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Menu Planner/Shopper vs. Free Wheeler


weinoo
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Over in his outstanding eGullet Fooblog, nolnacs shows us that he's a total menu planner, with specific lists for his planned meals.

I suppose that if you have one day a week in which you do a large percentage of the next week's food shopping, it really makes a lot of sense to do it this way. I don't know if I could be that disciplined, even under similar circumstances.

So I just go to the market (s) I go to, and buy what looks good and cook and/or eat that.

Are you a planner/lister?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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No. I refuse.

I buy what looks good and eat it. Most of my favorite markets are close enough to where I work that it isn't inconvenient or a waste of fuel.

If I wander past a REALLY nice looking sole (that has no smell whatsoever), that's what's for dinner. If you plan and list, where does the inspiration come from?

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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To be honest I'm just too lazy to plan a week of meals ahead. I used to do it, when I was in college, but that habit has fallen by the wayside. I might give the cupboard a scan for inspiration before making a pseudo-grocery list (you know, a list that includes an entry called "vegetables"...). But that's as close to "planning" as I come.

Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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I plan, or I overspend. I generally ask the family what sounds good for the week, giving suggestions based on what I know is in season (since they're a little clueless on that...) and ask for general ideas, like, "do you want a soup?" Or "do you want pasta one night this week?" Then I make a list based on that. But most of what I make is pretty flexible too, so I can take into account what looks good. I do the grocery shopping on Sunday for the week, and during the summer I hit the farmer's market on Saturday for the next week as well. So this week we're having: Pizza, Fried Rice, Swiss Chard Pancakes, Chicken with Creme Fraiche and Gingersnaps, and Burritos. My list had all the basics for the meals, plus I had "veggies for pizza," "veggies to go with chicken," and "meat for burritos." That gives me a reminder of what I need without getting so specific that I miss out on something that looks good. I'm pretty good about sticking to the list, but if I see something that looks really amazing, I might swap out a meal that I've planned for something else. Having and Iphone on which I can look up recipes and ideas has been super helpful if I need to switch gears mid-shopping trip. If I had unlimited time and money, I'd definitely chuck the list, since I love browsing through interesting food stores.

If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry? ~Author Unknown

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Serious planner. This is probably easier to accomplish (or necessary) if you don't often eat out. And I happen to be in the camp that loves to have leftovers, not only because I have no objection to eating the same entree two days in a row, but because I have an anxiety attack when I look at wasted food and because leftovers is, well, a free lunch.

This does not mean that I only shop once a week. We do one main grocery shopping and one supplemental farmers' market trip each week, but I often make some stops on other days for things that need to be fresh, such as meat and seafood or baguettes, etc. And I've developed some quirky attachments to certain edibles and ingredients that I can only get at specialty shops or ethnic markets and that my regular stops don't carry.

This doesn't mean that if I see something unexpected that looks great or that I can't resist I don't go for it and figure out how or when to use it later.

Edited by Katie Meadow (log)
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I completely respect Nolnacs ability to make lists and plan. I will occasionally commit a list to paper if I have a long list of things I know aren't already in the pantry for a new recipe I'm trying or whatever, but most of the time the "list" is short enough that I can remember the four or so things I went for. The supermarket I shop most frequently isn't more than a half mile or so from my house and there are other options including a Whole Foods that are literally on my way home from work if I need something without going out of my way in the least.

Katie M. Loeb
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Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
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We live in the middle of nowhere, east central Ontario, and it's always a production of some sort to go to town. We try to do it as little as possible. To that end, I have a computer-generated grocery list (with a modified one for Utah), hangs on the fridge in 6 or so layers, with a red marker and things to be purchased get circled in red.

Oh yes, it's a huge list. Five columns, 8 point, broken down into main food groups and also specialty stores. Changes are made quite regularly to the saved list and extra bits are written in for the week.

He who lives by the list... That's me. Works tho...

Hmmm...could add that Peterpatch has mostly chain grocery stores with very few and very small specialty stores. Nothing like Philadelphia or Chicago or Toronto.

Edited by Darienne (log)

Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

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We have more an European approach and always buy every or every other day day (we don't like buying fresh stuff in bulk or freezing stuff as it decreases quality) so know what is in season at that time. At the same time we have many cookbooks we like as inspiration for cooking and tend to have shopping lists based on the recipes we would like to use as a starting point.

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I'm not a planner. I tried to be, but I'm not. I wish it was due to some good reason like seeing what looks good at the market, etc. but there are no markets of that type where I live other than the bi-monthly farmer's market June - September. Just a same-stuff-all-of-the-time grocery store. The real reason I'm not a planner is because it never works out. Something comes up at work and I don't have time or it's too late to bother or I just don't feel like messing with it that night and most of the stuff I plan for the week ends up still sitting in the freezer or fridge at the end of the week. So I don't bother anymore.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I'm a bit confused as why there seems to be a general perception that better food comes from daily market visits. I get a CSA box once a week full of fruits and vegetables that are grown in NW Indiana. This produce is about as fresh and seasonal as it could possibly be. And yet I only get it one day a week.

My weeks are planned. I get the CSA box on Saturday, figure out a menu for the week and hit whatever stores I need to on Sunday. For me, it saves both time and effort and I don't believe there is any negative impact on either quality or creativity.

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I think this is a false dichotomy. First of all, even if you look to the market as your inspiration and buy what looks best, you have to plan at some point. Otherwise you end up at home with, for instance, a beautiful piece of sole and nothing else. Plus, you can only shop this way if you can go to one or more markets every day or two. Most people don't have that luxury.

On the other side, I'd guess that most people who shop with a weekly menu in mind are flexible enough to deal with the idiosyncrasies of the market(s) where they shop; that is, they can make substitutions or figure out alternatives if necessary.

Finally, in my experience, most people have a combination of the two styles. I certainly do.

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Over in his outstanding eGullet Fooblog, nolnacs shows us that he's a total menu planner, with specific lists for his planned meals.

I suppose that if you have one day a week in which you do a large percentage of the next week's food shopping, it really makes a lot of sense to do it this way. I don't know if I could be that disciplined, even under similar circumstances.

So I just go to the market (s) I go to, and buy what looks good and cook and/or eat that.

Are you a planner/lister?

Thanks for the compliment, I'm enjoying the blogging process so far.

I plan out the week's meals ahead of time, but I do make allowances for what looks good. If a particular ingredient looks crummy (cauliflower I find to often be hit or miss) then I will make substitutions. Sometimes I also have a generic "veggie" on my list if I don't have anything particular in mind for a side dish. That being said, the very specific list that I had in the foodblog is pretty typical.

Much as you suggest, the main reason I do this is because I do 99% of my shopping during the weekend. The places I want to shop are closed on weeknights and also I just don't have the time or inclination to shop after work.

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I don't plan meals a week ahead, but have a list of staples that I know I need to fill in...and jot a note about what appeals to me for the next two or three days. Then I go shopping and create menus/ingredient lists (on paper or in my head) as I see what's fresh, available and what's on sale. I have three mainstream groceries nearby, as well as a Costco and a Central Market (and a Sprout's just a little farther), so I usually do one larger trip and two smaller ones each week.

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JAZ and Flordia, you are very lucky to have great stuff available to you all the time.

For me, I think the problem is less what looks good, as what looks bad or is unavailable.

I can't tell you how many times I have decided to make a dish and I get to the supermarket and they don't have the cut I want, or the veggie looks old and inedible.

Also, I get inspiration from walking through, much moreso than my recipe books. As in, "WOW! Look at those gorgeous XX! I think I'll make XX dish!"

OF course I often go with specific dishes in mind or if I am having a party etc, I'll absolutely plan a meal and make a list.

I am also fickle. I have no idea what I will be in the mood for three days from now. :laugh:

However, I keep my Fridge/freezer pretty full so that I am not running to the supermaret every 5 minutes.

Edited by ambra (log)
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For everyday cooking, I'm not a planner. I go to the farmers market on Saturday and pick up what looks good for the week. I have an idea of what I want to get, but don't stress if what I want is not available.

When I have people over though, I go into crazy planning mode. I usually spend a few evenings browsing recipes and planning the menu. I will go to multiple stores to track down ingredients.

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Totally an anti-planner, but not for of the 'need to buy what looks good in the market' reason... More for the 'what I'm in the mood for changes constantly (sometimes including multiple times in one day!). At most, I have meals planned out two days in advance.

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JAZ and Flordia, you are very lucky to have great stuff available to you all the time.

For me, I think the problem is less what looks good, as what looks bad or is unavailable.

I wouldn't say that I have "great" stuff available all the time. I do live right next to a grocery store which is pretty well stocked with typical ingredients. That is, lots of beef, pork and chicken; some lamb -- but no veal, quail, or duck. There's a small fish and seafood counter, but I can almost never get whole fish, and nothing exotic. The produce is also pretty mainstream. And because I don't have a car, that's really my only option; nothing else is within easy walking distance. (I can take a bus to a Whole Foods market, but that's pretty time consuming for "spontaneous" trips.)

So (like you, it seems) if my market is out of something I'd planned on, I have to change plans. Fortunately, I'm pretty good at that.

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I'm a bit confused as why there seems to be a general perception that better food comes from daily market visits. I get a CSA box once a week full of fruits and vegetables that are grown in NW Indiana. This produce is about as fresh and seasonal as it could possibly be. And yet I only get it one day a week.

My weeks are planned. I get the CSA box on Saturday, figure out a menu for the week and hit whatever stores I need to on Sunday. For me, it saves both time and effort and I don't believe there is any negative impact on either quality or creativity.

I feel exactly this way. My CSA box is like the best of both worlds - spontaneity because I don't know what I'll get week to week, and planning because organization is key to not wasting stuff.

"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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I fall into the grey area between planner and free wheeler. There are some things (potatoes, rice, bananas etc.) that I try to keep always in stock in my larder, and other things (fruit, veg) that go onto my weekly shopping list as vague terms like "green veggies" and "some berries not strawberries." Then I let what's actually available at the market determine what ends up on the table that week. For example, although Romanesco is often on my shopping lists, the crop was badly affected by hail and flooding and I haven't found it for the past month or so. It's still on the list, but I've been substituting green beans, achogchas (sort of a mild, stuffable pod veggie) and asparagus for it, since Romanesco is basically the placeholder for whatever tasty steamed veggie.

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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For some reason or another I flip between the two, depending on how broke I am that week. If it is the week before pay day, I plan, after pay day, I don't. It certainly saves the cash to plan I noticed and have given thought to doing it all the time, but it seems the minute I get a fridge full of food I don't want anything that is it and we end up eating out. I will go to specialty stores for items when I get in the mood to make a certain recipe, but that happens more on the weekend than the weekdays.

What I would love to have is a pantry list of stuff that stays stocked, then the fresh stuff gets cycled. I have yet to figure one out.

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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My shopping list consists of a)basic staples that we've run out of (or nearly run out of) and they stay on the grocery list until I actually remember to buy them. and b)things that are on sale that week. I occasionally also add c)special items I need for something particular I want to make (like split-peas and ham-hocks if I feel like making soup, or a particular baking ingredient that an interesting recipe needs). But mostly I wing it. A lot of the time I don't even remember to take a grocery list with me - when I get home I look at the list that was on the fridge, cross out the things that I remembered to buy, and rewrite the ones that I didn't for next time.

I NEVER plan everything out to the last detail. My brain just doesn't work that way - and my shopping is largely determined by what's on sale, or what catches my eye in the store. (we haven't had roast pork for awhile, let's get one, and that means we need something to roast with it... or 'whole chickens are only 50c/lb, we have to get a couple!')

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