Well, then. This little topic got sucked into the black hole that is December.
In case you missed it, check out Part One here.
Menu planning is just one part of the picture when it comes to a stress-free dinner time. You have to make sure to have the needed ingredients on hand. That's step two.
I know that it seems over whelming to shop for two weeks (or a month) at a time but it's really no different than shopping for a week or a few days. The only difference is volume.
As I sit down with the calendar and select menu items for the month, I add ingredients to my grocery list. Sure, some things I (almost) always have on hand but they get annotated none the less. I keep one list for the 1st to the 15th and a second list for the 15th to the end of the month (I usually keep the list for the 2nd half on the back of my meal calendar so it's less likely to disappear). Once I'm done planning dinners, taking into consideration snacks, special baking or other things I have planned I add lunch items and other necessities for the first two week period (or make note for the second half of the month).
After everything is compiled, I check the pantry. Yes, basil is almost always in the pantry but it really cramps my dinner time style to be making spaghetti and not have it. So, this is the time to double check. If I have it great, an item crossed off. If I'm close to running out, it stays.
Once these list are compiled (I double check the mid-month list right before I shop also), I should need to hit the store for a major shopping trips only twice a month. During these trips I purchase everything for a two week period except produce, milk (we had it delivered from the local dairy when we were in CO but that's not an option here) and bread (I make our sandwich bread but we buy everything else in town as needed though I'm starting to try making other bread items as well). Yes, you need a bit of storage but it is so worth it.
The love of Costco runs deep in my family. It knows no generational boundary. When Jeff was deployed last year I really embraced my monthly Costco run and stocked up on everything I could. In fact, I made a comprehensive list of those items that we used in a month that I could get there (really, what can you not get there?). My list included:
TP, diced tomatoes, Annie's Mac n' Cheese, tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, whole wheat pasta, canned green beans, vanilla, frozen berries, Pellagrino, syrup, Tillamook sharp cheddar, coffee, dry pinto beans, contact solution, toothpaste, jam and taco seasoning.
I even kept a spreadsheet with the prices (yes, a bit annoying) and could change the quantity needed and print out my shopping list with a good idea of my total. Let's be honest, there's always a few extra things in the cart at Costco. Though the list really helped me be disciplined.
So, Costco knocked out a big chunk of my shopping for not only two weeks but the entire month. The rest of my list for the first half of the month gets sorted by aisle (again, annoying but it makes it so much easier to shop, especially if you have littles with you) and off we go. Every non-perishable item on the list for the 1st to the 15th is purchased at this time along with perishables for the first week. I head home with my bags of deliciousness and am thrilled to know that I don't have to think about it again for two weeks. I have everything I need.
Now, a few other things that really help.
The last two years we were in the States we bought beef from a rancher. The first year we got quarter steer and the second a half. The half steer lasted our family of five nine months. No, we don't really eat that much beef but it was so great having amazing, high quality meat (ground, steaks, roasts, etc.) already in the freezer. The only drawbacks were the up front cost and the amount of freezer space it took up. Otherwise, we loved it and will definitely do it again when we move back. If you eat beef regularly at all, I suggest looking into it.
Buy your bread in bulk! We bought some of our bread at Costco but the most cost effective place is the Orowheat Outlet. For my FtCo friends, there is one in Loveland and I know there is at least one in the Everett area. The same 100% Wheat bread that was around $4.00 at my local store in Colorado was $1.89 at the Outlet. But here's the kicker. More often than not I would leave with around 15 bread items having only paid $20. At the beginning of the year they give a calendar of coupons usually buy one get one. The Loveland store also did punch cards and Thursday was double punch day. After you filled one card you got two free loaves. I could fill a card in one Thursday trip. Finally, for every $7.00 you spend you got to get an item off the free table. So, bread, hamburger/hot dog buns, tortillas, english muffins all done for the month I spent about $20.
I'm still figuring out the best way to do our shopping here in Italy. I'm making even more from scratch, we're trying to use the local markets, butcher, etc. as much as possible, I'm still getting used to remembering to buy enough milk on base, and planning the monthly wine stock up at the local winery but my general approach is the same.
Yes, it does take a bit more time initially but I think that's totally worth it. I'd love to hear what you think if you give it a try.