Chop! Chop!

March 25th, 2013 9:03 PM -05

In an attempt to reduce meal prep stress and wrangle the food budget, I’m FTSing,* HomeEc style.

Dan does most of the cooking while I’m tasked with grocery shopping and prep work.   The prep work is typically done during Em’s naptime.  It’s a great system with two kinks: I have a  toddler with free will and clients who don’t stop needing things during naptime.  Don’t you know that when there’s a list of 10 ingredients to chop, roast, marinate and/or pre-cook, that’s the day Em either refuses to nap or awakes early in a crappy mood with a case of koala clings, or a needlessly needy client call requires excessive attention.

I’d been making multiple trip$ to various grocery stores (Whole Foods, HEB, Costco, Trader Joe’s) throughout the week.  Grocery shopping like that (especially at Costco) can get crazy expensive all too quickly.  I’d go for two forgotten items and end up with a $60 bill.   Our monthly grocery expenditures got out of hand to the point my easy-going husband mentioned it.  Now we have a weekly budget to follow with the help of three F.T.S steps:

STEP 1:  Plan It.

Every Saturday morning, we set our weekly menu.  We typically cook 3-4 times per week, eating leftovers in between.   Take this week’s menu: Dan grilled a tri-tip for fajitas yesterday.  We’ll have fajitas tonight before chopping it up and making beef fried rice tomorrow.   It makes life so much easier, and we’re never left with a fridge-full of leftovers.

STEP 2:  Shop ONCE.

On Saturdays, I snap an iPhone pic of our grocery list.

Yeah, I’m so 2000 and late like that.  I could type a list, but why bother?   I go shopping sans kiddo.  Savvy shopping with a toddler proves oxymoronic when the focus on getting in and out quickly and avoiding tantrums leads to impulse buys.  Sure, let’s buy those freshly made tortillas we don’t need and let you shove one in your mouth, because you’re getting antsy, refuse to eat the snack I brought and won’t stop screaming “TORTILLA!”

I use coupons when available, but it’s rare when I can use them.  I typically don’t buy brand name products.  I stick to the HEB/Central Market brand salt-free, additive-free, organic items.  Those rarely go on special, and I’m not willing to buy a name brand that isn’t as healthy just to save a few cents.   But when one of our regular items goes on sale (ie: SunButter), I’ll buy an extra jar or two.

I also make a weekly trip to Trader Joe’s for strawberries.   “Just for strawberries?” you wonder.  Yep.  In SAT terms, Emme: strawberries = Lindsay Lohan: vodka.   HEB’s organic strawberries mold within 1-2 days after purchase.  Trader Joe’s organic strawberries are cheaper, taste better and last longer.

Once I make my HEB and Trader Joe’s run, that’s it.  There’s no going back until the next weekend.

STEP 3:  Stay One Prep Ahead.

Starting a couple of weeks ago, I started prepping ingredients a day ahead of time.  This avoids the potential day-of stress.  Today, I took my prep to Pinterest-level by pre-chopping a week’s worth of ingredients.   Everything on the tray was for roasting.   The kiddo is a roasted broccoli fiend, so that stash will be a part of her dinner tonight, her omelet tomorrow morning and then our fried rice dinner.

You’re thinking “Oh, must be nice, Ms. Work at Home Mom, to have all that time.”  Ha!  It took all of 30 minutes.   As soon as Em went down, I checked my work email to make sure nothing was pressing, popped a TJ pizza in the oven and got to chopping.   By the time it was all packed and loaded into the fridge, my lunch was ready.   I switched into work mode until the kiddo awoke an hour and ten minutes later.  Not too shabby.

As if the time management benefits weren’t enough, there’s another serendipitous offshoot: it makes the fridge more user-friendly.  Our fridge is typically jam packed following Saturday’s grocery shopping run.  By chopping it all up, I can see what we have.

But the best part?  It means less time spent in the kitchen and more time focusing on what’s most important:


* FTS = Fix This Sh*T

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