Day 232–Starting Week 34–Budget and Menu

How in the world is this week 34 out of 52? There are only 18 weeks left in the year? It seems impossible, yet the apples and butternut squash at the farmers markets tell me otherwise. We’re at the cusp of a food shift that will usher in fall vegetables and fruits and send us pining for peaches and strawberries again.

Last week’s menu was a lot of fun. Many of the recipes came from other bloggers and all of them were wonderful! I had planned to do that again and then I looked at the calendar. This is one of those frenzied food weeks where we all have something going on in the evenings, so I’m planning some quick meals this week instead.

I am just over budget this week at 103.70. This overage is due to an indiscretion of mine. I made a frivolous purchase this week through The Produce Box. They are carrying some locally produced nut butters and when I saw “Coffee Vanilla Peanut Butter” I could not resist. I probably should have ignored it, but I didn’t. So that will somehow be worked into dessert this week. Any suggestions? Thankfully I had some Mae Farm Italian sausage in the freezer. That’s a carryover from a previous week.

We’re also using our own tomato sauce and barbecue sauce this week–YUM! Since I didn’t add the cost of making these into our weekly budget, I am paying us back by charging those against our grocery account for this week.

  • The Produce Box (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, grapes, butternut squash, corn, coffee vanilla peanut butter): $40.75
  • Mitchell Pantry (one jar jam, one jar barbecue sauce, 1 package tomato sauce): $9.00
  • Locals Seafood (scallops): $12.00
  • Mae Farm (pork shoulder, eggs): $15
  • Trader Joes (oatmeal, rice, cheese, yogurt, soy milk, tortillas): $26.95

What are we having this week? Here is the list, which reflects a bit of fall!

  • Wednesday–Egg salad sandwiches, pickles (Girl Scout night)
  • Thursday–Mixed green salad with leftover pork loin and homemade ranch dressing from Creative Noshing (Girl Scout leader night)
  • Friday–Pan seared NC scallops on butternut squash risotto; salad
  • Saturday–Crockpot barbecue with homemade roasted pepper barbecue sauce; roasted okra
  • Sunday–Barbecue quesadillas, carryover quinoa
  • Monday–Pasta baked with roasted tomato sauce and Mae Farm Italian sausage
  • Tuesday–Leftover pasta (PTA night)
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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!!