To Buy In Bulk: Long-Term Meal Planning

Yesterday, I announced my newest plan: to create and rely on a frugal pantry. Now, I realize that I need to get serious about this and figure out how to put it all into action. Loosely, here are my “rules” for the project:

  1. Shop for non-perishable food once every three months.
  2. Rely on fresh, local produce as much as possible.
  3. Can and preserve as much as possible to use when fresh produce is not available (typically late November through early April for us).
  4. Shop bi-weekly for milk, cheese, meat, and tolietries, stockpiling on sales and using coupons.

I’m excited about this approach because I think it will simplify my life.  I’ll rely on the farmer’s market for fresh produce while it’s open.  Then, we’ll use what we’ve stored when the markets are closed.  Instead of doing a whole big trip to the grocery store once a week, I can narrow it down to a few aisles every other week.  Also, once I get a list going, I think the bulk shop will be easy as well.  I may even try do to some of it online.  I’ve decided to do my first major bulk shop in a couple of weeks, so I’m planning for food to last us through October, November, and December.  I realize that this will include the holidays, so I may have to break some of my rules in December.  I’ll try not to be too rigid, but I’m hoping that by setting some limits about when I can go to the store, we can be more creative about using what we have at home. 

The first challenge is to figure out what I actually need to buy to last us three months.  We’ll start with dinners.  I plan meals fairly loosely by “night.”  Here’s the whole list of possiblities:

  1. Soup night 
  2. Salad night 
  3. Meat, starch, and side night
  4. Pasta or stir-fry night
  5. Mexican or cheese night (crepes or souffle, for example)
  6. Pizza night or night out
  7. Leftover/wild card night
by f10n4

by f10n4

As you can see, this gets me through the week.  What I like about the system is that it is easy to rotate without getting boring.  At first, I made Monday night soup night, etc.  Now, I find it easier to just keep tabs in my head.  By Thursday, if we haven’t had soup, that will be soup night.  That said, we do keep Friday as pizza or going-out night.  By the end of the week, I’m too tired to do much else!  As for the rest, one week, we’ll have something Mexican.  The next week, it’s a cheese-based dish.  One week, we’ll have pasta and the next week we have stir-fry.  By sticking to type, it’s also much easier to eat seasonally.  For example, the salads change from spring greens and asparagus to tomatoes, feta, and basil, to spinach, apples, goat cheese and nuts.  (We do “cheat” and buy organic spinach in the winter so that the husband can gets the greens he loves.  I know, I’m lucky to have a husband who loves greens!)

For other meals, it is pretty easy.  The husband skips breakfast, but has cereal for a late-night snack, so I’ll need a supply of that.  I eat yogurt, cereal, oatmeal, or granola bars.  We have the kids every other weekend, and they like cereal, oatmeal, eggs, or pancakes.  For lunch, we often eat leftovers or sandwiches.  For snacks, we have string cheese, tortilla chips, crackers and cheese, and nuts.  So, all of the non-perishables for those things will need to go into the bulk shop.  We try to keep “junk food” out of the house.  If I really crave potato chips, I have to buy a small bag out of my cash allowance.

Now, I’m hoping to make as much as I can from scratch.  Ideally, espcecially as we move into the fall, I can have a baking day to do bread, crackers, and maybe granola bars.  I’d really like to whittle down the processed food that we buy.  Some weeks, I’m too busy for a baking day, but that’s what I’m going to aim for. 

For my bulk shop, I know that I need the staples for 6 pasta meals, 6 sir-frys, 12 salads, 12 soups, 12 “meat/fish+starch” meals, 6 Mexican meals, 6 cheesey dinners, and 6 pizzas.  I’ll also need a supply of oatmeal, nuts, and baking ingredients.  Now, I feel like I can start pulling together a shopping list!

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6 responses to “To Buy In Bulk: Long-Term Meal Planning

  1. Pretty good. Does milk really keep for 2 weeks in USA? I tend to buy my milk every 2-3 days.

  2. mydailydollars

    Yes, interestingly, it’s the organic milk that lasts longer, up to three weeks. Not sure why that is though. . .

  3. Pingback: 143rd Festival of Frugality: Celebrity Edition | LivingAlmostLarge

  4. threadbndr (karla)

    Don’t forget, you can freeze milk, too. Skim and 2% freeze better than whole. Just use enough out of the open container to provide ‘head room’ and leave the cap off while it’s freezing up to allow for expansion and freeze it before the ‘use date’.

    Then cap it and it should store for up to three months. When you defrost it, do so in the fridge, not out on the counter. Give it a good shake in case the milk seperated a bit, and you are good to go.

    I watch for milk as a loss leader (still happens occasionally) and freeze in clean, recycled half gallon containers. I mark the date it goes in on pretty much everything in the freezer and keep a freezer inventory so that I know when to use things by.

  5. mydailydollars

    Good idea! I never would have thought to freeze milk!

  6. Pingback: My Big Bulk-Shopping Trip « My Daily Dollars

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