Day 123–Local Meal Planning On a Budget

An Italian shopping list for groceries.

I am a “list person”.

Not to label myself or anything, but I do love a good list. To do lists, errand lists, shopping lists and yes, menu lists. There is something very satisfying about crossing off something on a list. Also, I am slightly absent-minded (I prefer to think of this as “intensely focused”), so lists help me keep track of things that might otherwise get overlooked. I also keep a list of blog topics. And one that has risen to the top is how we plan our meals around local foods. A friend posted in wondering about this as well, so now seems a good time to dive in.

We don’t have a lot of parameters around our eating, but we do have some loose rules for our journey:

  1. At least 75% of our food should come from local sources.
  2. We should keep spending to $100 or under
  3. No processed foods, unless absolutely necessary (see “Girl Scout Cookies”)

In the second week of our journey, I had a major “uh-oh” moment. I had carefully crafted a list of recipes I wanted to try based on what I thought might be available at the farmer’s market. As it turns out, almost nothing I wanted was available, so I ended up buying all manner of random food and then trying to create a week of meals out of it. If you’re up for that challenge, go for it, but it was a stressful learning experience for me and I learned that I need more order than that. I’ve developed a system over the past four months and I’ll share it with you. It probably sounds more complicated than it really is. I’m not recommending anyone adopt my system, but it works for me. And if it works for me, I am probably more likely to be successful, so finding a system that works for YOU will do the same. Here goes:

Thursday–On Thursdays I read emails and Twitter posts from our local farmers markets and farmers so I know what will be available over the weekend. These posts help so much. I highly recommend getting on the e-mail lists of any farmers markets or farmers near you. I can find out what vendors will be available, what they will have, what’s coming up soon and (if I want) I can even order specific products or cuts of meat ahead of time. I start making my draft menu for the next week at this point.

A note about our weekly menu: I try to make sure we have a balance of vegetables and proteins throughout the week. This doesn’t always work out–some weeks have been heavy on seafood and others heavy on chicken or pork–but mostly it works out ok.

Friday–On Fridays, I get an email from The Produce Box letting me know what is in the various boxes for the next week. I usually go ahead and order my box on Friday and, based on what is going to be in my box, I tweak my menu and make a shopping list of the remaining items I will need. Since what I get in my Produce Box is similar to what is available in the market, there aren’t usually surprises here.

Saturday–On Saturday, I go to the farmer’s market (sometimes I do this on Friday, but whatever). Since I know pretty much in advance what will be available to me, I pick up what I need as well as any orders I have placed for meat, fish, etc. While I’m at the market, I make a list (!) of new items that are available or anything interesting that I might consider for next week. Then I go to Trader Joes and get whatever else I need.

Unless something happens and I forget something on the list, I go shopping once a week. Period. And I stick to my list. This has been hard for me, but I try to make myself do it.

So far, this system has worked out well. It does mean that I spend a LOT more time thinking about food. I don’t mind this, but if you don’t like to cook or if you don’t want to sit around and think through a weekly menu, this may not make you happy. To date, we have been pretty good about not wasting food and making good use of the produce and meat we buy. Some weeks are more successful than others, of course. That’s life.

So that is our system for making sure we have local foods and that we eat what we buy. If you are eating local, how do you plan your meals?

Tomorrow I will post 10 Tips for Successful Locavore Shopping. Yay–a list!!

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5 Comments

  1. aha! I can see that being able to find out what’s going to be available at the farmer’s market in advance and even place orders would make a huge difference. (and also prevent needing to be up at the crack of dawn on Saturday to get there before everything is sold out. This is also something I’ve struggled with.) I’m still not sure I could do it, but I can better wrap my brain around how _you_ can do it with this system. Thanks!

    Reply
    • It’s taken me a while to figure it all out! And THANK GOODNESS most local farmers are also high tech! I never saw a real use for Twitter before, but I really do rely on those posts!

      Reply
  2. mgeorge3

     /  May 3, 2012

    I love your method, its simple and it works. I’ve found that by planning the menu sticking to the list, and only shopping once a week we’ve significantly cut down our food expenses, as well as food waste. I hadn’t thought of the e newsletters from my local markets though, I’ll have to check that out it would help a lot. Thanks!

    Reply
  3. I just saw this and thought of you– it has nothing to do with lists, but it DOES have everything to do with pickled asparagus. Complete with gorgeous photos 🙂
    http://chicenvelopements.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/lets-get-pickled/

    Reply

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