Sunday, 21 February 2010

Menu Planning with Leftovers ($70 a week menu plan with ethical meats)

by
Eilleen (Consumption Rebellion)

Pizza ingredients. Photo by J Colman
Hello everyone!

Well, its been awhile since I posted here at the co-op. A combination of things really - time, net problems and conflicting priorites. I have been reading here though! And its good to finally be back contributing to this blog again.

I've been noticing many of the food related articles here lately. I particularly enjoyed Kate's "Going Meatless" post and can relate to many of her (and readers') views regarding the consumption of meat. Like many readers here, I try to buy free range and/or organic meats when I can.

When people in my day-to-day life find that I buy free-range and/or organic meats many of them often ask me how I can afford it. And when I tell them that my weekly grocery budget is about $70 a week, most are postively shocked.

So I thought I'd elaborate on how I menu plan and hopefully this will give you ideas on how to either incorporate your values into food consumption and/or cut your grocery bill too.

Some things about me first - my menu plan is to feed 3 people - my two children (aged 5 years and 7 years) are big eaters (as well as very very active) and so I've learnt to count their meal portions the same as mine. My daughter and I are the more adventurous eaters. My son is not adventurous at all and takes some coaxing. As a result, I have learned to keep "adventurous" meals down to maybe one meal a week or to keep it to one side dish a week.

My food values are this - cocoa products (coffee, chocolate etc) must be fairtrade as I can not abide by child-slavery. All my meat products must either be humanely raised and killed OR organic.

So here is what I do:

1. At the start of the week, I look at *any* leftover food in the fridge or pantry and make ONE meal from leftover ingredients in the fridge or pantry.

2. Write down 1 other dinner that I would like. Write the ingredients for that meal.

3. Review the ingredients for that meal and now write down another meal that uses many of the same ingredients from that first meal - eg ingredients for a stew are often very similar to say a stir-fry or savoury pie. Repeat till you have 4 dinners. What you should now have is a list of meals that allow you to buy ingredients in bulk.

4. Review all dinners and ingredients for the dinners and see if you can expand the ingredients to include lunches and breakfasts - eg. if the ingredients for 4 dinner will use up "6 eggs" and you know that you probably will buy a dozen eggs, then you know that you probably have enough to make omelettes for at least 2 breakfasts or 2 lunches. By doing it this way, you can now buy in bulk with a purpose (as opposed to buying in bulk but never really using it all up).

5. Write down any other ingredients you may need for the breakfasts and lunches.

6. Now that you've written 4 dinners and (hopefully) 7 breakfasts and lunches, you should now review what you can do with any of the leftovers from the above. (Think of it as a "Masterchef challenge" :P). I've found that by having 4 dinners, 7 breakfasts and lunches, then I can always come up with atleast 2 more meals using leftovers.

7. And so that makes 6 dinners, 7 breakfasts and lunches AND the 1 dinner using just existing ingredients in the fridge/pantry.

8. (Optional tip) If you are in the habit of getting takeaway (food to go), then PLAN that in your menu plan!! You would be surprised how many people actually throw away leftovers from their takeaway food. When the kids and I splurge on takeaway (the Ethiopian restaurant near us has a GREAT takeaway menu), I plan any leftovers from that too.

So, as you can see, I put a lot of emphasis on leftovers. When I first started this journey, I found it difficult to incorporate leftovers. That was for 2 reasons:

1. I didn't have the skills to think about leftovers creatively.
2. I didn't recognise "leftovers" to begin with - that is, I didn't know I was wasting food - I just thought it was "normal" to throw it away.

To address my first reason, I started slowly - just using vege leftovers to make one side dish instead of a main meal etc - nothing really flash, just little "experiments". The more I did this, the more confident I became with how to do it. And the more confident I became, the more creative I got with cooking. I tried not to beat myself up with mistakes either!! If it didn't work, then I learned from it and tried to not make the same mistake next week. Remember its not a race!!

For the second one, I have to admit this came as a shock to me. I didn't think that I was wasting food at all until I met up with people who used every bit of food they had. If I had not met amazing people like these, then I would probably not realise how much I can "extend" my food.

Here's an example of what I do to use up every last bit of food...

Night 1: Make roast chicken. My roast chicken has a stuffing consisting of 1 chopped tomato, 1 chopped onion, garlic and soy sauce.

Day 1: Have leftover roast chicken sandwiches - include a bit of the stuffing as part of the sandwich.

Night 2: Using what should now be the carcass of the roast chicken, make chicken stock. Set aside any leftover stuffing. After making chicken stock, it time to throw away the bones. (Eat something else ;) )

Night 3:
Using the chicken stock, make rice. When rice is just about cooked through, use the leftover stuffing to flavour your rissoto even more. Add any other ingredients for your rissoto (hopefully the ingredients are also leftover ingredients from other meals).

So the leftovers from the roast chicken meal ended up becoming 1 lunch and 1 extra dinner - that's 3 meals using pretty much the same ingredients!

Now, prior to me seriously menu planning, I would've made roast chicken and then *maybe* used bits for a sandwich BUT I would've thrown away the carcass and the leftover stuffing thinking I couldn't do anymore with it. But as you can see, its possible to actually make more meals with it.

Anyway, I hope you can see now why my grocery bill is as low as it is. If you have any questions, or more ideas on how to get your grocery bill down, then please let me know! (I can always improve).

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Some great sites you may want to visit:

Mealopedia
- helps you with a menu plan! You choose your tastes and they give you recipe ideas, complete with a list of ingredients at the end to print out and use.

Love Food, Hate Waste
- lots of food facts, including what expiry date/use by dates mean, lots of recipe ideas for leftovers, and portion control.

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I hope you have had a wonderful weekend!