Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How I Meal Plan, and A Must-Read Book for Foodies!

The average U.S. family of four spends from $500 to $2,000 a year on food they never eat, according to researchers' estimates (Source)

I think this stat has a lot to do with how often our eyes are bigger than our stomachs......

One of my missions in life is to waste as little food as humanly possible. The only time I really waste food and don't feel bad about it is when someone gives me a large plate of cookies or half of a leftover carrot cake (this happened last week...) and I feel that it's best to waste it in the trashcan vs. wasting it in my stomach.

When I was growing up my mom did a great job of training me on how to not waste food, and to take advantage of all the resources that were available to me before going out and buying more. Of course I hated it when I was young. We'd have conversations like this;

Me: "Mom, I want pizza!"

Mom: "Gina, we have a pizza dough mix in the cabinet, plus some great toppings in the fridge, let's make a pizza!"

Me: "Awww, mom! It's not the same as Pizza Hut"
(Note: Pizza Hut used to be my favorite. Not anymore. Blah)

Mom: " We can order a pizza next time, but for now let's eat what we have. We can try really hard to make it taste the same"

Today, I really appreciate these lessons that I learned as a child. Looking back, the homemade pizzas and the homemade mac and cheeses really weren't as bad as I made them out to be. Thanks mom :)

Here are some of the strategies I use for not wasting food and for meal planning. First, I have a white board on my fridge, with colorful dry-erase markers.


  • This is where I list the 2-4 recipes I plan to make during the week (I'll admit, it typically ends up being only two recipes....)
  • If the recipes are from a magazine I use magnets to post the recipes on my fridge

  • This is where I list what's currently in the fridge and needs to be used. I typically include a "use-by" date next to the food I list.
  • I look at this list whenever I open the fridge because it helps me decide what to throw together for lunches and dinners (on days that I'm not using a planned recipe).

  • This is where I list what's in our freezer that can be incorporated into a meal. I hate it when good proteins get lost in the freezer, only to be completely ruined because I forgot about them.
  • I always list whether the proteins are raw or cooked. Sometimes I will cook chicken, for example, and freeze it to eat later in the week, or the next week. If it's cooked I feel that it needs to be eaten sooner than if it's raw.

Here is my new method for creating a grocery list. I used to use a pad of paper that I would update, constantly (and therefore waste a lot of paper because I'd end up re-writing the list several times). That got really old....and unorganized. Recently I did this to save paper and time;

The foods and beverages that I buy consistently were printed from an excel chart with a box to the right that I check off when I need the item. The blank space to the right is for the other items I need to get. Before I go to the store I write the final list on a piece of paper, then use Windex to erase the list and start fresh. I have this hanging on the side of our fridge where it's easy to just go write something, and it's out of view (my mom would call this "tacky" if it was within view!).

And how do I plan recipes? Pinterest, of course! I try to pin one or two new recipes each day, and each week I pick two of them to make. I used to keep a running list of recipes on my fridge, but Pinterest makes it so much easier.

QUESTION: What are your methods for staying organized in the kitchen, meal planning, and not wasting food?

It's been a while since I've posted a new book, so I thought I'd share my latest find with you because it's the perfect book for foodies! I'm about halfway into this book and it's very entertaining and incredibly interesting. It's more of an educational book about smell and the olfactory system than anything else, but there is a great story involved as well. It's definitely a good read.

QUESTION: What was the last great book you read?

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  1. thanks for the book recommendation! I love seeing how you organize your meal planning! Ha, I totally sound like your mom - I'm sure it gets annoying to my husband but i just CAN'T go out to eat and spend money on food when we have fresh foods that may otherwise go bad!

  2. Look at you!!! I wish I was HALF that organized!!! If I was...I would be so much happier...un-organization stresses me out. Therefore, I live in a chronic state of stress! :) I really, really, really need to start meal planning. I plan my lunches on a weekly basis but the dinner part is always a guess. Thanks for the tips!! ALSO, I do a food trivia everyday on my unit. Today I am going to use your tidbit on the waste! Thanks!!! Have a super Wednesday, Gina!

  3. My mom always used everything, and we really never threw food away when I was little. I'm really trying to do the same, but I'll have to admit that I'm not as successful as she is. I plan our meals around our CSA box as otherwise things tend to get "lost." I also try to use up things in the cupboards and freezer so that they don't get old. I think the biggest problem are "spontaneous" meals out, so we try to avoid them (most of the time).

    Thanks for the book recommendation. I think I heard of it before. Sounds interesting.

  4. Love your system Gina, and your mom's comment makes me laugh! (I feel the same way, about certain things being out of the regular sight line, and I know my mom does too...never seat her facing the kitchen in a restaurant!!). My technique is to use Pinterst for my dinner plans, then I make my weekly grocery list, including regular staples, off of that. One advantage of doing this is that I have cut down on food waste, and I think I have even managed to save a little $ on my grocery bills as well. Your book sounds good. I just finished the first Hunger Games (my 9 yo son recommended it to me :-) and now on to th second book!

  5. I really need to put more effort into my meal planning---I either plan and buy too much (and then end up feeling anxious because I'm wasting food), or I don't plan enough and end up scrambling around to find something to eat (or I eat avocados for dinner).

    I haven't had much reading time lately, but I really enjoyed a book called The Bone People. It's old, but was recommended to me by someone and it was very good!

  6. I really have to buy a whiteboard (or find one somewhere) to put on my fridge- I love this idea and lately I swear Eric and I have planned meals and been like um, what are we supposed to be eating tomorrow night? Who knows!? We have actually been doing grocery delivery lately which has helped the wasted food because we don't make impulse purchases and we basically have a list like you just made on our peapod profile so we can just check off what we actually need. Very useful.

  7. I feel like I'm always wasting paper with my grocery lists! Although, a lot of the time i'll write on an envelope i'd be throwing away anyways, so it's not too much extra waste. Love the dry erase idea Gina!

    Gunna check and see if my library has that book....

    Latest good book I read was Real Food for baby (or mother and baby, can't remember).

  8. Always love book recommendations. I have a few waiting to be read but I'll have to put this on the list! I am a big meal planner. I basically do it on the weekend- plan based on what needs to be used up and what recipes I decide to use, post it to my blog and stick to it. I might switch around days or end up with more leftovers than planned, but otherwise it works for me!

  9. You're soooo organized! I wish I could be like that. I don't usually have plan when i go to groceries. I like to see what's fresh and start creating possible combos with them. And then I just make sure to finish what's in the fridge before the end of the week. I need to improve on using freezed items.