I went dumpster diving this morning. Bet that’s not how you thought I was going to open, eh? Or what would the British call it…bin fishing? Something more elegant, no doubt. But regardless, I went outside this morning – rubber gloves on – to fish some precious cargo out of the giant recycling bin.
It was this: my shopping list/meal planner for the last million years (or so). My oh-so-useful, constantly misplaced but cherished little pink book. I threw it out because I finished it – right to the back binding – and what was the point of keeping it? But last night I was chatting with my husband about what to write about (sorry for the absence!) and it occurred to me that my little pink book deserved better before it rejoined the circle of life in the recycling centre…it deserved a proper eulogy. In the form of a blog post….about shopping and meal planning. Exciting times.
Lists have always held a place in my heart – so efficient, so clean, and so beautiful when you’re able to cross something off. But they’ve become so unbelievably useful since becoming pregnant. Because my brain kinda went to mush and has never fully recovered. It’s as if every thought that enters my brain (and there are so many when you’re the family’s PA) is scribbled illegibly on a not-so-sticky-post-it. Some of them stick ok, some of them you find under your shoe a few days later and some of them you plain can’t decipher (“Basket….Basket. What was I supposed to do with a basket!?”). Hence actual written lists are essential for my life to function anywhere near normal levels.
The food shopping list is tops because food, it seems, keeps my family happy and alive. Who knew?
It’s also because I’m a bit specific about how I like my kitchen stocked. I like to keep a full pantry (i.e. I try to have everything in case I need it. Emergency bakes/dinners shouldn’t be an issue). So you want 5 different kinds of mustard? I’ve got them. Fan of soy sauce on your rice – don’t worry, I replaced the bottle we finished last time. This way everyone is happy, everyone is fed, and I feel on top of at least one element of my life.
So here’s how I work it. I like using a little book because it fits in your bag, and it’s got two opposing pages. On the right side write the items you want to shop for, on the left write the meals you’d like to have. Every time you finish something- write it on the list. Every time you think of a meal you’d like to eat soon, write the ingredients on the right side, or if you’re pressed for time write the meal title on the left. Come Friday evening or Saturday morning (the day before you do your shop), sit down and fill in the blanks: write out all the ingredients for all the dinners, think up some more dinners to make sure you’ve got one for at least 6 out of 7 days of the week. I’ve found it works well to leave one dinner out: you’ll likely fill it with leftovers, take-away/meal out or an unexpected dinner source. If you’re struggling for meal ideas check-out what food is seasonal this time of year and try to build a meal around that. Also try to build in at least one vegetarian meal/week.
Not convinced? Here’s a list (!!) of the benefits of meal planning this way:
- Money savings. Planning your shop so precisely leaves little room for impulse shopping and buying things you just won’t get around to eating. Plus seeing your week of meals spread out before you you’ll be able to see places where you can save (Having a roast chicken on Sunday? Can you use the leftovers in a stir-fry on Monday?). And if you’re really keen on saving money you can plan the meals that achieve that for you: namely meals with cheaper cuts of meat or vegetarian options.
- Less panic. You know your kitchen is more-or-less stocked for the week. Fewer mini panic shops. Less anxiety next to the cabbages wondering what vegetables you’ll need for the week (and that your child will be willing to eat!)
- Building a repertoire. You’ll find over time that you’ll build a broader list of recipes that you and your family adore. You can easily flip back in your book and see what meal it was. And you’re less likely to fall back on the ‘same-old’ dinners because you’ve given yourself time to look for something new to make your self/friends/family.
So out of respect for my lovely little pink book, here’s a recipe for a meal that I made a few times in the last months of its life. Simple but delicious and a family favourite:
Salt & Pepper Chicken Wings with Wedges and Fennel Coleslaw (serves 2-3 adults)
- 1 pack chicken wings (about 15 jointed pieces, or 30 unjointed)
- Salt & pepper
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 4 medium potatoes (I use Maris Piper), each cut into 6 wedges lengthways
- 1/2 cabbage (quite pretty with red cabbage if you can get it – but works with any), thinly sliced
- 1/2 head of fennel, thinly sliced
- 1 carrot, grated
- 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 5 tbsp mayonnaise
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 3 tbsp white wine vinegar (but any will do here)
- Preheat your oven to 200C.
- If your chicken wings come unjointed then cut off the wing tip, and cut the rest of the piece in two at the joint. Try to find the point of least resistance and cut there. I also like to trim my wings of a bit more fat – so the extra bit of skin that connected the wings, and the fatty deposit at the base of the single-bone piece.
- Place wings on a baking tray and cover with 1.5 tbsp of the olive oil, a good tsp of salt (flaked sea salt works particularly well here – although take it easy if you’re also feeding little people) and lots of freshly ground black pepper (it’s nicer to have freshly ground because you get some bigger pieces of pepper, which add spice to the wings). Toss and place the tray in the oven and cook for 30-45 mins, flipping every 15 mins or so. You want the wings to be crispy and brown – so just keep them in the oven until they’re well done (it’s very hard to overcook a chicken wing).
- Place the wedges on a separate baking tray and cover with 1.5 tbsp of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Place in oven with wings and bake for approx 30 mins, flipping every 15 mins or so. You also want these to be brown and crispy at the edges.
- Coleslaw time. Slice your red onion thinly and place in a small bowl with the vinegar and a pinch of salt. Keep them in the bowl for at least 5 mins to pickle mildly while you get on with the rest.
- Put the carrot, fennel, and cabbage in a separate bowl. Remove the onions from the vinegar (conserving the vinegar) and add to the bowl with the mayonnaise, the sugar and 1/2 tbsp of the vinegar. Mix until the sugar dissolves. Taste and add more mayo/sugar/vinegar as well as some salt and pepper to taste.
I developed a serious fondness for potato wedges with sriracha mayonnaise (1 tsp sriracha to 2 tbsp mayo) whilst pregnant with my littlest one. So good. Try them and never look back!
So thank you little book and fare thee well. Your post has been taken up by a small book meant to capture which bottles of wine we like best. Turns out we like them all, so it’s now my shopping list book. I’m also trialing my fridge calendar as a place to write out the weeks’ menu as a handy reminder.
Happy eating! 🙂