Shopping had always simply been one of those necessary chores I had to do on a frequent albeit ad hoc basis, whenever the fridge and cupboards started looking a bit empty.
Ever since leaving home at the age of 18 for university, I’ve shopped when I thought I needed to and bought what I thought I needed, generally the same items every time.
Perhaps it’s because I’d never been shown how to cook or shop. I rarely went food shopping with my parents and I never showed much interest in what was happening in the kitchen. Do we need to be shown? Did your parents teach you these things? Or I am simply trying to blame others for my inadequacies? Is shopping really a matter of common sense?
Well, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, my husband and I had to cut our budgets last year. Analysing our bank statements, we realised that this ‘finger in the air’ approach had resulted in massive over-spending, a hideous amount of food waste, and – what probably upsets me most – fairly mediocre meals.
When it finally dawned on me that a little simple planning each week would make life easier, it felt like a huge revelation. Silly isn’t it? I’m feeling quite foolish as I write this. It’s all so blindingly obvious when you think about it.
But when you’re rushing around in your twenties balancing work and a hectic social life, and then in your thirties balancing work and an even more hectic family life (with a bit of social life squeezed in when you can), you don’t really step back and think about how you do things. You just do. Or at least that was my problem anyway.
So the glaringly simple solution is to work out first what you’re going to eat and then you shop only for what you need. Easy, eh? Well maybe not. So many of my friends have been fascinated by my meal plans, curious about how I create them and intrigued about how long I’ll be able to keep it up for. Although I’ve come across many people out in the webisphere who make meal plans, I’m the only one out of all the people I actually know who does this.
I don’t want to be teaching grandmothers to suck eggs. So if all this is too basic, I really won’t be offended if you quit here. But in case you are interested here is what I do…
My Sunday night ritual
Every Sunday evening, once the children are in bed, I sit down at my computer with a glass of wine and work out our family meals for the week ahead. I found it quite hard work at first. I’d much rather be sat on the sofa watching telly but I now rather enjoy surrounding myself with recipe books and checking out different blogs and websites to get ideas.
I order the bulk of my week’s groceries online from one of the big supermarket chains. While of course I’d prefer to buy all our food from local shops and markets, the simple truth is that a) as a working mum I don’t have the time and b) I wouldn’t be able to afford it.
The beauty of shopping online is that I avoid actually having to step foot into a supermarket. They are not my favourite places. Although the real advantage of shopping online is avoiding temptation. Whenever I go into a supermarket, I always come out with more than I intended.
Veg boxes and butchers
But I don’t buy everything from the supermarket. I also get a weekly organic vegetable box delivered the same day as my supermarket shop and I buy most of our meat from the local butcher or farm shop, while fish comes from the Saturday market.
I might not have a massive budget but I like to eat good food. In my opinion organic vegetables taste so much better and are worth paying a bit more for, while meat from supermarkets very rarely compares with the local meat your butcher can supply. When you plan your meals carefully, you find you can afford to use good ingredients because you are wasting so much less. And it’s worth eating meat less often in order to be able to eat better, tastier meat. Since shopping this way, I have succeeded in halving the amount I spend on groceries.
So on a Sunday evening, I’ll check to see what veggies will be included in our veg box and I’ll look at the family calendar to see when we’re busy and need easy meals and when we’re home so can spend more time in the kitchen. And our menu materializes magically from there.
Some days will see us feasting like kings on big roast dinners, while on others we’re eating beans on toast like paupers. It’s all about balance and moderation.
Once I’ve worked out our meal plan, I then get online and do the supermarket shop, highlighting in the diary what meat or fish I need to pick up during the week, preferably on days when I’m already out and about.
All in all, this will probably take me about two hours each Sunday evening. This might sound like quite a long a time but it really saves so much time and hassle later in the week.
There you have it. That’s how I shop. Now back to my original question. How do you shop? I’d love to compare notes.
PS I’m about to start posting my weekly meal plans – so watch this space!