Week two: A lesson in over-correcting
Armed with this new information, I embraced the planning part of meal planning.
Starting in my pantry, I jotted down a list of every staple food I could use as a base for a meal. I went over my grocery’s weekly circular ad in-depth, writing down every good sale. I dug through all the available digital coupons, painstakingly adding them to my grocery store rewards card one at a time. Finally, I scoured Smitten Kitchen and Epicurious to find recipes that matched the ingredients on sale.
It took almost two hours of work and by the time I headed to the store; I was fully expecting a huge reward for my effort. When the total came to $195.67, I felt a bit defeated. My bill was down, but I was tired.
At least I had all my meals planned out by Sunday night and I wouldn’t have to think about what to make for the whole week ahead. That was a big upside!
It was not. To keep from wasting food, you need to sequence meals so nothing goes bad—use the most perishable goods first, then heartier produce and meat, and so on. To make matters worse, the best sale of the week at my local grocer was a BOGO on chicken breasts so I bought four packages. Since my freezer is the size of a shoebox, I could only freeze two of the packages. That meant I had to eat chicken four nights in a row before I could have the veggie orzo I actually wanted. By the time I was down to the last of it, I started resenting the chicken just for existing in the fridge.
Week two verdict:
Food is supposed to be enjoyable, even, I dare say, joyous. Buying great produce. Cooking new meals. Sitting down to something you’re excited about. It makes life better. Planning, buying stuff you don’t really like because it’s on sale; and then being forced not only to eat it, but to cook it and clean up afterward? Ugh.
Week three: Becoming a prepper
By week three I wasn’t just tired of force-feeding myself cut-rate chicken, I was getting tired of cooking from scratch every single night.
Since I was relying on leftovers for lunches and not “repurposing” last night’s dinner for tonight’s meal, I had been cooking from zero every night of the week. I needed another plan. The Kitchn once again came to my aid, recommending prepping meals ahead of time as a miracle cure for what ailed me. I had my doubts.
Sunday afternoon after planning and shopping, I spent another two hours cutting vegetables, cooking ahead, and making sauces to store in the fridge for the week. It felt awesome. Seeing rows of ready-to-go containers was beyond satisfying.
But, there is a huge downside to prepping all the meal-planning evangelists seem to be ignoring: Not all produce (or meat) wants to be prepared days in advance. Even using tightly sealed containers, some food started to go bad. The avocados went first, turning brown. The zucchini went next, all squishy and slightly slimy. And the sausage I cooked tasted distinctly reheated three days later.
Some stuff—like carrots, sliced grapes, and caramelized onions—held together fine. And the sauces I’d made in advance tasted fresh enough almost a week later.
On the plus side, I’d started to build up an excess of ingredients since I was cooking at home on the regular now. That meant I could buy less, and my grocery bill dropped to about $160.
Week three verdict:
Prepping ahead did save some time, but it didn’t work for everything. I plan to keep it up, but only with things I’m pretty sure won’t morph into goo in the fridge. Figuring that out takes some trial and error, but I did get a leg up. The Lean Green Bean has a great starter guide to food prep.