss saying, “What do we feel like eating for dinner (even if it means a trip to the store)?” With meat already defrosted and produce that needs to be eaten, it’s hard to pass on what we have waiting at home. This isn’t a problem if the meal is great, but if it’s lackluster, like my meatballs which fell apart when I reheated them, it’s hard to get excited.
On Sunday, I’ll be back with the next (and possibly final?) installment in this series, in which I’ll summarize the rest of the week and try to extrapolate some rules of thumb that might inform both my shopping and that of anyone following along. Stay tuned…