Every Saturday I write out a meal plan, no assigned days, but making sure to include enough food to get us through to the following weekend. I sit on the floor with all my cookbooks (and occassionally my laptop) and select our meals and snacks based on season, current cravings, and budget.
I have found that when you select recipes seasonally and with overlapping ingredients you can make your dollar stretch quite a bit further. (Good, quality organic food is very important in our house, but I hate to spend money unneccesarily. When you're buying asparagus in November you are just throwing your money away, not to mention the environmental cost.)
What's great is that when you're shopping with purpose there is a lot of room for flexibility. Sometimes I'll leave out a meal and see what's in abundance this week or when the farmer's markets are thriving I'll buy up the best priced, most appetizing food and then make a plan. This way you know you are getting the freshest food and you'd be amazed at the deals you can make. (I got a giant basket of eggplants last year at our local farmer's market for a dollar. It was the end of the season and nearing the end of the day. The farmer simply wanted to part with her produce and I happily obliged. Needless to say we ate every eggplant dish I know that week...and it was awesome!) If you are fortunate enough to live in a place with year round abundant farmer's markets (I am jealous!) and would make planning all the easier.
During the winter I make a lot of stews, soups, and casseroles. You work with what you have and a good hearty, winter veggie meal warms the bones with the added bonus of plenty of left-overs!
So if you're curious I'll give you an example from this upcoming week in our house.
Cornmeal Brussels Sprout Masala w/ Rice
Tomato-Rice and Roasted Garlic Soup
Superhero Chili (Roasted Root Veggies and Beans)
Caramelized Onion and Butternut Squash Casserole w/ Roasted Sprouts
Chickpea-Quinoa Pilaf w/ Curried Tofu
And that's it for the week. I will be able to make five delicious, home-cooked meals with enough left-overs to last through the following weekend for a little less than $50. I am definitely not the purest foodie on the block (well maybe on my block, but that's not saying much). I would love to incorporate more raw and fermented foods, buy more local, etc... but I feel pretty happy with my diet and definitely happy with my system.
If you're having trouble getting organized a template might be just what you need. If you would like to use an adorable meal planning template, Danielle's is super cute, efficient, and comes in two different sizes. How fun!
Do you meal plan? What's in your shopping cart this week?