We’ve already gotten a peek into #1’s cooking system. (#1 says: I’m supposed to have a system?) What if you’re cooking for multiple people?
Over my life I’ve had several cooking “systems.” Sometimes my goals are to save money and sometimes my goals are to save time. Or both! Some require advance organization and some are good for playing it by ear.
Grocery Flyer system
This method is for saving money, not time. Each week, the grocery flyer comes in and shows what its loss leaders for the week are. Note the especially good deals and plan menus for the week around them. If there’s a huge sale on roasts, then think “Roast” or “beef stew” followed by roast beef sandwiches etc. Stock up on baking supplies around holidays.
(Sidenote: #1 put that Fearless Flyer pic in there. I weep for the lack of TJ’s. Weep. Plus Trader Joe’s doesn’t really have sales…)
I always have this system on tap in case another system breaks down. A well-stocked pantry is dreamy because you can make old standards at the drop of a hat. I always have the ingredients for spaghetti, bean chili, tomato soup (and grilled cheese sandwiches), lots of rice/quinoa dishes, and so on. My pantry is full of cans of tomatoes, beans, and grains, and I always have eggs, milk, onions, carrots, and usually celery on hand. These, along with sauces and mixed frozen veggies, fruit, and/or nuts, can be turned into any number of meals, especially with chicken and bacon in the freezer. I used to also keep potatoes, but they don’t work well with my metabolism so that’s out (sweet potatoes aren’t as versatile)… no more occasional fry-ups. When something is used up, a new one is bought to replace it. If there’s a sale, we stock up. This saves time and can save money, but can get boring if you’re not feeling especially creative. (In the summer, creative juices are flowing… not so much during the school year.)
Also, if you overspend one month, you can make up for it by eating off your pantry the next month.
This is a healthy eating system. When the CSA comes, you look at what they brought you and try to plan meals around the bounty. There is often a lot of cooking and freezing for later involved. The Victory Garden Cookbook is a big help. We’re on a break from this because if I see another turnip or mustard green I will … eject my stomach contents.
The menu system
This method requires advance planning, but saves time trying to figure out what to make (and money if you’re likely to give up and just order pizza if you can’t think of anything). One day a week, we go through cookbooks together and pick things out. Generally we pick out 4-5 dishes from a Kevin and Nancy Mills book like Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen or Faster! I’m Starving! and one or two weekend dishes from Cook’s Illustrated or one of my old no-longer-in-print books that will take more time and make lots of leftovers.
On one used envelope goes the list of dishes and where the recipes are. On another is the grocery list with all the ingredients needed. During the week when we get home we pick one of the Help! recipes off the list, knowing it will take less than 20 min to make and that we have all the ingredients.
When we started out we used the grocery flyer system combined with the pantry system. When we got real jobs for the first time, it was mainly just the pantry system combined with a lot of eating out because we didn’t have time to cook. When we had a kid we suddenly didn’t have time to eat out and we moved to the menu system… though a concern for healthy eating had us join a CSA for a couple of years. Now we’re back to menu + pantry. I’ve been being good and have cooked some double batch casseroles to freeze for when the school starts again. Man I love food.
What do you think?