Take an inventory of the ingredients you already have to help you make a meal plan that makes good uses of your resources.
There are many ways to approach meal planning. When I was a young newlywed, I just wrote a list of things that sounded good to me. When I shopped, I added to this list, by throwing into the cart whatever looked good as I strolled the grocery aisles.
After all, we had two incomes, no kids, and lots of disposable cash.
This method resulted in a lot of waste. I paid more than I needed to by buying ingredients at full price instead of stocking up on them when they were on sale. Since I overbought, I ended up throwing a lot away. I would forget the vegetables in the crisper until they were unrecognizable goo. I would find baking mixes well past their date because I’d stashed them in the pantry and then neglected to use them.
I had a plan back then. But, it didn’t work well. It didn’t make the best use of our resources and it was wasteful.
I think some of the best meal plans are the ones that use up what you have. I love seeing an empty fridge when it means we’ve been eating things up and not tossing them in the garbage because we neglected to use them in a timely manner.
So, this week’s assignment in meal planning is to examine the contents of your fridge. You can simply make a list or use this pantry inventory sheet to help you. Write everything down so that you know what you have at your disposal. Do the same thing for the pantry and the freezer.
Here’s a snapshot of what I’ve got on hand:
In the fridge
- 2 pounds sharp cheddar
- 2 pounds medium cheddar
- 4 eggs
- 2.5 pounds butter
- 1 head broccoli
- 2 heads lettuce (romaine, green leaf)
- 5 canteloupe
- 3 avocado
- half a bunch of celery
- 2 limes
- 1 jalapeno
- 1.5 gallons of milk
- 1 quart of whipping cream
- Asiago cheese
- 5 tortillas
- cream cheese
In the pantry
- 3 cans black beans
- 4 cans chick peas
- 1 can tuna
- 1 can chicken
- rice (Arborio and brown)
- couscous (Israeli and whole wheat)
- taco shells
- 5 onions
- chili peppers
- 1 rice cakes
- 2 sauerkraut
- rice papers
- 8 cans tomato sauce
- 8 cans diced toms
- lots of canned pumpkin (still!)
- baking mixes (2 waffles, 1 scone, 1 muffin)
- dried fruit (cranberries, raisins)
- nuts and seeds
- chocolate chips and other baking candy
- lots of jam!
- spices, herbs, vinegars
- regular baking staples
In the freezer
- ice cream
- butternut squash puree
- lemon juice
- pork chops
- chicken breast
- pork loin roast
- pork tenderloin
- frozen fruit (apples, plums, nectarines)
- frozen yogurt lumps
- herbs (lemongrass, thyme, dill, oregano)
- chicken broth
- vegetables (spinach, corn, zucchini)
- a few lunch items for work
- crushed tomatoes
- marinara sauce
- mozzarella cheese
- a few bread halves
- frozen apples for Oven-Baked Apple Compote
- Mahi Mahi fish pieces (yes, that’s how Trader Joe’s labeled it)
Now that I have a basic inventory of what I have, I can make the week’s meal plans using what’s already here.
Create meals from what you have.
We pretty much have a lot of proteins on hand, so I shouldn’t have to buy much more except to add variety to our meals. The produce box comes on Wednesday, but I’ll need a few supplies before then. I do plan to shop because the Mother Hubbard feeling makes me feel unprepared. We’ve got some wiggle room in the budget, so it’ll be okay.
Since this is a real live week with real live groceries, here’s my plan:
- cereal, milk, and melon
- Not Mushy Oatmeal with toppings (cranberries, nuts, seeds)
- Breakfast Bar of yogurt, scones, and melon
- Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins
- waffles and Apple Compote
- Creamy Rice with Toppings
For the kids:
- Snacky Lunch (cheese, crackers, fruit)
- Pork and Sauerkraut, potatoes
- Pasta Salad, veggie dippers, homemade hummus
- Chicken Pot Pie, green salad
- Sunbutter Jam Sandwiches, fruit
- Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, veggie dippers
For the parents:
- Salads with grilled chicken and vegetables, fruits, and other toppings
- Rice and Bean Bowls with Homemade Salsa
- Grilled Pork Tacos on Homemade Corn Tortillas, Green Salad
- Pizza Night
- Pasta with Red Sauce and Meatballs
- Chili (with Pork, Beans, and Vegetables)
- Fish Kababs with Rice and Veg, Mango Salsa, Salad
- Greek Chicken Salad on Homemade Pita Breads
So, that’s my meal plan for the week, mostly using what we have. But, I do have a list of groceries to pick up as well:
- fruit (bananas, pluots, mangoes)
- sandwich bread (or bake my own)
- veg (carrots, cukes, peppers, mushrooms, zucchini)
- ground beef
But, it’s a relatively short list, and if it weren’t for wanting some variety in our meals, I could probably go with a shorter list.
The overall point here is that if you work from what you have, you’ll have a better workable plan and you’ll make good use of the resources you have.