A interesting video series on inflation from PolicyEd The Numbers Game.

Since reading the Tightwad Gazette books starting when I was 18, I have been a huge fan of Amy Dacyczyn. Most of my financial and housekeeping skills have come from her books and I have read and re-read my copies so often that they are yellowed and falling apart. For the most part, she hasn’t steered me wrong (although, she was wrong about computers not becoming a big deal. No one is perfect!).

Because of this, I have been using “The Pantry Principal” my entire life: buying groceries to replenish my pantry as opposed to making a list of meals and then going out to buy the items on the list. The idea is that you only plan dinner for the next day the night before using anything in your fridge that may go bad. It’s sound logic. The problem is that we ultimately would forget to plan the day before and find ourselves staring at the fridge at 5pm wondering what we could possibly make. Inevitably this led to more take-out or crappy beige food. Food waste became an issue and naturally we were bleeding money.

Conversely, I have a friend who meal plans weekly. She uses the stuff they have on hand and then fills in around the edges with a grocery store run every week. All her take-out is planned and she rarely finds herself at 5pm digging for a frozen pizza. Pre-Covid, this worked especially well because she could see what the activity schedule was for the family and plan easier meals; sometimes it was even PB&J and carrot sticks in the back of the car on the way to hockey practice. But it still wasn’t fast food. She also seems to have a lot less food waste.

Of course, with the pandemic we are trying to limit trips to the store which means having to be better planners. Since we can’t just run out whenever we want, we’ve really tried to reduce our trips to one Costco run (medications & bulk), two produce store runs (fresh fruit and veg), one grocery store run (sauces/grains/milk etc), and one pharmacy run a month. This meant that I needed to work around our shopping schedule.

This past year we started buying local meat in bulk. We also started our first garden and canned a lot of food for the winter. This reminded me that The Tightwad Gazette had a really good inventory system to track garden produce so they wouldn’t eat too much of something and run out before garden season ramped back up again. Using that as a guide, I started tracking all of our freezer & canned goods to make sure we would spread their use to get through until the next bulk order was coming through.

So guided by my freezer and pantry inventory I came up with a plan. Every second Saturday I go through the inventory and plan our meals for the following two weeks. Mr. Tucker hits the produce store and buys all the veggies and fruits we need for that time. It may sound like two weeks is a long time and that food would go bad but not if you plan it right.

The key is to organize meals based on the life of the produce. So the first week may have a lot more salads, bean sprouts, green beans, as well as bananas and berries for snacks. The second week will see more apples, oranges, brassicas and root vegetables on the menu because they don’t go bad as quickly. Planning this way allows you a variety of foods in your diets but without the extra grocery trips.

Of course, the best laid plans means that sometimes we have way too many leftovers that not even lunch the next day will take care of. In that case, we just skip a meal. In fact, we didn’t have a Christmas dinner this year because we had too much food leftover from Réveillon! Every Christmas eve our family does small food (hors d’oeuvres such as mini quiches, sausage rolls etc) and a tourtière. Well, this year we miscalculated and ended up with way more food than we could eat in a night. So the next day Mr. Tucker and I decided to skip the ham dinner we had planned and just eat leftovers. We ended up making our huge meal on the 26th instead. So when that happens, you can just push meals off to the next day. At the end of the two weeks you will end up with a> a brassica which will either keep or that you can freeze, b> a root vegetable which keeps a long time, c> or you just move the last meal from this two week period to the first meal of the next two week period.

I know this sounds like much ado about food but honestly, this has been a game-changer for us. We haven’t eaten out since November, we are never left staring at the fridge wondering what to make, we waste less food, we don’t make unnecessary trips and our grocery bill has gone down. In the end, I needed to realize that even the best ideas from people I trust may not be right for me and my family. I wish I had realized sooner that this was a better way to plan meals. I guess like many things we’ve learned over the past year, it only took a pandemic to make me realize that I needed to switch things up.