Starting the year with a meal plan

One area I’m hoping to get a handle on in the new year is the amount of food our family wastes. We don’t mean to, and it’s not excessive, but it does exist, and it’s not a very zero waste habit — even if my food scraps aren’t ending up in the landfill, it’s still wasted energy, water, money and resources.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of our waste happens because I tend to grocery shop without a clear plan. I buy ingredients with vague ideas that may or may not come to fruition, which is why it’s so easy to forget what’s in the fridge or pantry. Pantry items last a little longer, but the fridge is another story.

I don't have art for this part so here's a terrible picture of Johanna trying on festive headgear at the grocery store.

I don’t have art for this part so here’s a terrible picture of Johanna trying on festive headgear at the grocery store.

So it makes sense that a meal plan would help with that.

Now, obviously I’m writing this smack at the beginning of the new year, when I’m filled with hope and good intentions. If I’m still meal planning in February, THEN I’ll actually feel like maybe I’m making some headway.

But a girl has to start somewhere.

I was up early on Saturday, Dec. 31, because we have a kitten, so I started going through recipes. I made a list of what I wanted to make, and the ingredients I’d need, and then actually went through the fridge and pantry to see what we already had. It made for a very messy list with lots of crossed out items, but I was able to break my grocery list into neat categories afterwards — bulk, produce, meat, canned and other — and I didn’t come home, unload groceries and discover I already had plenty of tomato paste and eggs.

For this first foray, I went with things I knew the family would enjoy but we haven’t had for a while (Mexican pizza, fritattacornbread), plus a couple of new recipes (chicken fajita chili, marinated zucchini*). And by going through recipes and writing down ingredients, I was able to see some patterns in the produce, etc. that I needed to buy. That helped in my next step, which was plotting how to prep all meal ingredients over the course of a couple of days. Theoretically, that should also cut down on waste as I won’t be ending up with half an onion or whatever forgotten in the back of the fridge.

So basically, I made three lists: One with recipe titles listed per day; one of ingredients I needed to buy; and one that detailed what needed to be prepped or cooked and when that needed to happen. My hope is that if I have the hard part done already — the prepping — and all I need to do is reach in the fridge and grab jars of ingredients to toss together, I’ll be much more likely to actually follow through on making dinner.

Saturday I went grocery shopping and started prepping a few ingredients — like the pinto beans I needed to soak for the chili (because I hate kidney beans, that’s why) — and Sunday was more of the same. Today, Monday, I will finish the rest of the prepping and make some of the side dishes ahead of time (because I actually have the day off! We rarely get holidays off at the paper so this is quite exciting) … and the rest of the week should be easy street.

I’ll let you know how it went on Friday.


As part of my manic prep days, I decided to replenish our store of Naan in the freezer. Naan is pretty zero waste for me (bulk yeast and salt, flour in a paper bag and butter in waxed paper), except for the carton the buttermilk comes in — we can’t recycle those here. So I decided to grab a quart of non-organic buttermilk in a jug. Not ideal, but my best option as that can be recycled.

Once at home, I started up the ol’ KitchenAide. I can get 5 batches of Naan out of one quart of buttermilk, and like to do a double batch at a time. So when I was on my third double batch with no signs of the buttermilk running out, I had to wonder what was going on. My first thought was some kind of Harry Potter expansion spell, obviously. But upon looking at the jug, I discovered the true reason: I had purchased a half-gallon instead of a quart.



I was afraid I was going to run out of containers.

I was afraid I was going to run out of containers.

Good thing I’d just bought flour. I ended up with 9 total balls of dough in my freezer (except I was stupid and didn’t put them in right away, so two of the lids popped off as the dough started to rise. Details are boring).

I mean, it’s Naan, so yay, but wow, that project took a little more out of me than I expected.

*Keep in mind that, with my food allergies and zero waste leanings, I tweak all recipes accordingly. 🙂

Next up: Getting ‘er done.

8 Responses to Starting the year with a meal plan

  1. I’m so excited to see you working on a menu plan! I just started one, maybe two weeks ago, because I’m tired of running out of things and going to the store at the last minute! I hope this works out, for both of us!

    • I’m feeling very accomplished and organized … although the marinated zucchini salad I mention above? GROSS.

      I have high hopes I can keep this up.

  2. As you get into meal planning, you may want to look at a service like Plan to Eat! It makes planning and shopping so much easier for me.

  3. Food waste is definitely on my to do list this year. As empty nesters, it has been challenging to reduce purchases and recipe sizes. Overbuying is a big waste. Rather than plan seven dinners, I now plan for at least two meals of leftovers. I also freeze extras. A big issue I have is letting fruits, vegetables, and dairy products go bad. I have tried to check what will expire soon as I make a menu but also do a daily check and adjust accordingly. Too often it is easy to ignore what lurks in the back of the fridge or pantry!

    • The back of the fridge and pantry is the WORST! I like to freeze extras too for days that get away from me. I like your idea of planning leftovers into the menu plan …

  4. When in doubt, google if you can freeze it! Buttermilk freezes very well, you can use regular ice cube trays and once it’s set put it in a box. Whenever you need a cup you can pop a couple in a bowl/mug into your fridge to thaw overnight. Or better yet, make some supper fluffy pancakes (1 ¼ cup flour, 1 ¼ cup buttermilk, 2 tbsp icing sugar, 1 heaped tsp baking power, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 egg, 70ml of oil of choice, and a non-stick pan for frying).

    Fingers crossed for keeping up the meal-panning!

    • What’s so silly is that I didn’t even think of making something else with the stuff — Johanna has a favorite buttermilk salad dressing I could have whipped up for her, for example, and yeah, buttermilk pancakes! The kids are big fans.

      I had no idea you could freeze buttermilk. That is a great tip!

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