Monday, February 28, 2011

An introduction to community supported farms

Mmmmm. I’ve got Hearty Meatless Sauce finishing up in the crockpot. It smells amazing and I am ready for dinner!
But these warm(er) temperatures mean melting snow. I can see the green of the grass again and that has me longing for the best that summer has to offer, like fresh fruits and veggies. I can almost taste those heirloom tomatoes.
I’ll soon be signing up for my chosen CSA this year. After 4 years with Genesee Valley Organic Community Supported Agriculture (GVOCSA), last year I went with Porter Farms. I have nothing negative to say about the experience. But GVOCSA has a longer season, and a greater variety of veggies, plus provides herbs too. There is a work requirement that Porter did not have, and the pickup is a little farther away, but I’ll be splitting a full share with a friend and so it won’t be quite as laborious.
If you aren’t familiar with CSAs (essentially, community supported farms), you can get some basic information from Local Harvest here. If you think you might be interested in joining a CSA, in the upper right hand corner of that same page, you can input your zip code and do a search to see what’s available near you.
The main contenders serving the Rochester area are:

Is a CSA right for you?
While I love being part of a CSA, it’s not for everyone. Some things to think about before you sign up:
  • Am I willing to share in the risk?  While I have never had issues with not getting a good amount of fruits and/or veggies from the CSA, by being a member you do share in the risks of farming.
  • Will I use all of the produce? While some CSAs offer a “small”, “partial” or “half” share it’s still a lot of produce. And it’s what’s in season, so it might not be what you like or things that fit into your favorite recipes. You have to think about whether you eat enough vegetables to make it worthwhile for you. Also, some CSAs tend toward more “mainstream” vegetables. Others are more broad. So, before signing up, know what to expect and consider whether you’re willing to try kohlrabi, mizzuna and garlic scapes.
  • Am I willing to work? If work is required, consider whether you have the time and energy to commit. Also, will you be free on the dates/time of pick up?
  • Make sure you know the policies. Know what the pickup parameters are (where, when), what happens if you forget to pickup, what work is required, when payment is required, what happens if you’re on vacation, who to contact with issues…
  • CSAs are to grocers as bed and breakfasts are to hotels. CSAs are a different, less formalized option than your standard grocery store. Think about the difference between a B&B and the Hampton Inn. With a B&B and a CSA, you’re going to get a smaller, “cozier” personal experience than with a chain hotel or supermarket. Are you comfortable with that?

Cooking from your CSA share
I think of cooking from a CSA share as “inductive cooking” (starting with specific ingredients and then finding a recipe to fit them) as opposed to what I do the rest of the year which I think of as “deductive cooking” (starting from the whole world of recipes and narrowing it down.)
There are some great cookbooks that talk about using what’s in season, and many CSAs use message boards, email lists or websites to disseminate recipes using the produce.
There’s also always the go-to dishes—salads, stir frys and roasted vegetables (which can be used to fill tacos, mixed with rice or pasta, added as a pizza topping…)

Farmer’s Markets
We also have a lot of farmer’s markets in Rochester. In addition to the Public Market downtown, almost every suburb—Greece, Brighton, Webster, Penfield, Pittsford, Irondequoit—has its own. There are also additional smaller farmer’s markets in the city including the Southwedge and Monroe Village markets.
For more details, or to find farmer’s markets in your area, you can do a search on Local Harvest.

Next up: How to preserve all that produce!

Morningstar Farms crumbles on sale at Target (89 cents!)?

Just a note that these were on sale yesterday at the Irondequoit, NY store for 89 cents!!
If this is something you use, you might want to check your Target if you're there this week, or give a call and get a price check.
I stocked up myself yesterday!!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

MORE meatless main meal recipes

Recipe #3: Potato and Bean Enchilada Casserole
Serves: 8
Start to finish: 45 minutes – 1 hour
Editor’s note: I am lazy and also attempting to be health-conscious. My changes to the recipe accommodate those tendencies. However, this is another recipe that’s been passed around and many people I’ve shared it with prefer to make individual enchiladas. It’s a great way to use up lots of fresh cilantro.
  • 1 pound potatoes, diced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped, divided
  • 1 jar tomatillo salsa
  • 1 (12 ounce) packages whole wheat tortillas
  • 1 (15.5 ounce) can pinto beans, drained
  • 1 (12 ounce) package queso fresco or Monterrey jack cheese, grated
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). In a bowl, toss diced potatoes together with cumin, chili powder, salt, and ketchup, and place in an oiled baking dish. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender. Let cool for a bit.
  2. Mix potatoes together with pinto beans, 1/2 cheese, and 1/2 cilantro.
  3. Put one layer of tortillas in a 9x13 inch baking dish. Top with potato & bean mixture.
  4. Top with another layer of tortillas.
  5. Spoon/pour tomatillo salsa over enchiladas, and spread remaining cheese & cilantro over salsa. Bake for 20 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.
Recipe #4: Vegetable Korma
Note: From The Really Useful Vegetarian Student Cookbook © 1996. I picked this book up for a buck years ago at Big Lots. It has some great recipes in it. They are easy and usually only make a few servings. Serves: 2
Start to finish: 25 minutes
Editor’s note: You could easily double the recipe if you wanted more. Using leftover, already-cooked veggies would mean a shorter cooking time. Serve over rice.
  •  T olive oil
  • 1  onion, finely chopped
  • 1  T curry paste
  • 1  lb mixed vegetables cut into bite-size pieces (can be fresh or frozen); examples: potato, carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potato, corn, peas…
  • 1  14-oz. can lite coconut milk
  • 2  oz slivered almonds
  1. Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook onion for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Stir in curry paste and cook for 1 minute more.
  2. Add veggies and coconut milk, cover and simmer for 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Meanwhile, place the almonds in a nonstick pan and dry-fry 2-3 minutes, tossing frequently, until they are golden brown.
  3. Season the curry to taste and serve over rice.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Meatless main meal recipes

As promised, here are a few of what is likely to become a long list of my favorite vegetarian recipes. These two originally appeared in Better Homes and Gardens Easy Vegetarian Meals, (c) 2002. I've loaned the book out to more than one omnivorous friend in the past, and they've all found recipes in it that they enjoyed. Unfortunately, the book is out of print. However, you can occasionally find a copy of this gem on sale online. It also touts that the meals in it are "ready in less than 30 minutes!"

Recipe #1: Garlic Couscous with Eggs & Salsa
Note: "using preseasoned couscous instead of plain adds flavor and subtracts steps, appeasing both appetites and the clock on a busy day. Balsamic vinegar elevates a simple vegetable salsa notches above the usual."
Serves: 4
Start to finish: 25 minutes
Editor's note: Since eggs are a focal point of this meal, I recommend good quality, fresh, local, organic free-range eggs (and not just for this recipe, but always!)
  • 1  5.8 oz pkg roasted garlic and olive oil couscous, toasted pine nut couscous or tomato-lentil couscous, 2/3 c plain couscous
  • 1  c chopped tomato
  • 1  c chopped zucchini
  • 2  t olive oil
  • 1  t balsamic vinegar
  • 1  clove garlic, minced
  • 1  T butter
  • 4  beaten eggs
  1. Prepare couscous according to pkg directions
  2. Meanwhile, for salsa, in a small bowl, stir together tomato, zucchini, oil, vinegar and garlic; set aside.
  3. In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat; pour in eggs. Cook eggs over medium heat, w/o stirring, until eggs begin to set on the bottom and around the edge.
  4. Using a spatula, lift and fold the partially cooked eggs so the uncooked portion flows underneath. Continue cooking eggs over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes or until they are heated through, but still glossy and moist. Remove from heat. Stir eggs into couscous. Season to taste with S&P. Serve with salsa.
Recipe #2: Spicy Quinoa Chili
Note: "a nutritious grain gives chili hot-heads a healthy reason to get fired up. Rather than the usual beans, nutty quinoa (KEEN-wah) ties the ingredients all together for a chili with novel texture but the same ol' heat."
Serves: 4
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Editor's note: I personally prefer to add beans to this chili, so you'll see them bracketed throughout the recipe. Quinoa is a complete protein, so they aren't necessary to make this a healthful meal.
  • 1  large onion, chopped
  • 4  cloves garlic, minced
  • 4  t hot pepper oil or olive oil
  • 2  14.5-oz. cans vegetable broth
  • 2  c water
  • 1  10-oz. can chopped tomatoes with green chili peppers, undrained
  • 4  t ground cumin
  • 2  t chili powder
  • 1  t ground coriander
  • 1  c quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 4  plum tomatoes chopped
  • [1  15-oz. can kidney beans]
  1. In a large saucepan cook onion and garlic in hot oil over medium-high heat until tender. Stir in  broth, water, undrained canned tomatoes, cumin, chili powder and coriander. Stir in quinoa [and beans].
  2. Bring to boiling, Reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 20 minutes or until quinoa is tender. Remove from heat; stir in chopped plum tomatoes.

A few good grocery deals for next week at Tops

I am lucky to get my Tops circular in the mail on Thursday or Friday, giving me a chance to plan ahead. After scoping it out, here are a few things I'll be picking up:
Rosetto ravioli, stuffed shells or tortellini or manicotti: on sale 2/$6. You can save $1.50 off 2 with the printable coupon here (should be able to print 2 coupons from each computer.) You might want to stash these in the freezer in case you need to make a quick dinner for guests or a potluck. In that case, I suggest trying this recipe for ravioli lasagna.
Duncan Hines brownie mix: on sale 4/$5 ($1.25 each). You can save $1 on each box of selected sale varieties with this 50-cents-off coupon (which will be doubled to $1). 25 sents for a brownie mix isn't bad at all!
Always: Certain types will be on sale 2/$6 ($3 each). I know I have at least one $1-off-one coupon in my stash. And it looks like there are rumored to be some Always coupons in tomorrow's Sunday newspaper coupon circulars. Tops has 4 $1 coupon doublers in this week's ad (meaning they'll double 4 $1 coupons for you) so, $1 for these necessities isn't a bad deal. Whether I buy will depend on which types are included in the sale.

If your're a cereal eater (I love cereal, but don't believe in eating small bowls of it so I usually don't buy it) there are a few decent deals you might want to consider.
Golden Grahams and Cinnamon Burst Cheerios will be on sale 4/$10 ($2.50 each).
Coupon Network has a printable coupons for 75 cents off one box of Golden Grahams and one for 75 cents off one box of Cinnamon Burst Cheerios. Once the coupons are doubled, that'd be $1 for each box, which isn't a bad price.

Note that these sales and prices are based on the ad for the week of 2/27/2011 for the Rochester, NY area.

For more Tops deals, check Coupons for Your FamilyTricia's Frugal Finds and/or Money Saving Mom.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Saving on food shopping (Part 3)

Ealier this week I put together a quick list of tips, then went into detail on how to save.

Here are some more ideas for saving on food.
Oh, and if you happen to be on facebook, please stop by the new page and give us a "like." Thanks!

8. Look online. Sometimes your “staple” items might be cheaper at an online retailer like Amazon. And if you purchase using “subscribe and save” you’ll save 15%. (You can easily cancel before the next shipment.)
9. Discount stores. Stores like Big Lots, Marc’s and Ollie’s can be a good place to find deals. However, this type of store isn’t terribly reliable if you’re looking for a specific item.
10. Discount grocery stores. ALDI and Sav-A-Lot can be a great source for some items. The Sav-A-Lots here in Rochester are downright scary. ALDI had a particular stigma 15 years ago when they opened in my town back home, but I believe that they’ve changed with the times. While they’re produce isn’t the prettiest, many of their items are good quality. They generally carry only their own brand and usually only one size is available. Their cheeses are a good deal compared to your mainline grocery stores. And if you aren’t concerned about your eggs being organic or free range, they have comparatively good prices. They also carry their own soy milk. Definitely worth a look.
11. Warehouse stores. When shopping for one, stores like Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s might mean overkill.  For anything perishable, you’re going to need a freezer or a healthy appetite. For nonperishable food items, you’ll need a place to store the extra.
12. Shop at off days and times. All day Friday and anytime on the weekend should be avoided if at all possible.  Apparently, Tuesday nights are busy too. If you want to make sure you’re getting the sale items in a store’s circular, Monday night would be the time to go. Many stores mark things down on Wednesdays to prepare for the next week’s shipment. So, if you’re looking to possibly score unexpected deals on deli, meat, produce or day-old bakery items, you might want to give Wednesday a try. Plus you’ll easily avoid the sample people.
13. Don’t shop hungry/don’t take samples. We all know not to shop for food when we’re hungry. That’s how Twinkies and CheezIts end up in the basket. But did you know that those who take the food samples being offered in the store buy more?  And not just of the things we sample. Psychologically, that snack sets something in motion that winds up costing more money.
14. Have a list and have a budget. Stick to both. It should be a no-brainer that you need to have a list.  But I’m trying to be as exhaustive as I can.  So, be sure to make that list, and stick to it. Yes, if you forgot to add bananas to the list, but you need bananas, buy them. But if ice cream isn’t on the list and you don’t need it, don’t buy it. When you’re making your list, don’t just restock staples and necessities and get stuff for your meal plan. Think realistically about snacks, desserts, etc. That way you can plan ahead. BUT sometimes, you’ll stumble upon a good deal that you weren’t expecting. As long as you’ll use it and can afford, it, I say go for it.  Better to save now if it’s something you’d have to buy later.
15. Weigh produce that’s pre-packaged by weight. For example, if you usually buy 3-poun bags of apples, grab 3 or 4 and weigh them. Then pick the one that weighs the most. You might get as much as 3.5 pounds or more for the same price.
16. Eat less meat. Of course the vegetarian would say that. But, really, beans and grains cost less than meat. So consider adding some meatless meals to your menu plans.  I’ll share some of my favorite meatless recipes this weekend.
17. Consider making it from scratch. Yes, this can take time.  You’ll have to figure out what things are actually less expensive and worth your time. I make my own vegetable broth. I have a big bag in the freezer and as I peel carrots, or cut the ends off onions, I throw that stuff in there. Broccoli stalks, asparagus ends, stems from herbs, even corn cobs (from which corn was cut, not eaten.) Then, when it’s full, I throw it all in a stock pot with water and cook it on low for an hour two. Then I strain it and freeze it. A lot of people make their one bread.
Another example—a recipe I made the other night called for 2T of mango chutney. I didn’t want to buy a whole jar.  So I googled some recipes and threw something together with mango, honey, vinegar and spices.  It worked just fine.
18. CSAs/farmer’s markets/backyard garden. Locally-grown, fresh produce is always going to taste better and will generally be better for you. You can consider planting a small garden, or doing some container gardening. Also, in Rochester, we are blessed with many farmers markets and the availability of a variety of community supported farms (CSA). (I’ll be talking more about CSAs soon.) These are a great source for fresh, inexpensive produce which is often organic.

Next up: My favorite meatless main meal recipes.

Now we're on facebook

I added the blog to facebook, in case you'd be kind enough to share some "like."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Saving on food shopping (Part 2)

Yesterday, I ventured out to do my grocery shopping.  I went to Wegmans, Tops and Target. I got everything on my list (which can be seen here) except baby spinach and fake beef for stew. I also got a few things that weren’t on my list—a pint of grape tomatoes, 16 oz. of cottage cheese, 2 packages of Boca breakfast links, 4 bags of Temptations cat treats, a pet brush, some black jelly beans and a bag of kettle corn. (I don’t much like regular popcorn, but could eat my weight in kettle corn.) Total spent was just under $63.

Now, on to saving money!

1.  Frequency: You’ll need to decide how often you’re going to shop. Getting your non-perishables once every two weeks or less often and filling in with perishables weekly is going to yield the most savings. But find what works for you.
2.  Buying in bulk: Bulk can mean two things when talking about grocery shopping. It can either mean buying a large amount of something or it can mean buying from the bulk section. Both can be good options.
Buying big: First, since we’re talking about food, this basic rule is particularly apropos—if you don’t use it, it’s not a bargain. So, don’t buy the larger size if you don’t think you’ll use it. Second, don’t assume that the multi-pack is going to get you a lower price per item. It may, but you need to do the math. Third, don’t buy more than you can store.
A similar tip is to stock up on smaller sizes or single items if you get a good price.
Since my focus is on savings tips for those of us who are single, don’t rule out buying in bulk if you live alone. You can always consider splitting the items and cost with a friend to take advantage of the savings.
Buying from the bulk section: Most grocery stores have a bulk section. Also, most health food stores and co-ops also have a bulk section. This is a great place to buy dried fruit and nuts, grains like rice and quinoa, beans, flour, sugar and oatmeal. Abundance co-op also has granola, olive oil, dish soap and peanut butter among other things. They even have tofu! Lori’s Natural Foods also has TVP.
For example, this week, I bought a small amount—just what I needed for my menu plan—of raisins, golden raisins, sliced almonds and cashews from the bulk section. I keep dried cranberries and pecans from the bulk section on hand.
The bulk section is also a great place to get spices. When one of your spice containers is empty, you can refill it for a fraction of what a new one would cost you at the major grocery store chain. Also, if you want to try a recipe using a spice you don’t have on hand, you can buy just the amount you need instead of spending $3 or $4 or more on a spice you may only use once.
3.  Price book: It’s a good idea to make a list of things you regularly buy and what the usual, “shelf” price is at various stores. That way, you’ll know whether something is really a good deal. For example, I needed 3-28 oz cans of tomatoes this week. Normally, the best price is the store brand at Wegmans ($1.19). But this week Hunt’s were on sale at Tops for $1.00.
I doesn’t need to be an actual “book.” It can be whatever works. I use a print out from excel (because then I can save it.) I’m in the process of updating mine, but will be sharing it later on for reference.
4.  Buy the store brand, UNLESS the name brand is a better deal. Or you’ve tried it and you don’t like it.
5. Store loyalty cards: You’re going to get the best price if you sign up and use your store’s loyalty card. In many stores it might earn you points toward free items or discounts.
6.  Shopping multiple stores:  To save the most money on an item, you need to go to the source that has it at the lowest price which, with sales and coupons, could be different from week to week. You also have to consider if it makes sense for you, given the cost of gas and your time.
7.  Coupons: There’s A LOT to talk about here. But let me say that coupons plus store loyalty cards is where you’re going to get the most grocery store savings.
Where to get coupons: There are lots of sources for coupons:
Newspaper: The old standby. Sunday morning coupons.
Mail: Some people get there circulars in the mail.
Magazines: Lots of women’s and homes magazines have grocery coupons. All You in particular has many every month.
Coupon clipping services: There are a number of services from which you can buy whole coupon inserts or multiples of particular coupons. Coupon Clippers and The Coupon Master are just a few.
Ebay: Similar options to coupon clipping services. However, you are paying for the service, time, postage, etc.—but NOT the actual coupons.
Online: Printable coupons from sites like, and Target also has printable coupons and offers mobile coupon sign up too. Wegmans has printable coupons available which you can find here. And Printable Coupons and Deals keeps a running list of coupons from all over the web. And Deal Seeking Mom offers a searchabel coupon database.
Manufacturers: Manufacturers often send coupons for new products to folks on their mailing lists. They might also make printable coupons available via their Facebook page. And don’t forget the coupons that might be in the product or packaging. Also, if you like a particular product, send the manufacturer an email or letter letting them know; they’ll often send coupons.
In store: There might be the little “blinkies” near an item. Or the “catalina” machine might spit out a coupon when you’re checking out. Sometimes there are “peelies” or hang-tag coupons directly on a product.
Marketing programs: There are programs like SheSpeaks, VocalPoint and Kraft First Taste which can help you score free item and high-value grocery coupons.
            Know your store’s coupon policy
            Most major grocers will take internet coupons. Some won’t
            Lots of stores now double coupons but the amount may be different. Some will double coupons that are 99 cents or less (so, $1.98 saved). Others may only double coupons up to 49 cents. Some will allow “overage”; others will not and will adjust the price of the item down. (Overage happens when your coupon savings are more than the cost of the item.) Note that even if a coupon says “do not double” if the bar code number on it begins with a 5, it generally will. Some stores will only allow you to use one of a particular coupon. So, if you have two boxes of Cheerios and two of the same $1 off Cheerios coupon, they will only accept one of that coupon. Many stores will not take a printable coupon for a totally free item.
            Some stores, like Target and certain drugstores, will allow you to use a manufacturer’s coupon and a Target coupon on the same item.
            Coupon matching
            This is one of the biggest saving tips. Coupon match-ups are when you use a coupon to get a great deal on an item that’s already on sale. A good example was my Target trip today. I got 2 jars of Bertolli spaghetti sauce, 2 bags of Ghirardelli chocolates, a bottle of Seventh Generation dish soap, a bag of frozen corn and a bag of frozen peas for $5.15. I had a manufacturer’s coupon and a store coupon for the sauce. The candy was on sale after Valentine’s Day for 75% off, plus I had a coupon. I also had a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon for the dish soap. The veggies were full price.
            There are great resources out there—people who create coupon match-up lists of deals at each of the country’s grocery chains. You can Google “coupon matchups” and your store’s name to find blogs who list deals for your store. Here are some I know of:
Coupons For Your Family: Wegmans and Tops
Frugally Blonde: Wegmans
Happy Clippings: Wegmans
Cuckoo for Coupon Deals: Giant Eagle
Totally Target: Target
Money Saving Mom: Tops and Acme
Tricia’s Frugal Finds: Tops

Next up: More tips for saving at the grocery store!!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Saving on food shopping (Part 1)

So, here are my basic tips for saving on groceries. I'll be expanding on some of these over the next week.
First, a note. A lot of people extol the virtues of planning meals based one what's on sale, and there's some wisdom in that. But I find that doesn't work quite as well when your meals aren't meat-based. It's a little easier to say "Oh, ground beef is on sale this week, so I'll use that to make tacos and meatloaf." There are sometimes sales on meat-substitutes, but it's not the same. Similarly, I think that meal planning from the circular works better when you're cooking in larger batches.

1.  Make a meal plan (See A Single Girl's Menu Plan for more details.)
2. Keep a "price book"
3. Use coupons
4. Shop the sales (I know what I just said. But shopping what's on sale still works well for staples and produce.)
5. Match sales with coupons
6. Shop at multiple stores
7. Consider the store brand, but not if the name brand costs less (unit pricing)
8.     Shop on Mondays (stores are less crowded, yet it's still early in the week allowing you to get best selection.)
9.     Shop for non perishables only every two weeks (ideally once/mo); get perishables once/wk
10.  Stock up if you get a good price (but buy only as much as you’ll use)
11.   Use store loyalty cards
12.   Eat less meat
13.   Cook from scratch/avoid convenience foods
14.   Make a list & have a budget and stick to both
15. Buy from the bulk section

And, of course, don't shop hungry!

Menu plan and shopping list for 2/21

Well, I am again endeavoring to get my shopping an meal-planning put together for two weeks at a time. Last night, I was looking for a particular recipe (which I never did find) and found a bunch of recipes I've been meaning to try, or had forgotten about. So the plan for the next two weeks is a little more exotic than it would normally be. Instead of "curried 'chicken' salad with blackberries", you'd normally see "spaghetti with jarred sauce."
Here are the meals I plan to have:
Here's the adventageous menu plan:

And the shopping list:
ð      8 oz firm tofu
ð      1/3  cup  crunchy peanut butter
ð      12 oz faux beef strips (??)

ð       Bertolli pasta sauce
ð       Seventh Generation dishsoap
ð      10 oz frozen peas
ð      10 oz frozen corn

ð       Baby spinach
ð       Scotties tissues
ð       Stonyfield yogurt cups
ð      2 bags frozen  broccoli florets

ð      Green onions
ð      1-1/2  cups  blackberries
ð      Parsley
ð      5-6 carrots
ð      3-4 potatoes
ð      Bananas
ð      mango
ð      1bag Quorn tenders
ð      1 can chickpeas
ð      3 cans 28 oz cans whole plum tomatoes in puree
ð      1/3  cup  light mayonnaise
ð      lemon juice
ð      1/4  cup  raisins
ð      Handful golden raisins
ð      1/2  cup  roasted salted cashews
ð      ¼ c sliced almonds

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A single girl’s menu plan

First, just a note: I posted a casserole recipe earlier this morning. You really should check it out, and then make it. Unless you can’t eat it for some reason or don’t like French onion dip, you need to trust me on this one.

Now, on to the topic at hand.
There are a lot of tricks and tips for saving money on grocery bills. But before you even head to the store, you can save money by doing a little planning.
Making meals for one can be a real challenge. Most recipes are for 4 or more servings and many single-serving size foods are riddled with stuff you probably shouldn’t be eating. What’s a single girl to do when she wants lasagna? A 9 x 13 pan can easily make 12 servings. And most of us are sick of it by the third day.
But meal planning really is a way to cut down on food costs. Think about the practical difference between making a menu plan then building a grocery list from it and wandering the aisles of the local supermarket trying to figure out what you want to buy for the week’s meals. Without a plan, you tend to end up with a variety of items that may amount to a few meals, but it’s also more likely that you’ll be purchasing more premade and convenience items than you would be if you had a plan.
When you shop from a menu plan, you’ll know that you have all the ingredients on hand when you need them. You can minimize waste and maximize your food dollars.
To make a menu plan, you’ll need to decide how many weeks you want it to cover. The more the better, but it should cover at least seven days.  Ideally, I like to plan for two weeks at a time, though I usually need to get some additional produce in between. That hasn’t happened lately though.
Then you’ll need to decide what you’re going to eat. When planning for two weeks, I assume I’ll get four meals per dish for lunches/dinners. 
But where to start? If you’re like me, it’s easy to fall into the rut of eating the same things all the time. When I’m making a two-week plan, I try to have a bean dish, a salad, a pasta dish, a grain dish, a crockpot meal, and something extra quick and easy. Plus, I expect that I’ll eat out twice each week for lunch and/or dinner. With that in mind, I look first at what I have on hand. Right now, I’ve got some beets that I really need to use.  So I know one of next week’s recipes will involve beets.  Maybe roasted on a salad. Or there’s a pasta and beets recipe I saw recently… I’ll be working out the specifics later. But take stock of what you have and, especially, what you need to use up. I also keep as stash of favorite recipes on standby. I have a great, easy veggie korma recipe that’s in rotation this time of year. And I like this easy vegetarian crockpot recipe from Family Circle.
There are great online resources for recipes. I personally like Allrecipes and 101cookbooks. Again, though, a lot of those recipes are going to make more than you need. One option is to scale a larger recipe back. It doesn’t work well for every recipe, but it can be an option. will adjust the recipe if you alter the number of servings. Otherwise, you might have to do some math.
Another option is freezing extra food. You may want to have too much lasagna or soup because then you can freeze some for a later date. This allows you to take advantage of the cost benefits of making bigger batches without getting sick of the dish.
You could also share. I have a friend at work who is also a vegetarian, so if I make a new recipe that leaves me with a lot of leftovers, I’ll often take him a serving. He appreciates it (I think) and I get some extra feedback on the new dish. You could also swap with a friend. If you’re both making soups or casseroles and the recipes yield quite a bit, why not swap a few servings?
But what if you just want something beyond a sandwich that makes one serving? Well, here are some other ideas that provide quick, healthful meals for one:
Salads: throw in whatever you have, or tailor it to a theme. You could go Greek with kalamata olives, banana peppers, tomatoes, feta cheese and Greek dressing. Or try your greens topped with a black bean burger, cheddar cheese, tomato, onion and pineapple salsa.  Another favorite of mine, which a friend introduced me to, is to mix in black olives, chickpeas, grape tomatoes and parmesan cheese and top it with Italian dressing. Lately, I’ve been making a salad of field greens, blue cheese, craisins, pecans, red onion, Quorn tenders and a drizzle of Briana’s blush wine vinaigrette.
Wraps: another great way to use whatever you have on hand. This week, I’ve been topping Flat Out bread with hummus, feta, tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, carrot and lettuce. Sometimes I also add falafel. You can also use it make a single-serve pizza. Just tops with sauce, cheese and whatever toppings you’d like, place it on a baking sheet and bake. A combination you might want to try—pieces of chicken (or fake chicken), goat cheese and spinach sautéed with garlic. It’s tasty!
Pasta: pasta is great because you can cook as much or as little as you want. And it goes well with anything. Last weekend, I went to PF Chang’s for lunch. I had Sichuan asparagus and sautéed mushrooms left over. I mixed them in with some spaghetti and had a tasty lunch. Get creative. Pasta is another great way to use whatever you might have. And don’t forget that you can eat it cold too!
Other simple meals: Who among us hasn’t eaten cereal for dinner?? Another super-easy option I like is cheese, crackers or bread, and grapes. Also yummy is a visit to the grocery store antipasto bar to pick up olives, peppers, bruschetta, pesto and eat that with some crusty bread or rolls.
By the way, as an example, here’s my meal plan for last week:
The red are items I needed to buy and the blue includes recipes I needed to look up and get an ingredient list for. The numbers indicate Weight Watchers points. Unfortunately, I put on an average of about four pounds per year since graduating from college in December of 1997. So far, I’ve gotten rid of 1998-2000.

Next up: tips to save on grocery shopping!