Hey, men. (Or ladies trying to survive and reading this.) Ask yourself: Why bother with grocery shopping when it’s easy and quick to pick something up from a drive-thru?
You can do that. You can eat out or bring in each night. But lo, there are two problems:
1. It breaks your wallet.
2. You might as well inject cholesterol directly into your veins.
You’re responsible for your family’s health. It was always so. Now with your lady gone, it’s more acutely realized.
Therefore, in order to save some money and your health, you might have to risk some of your sanity and face the grocery store.
But never fear. I’ve lost some of my mind already and now I can help you prevent losing yours. Scary, huh?
Let’s call this Kitchen Wars Episode V: Guys Trying to Survive Strike Back. Follow these four battle-tested steps.
1. Weapons: Make a List
Don’t go rushed, don’t go hungry, and don’t go without a list.
To paraphrase Darth Vader, “You don’t know the power of the grocery list.”
We’re going to be making four quick lists. The first will be a scratchy, sloppy, running grocery list. I call it – wait for it – the Running List. Catchy title?
Put this list in a handy place but out of the traffic of mail and homework and dirty dishes and the like. Maybe on the refrigerator. Warn everyone in the household that this list is not to be removed or moved except by the guy trying to survive. But also tell them how to add things on to it.
I don’t like to hear, “Dad, we need wha-cha-ma-do.”
I yell back, “Put it on the list!”
If it doesn’t get on the list, it doesn’t get got. Why? Stubbornness on my part?
I’ve walked into the store before and thought, “O, I didn’t put such-and-such on the list. I’ll remember.”
The Running List is short-term thing, just a weekly list. After each trip to the grocery store, start a new Running List. Put on this list anything you run out of during the week.
Fresh food expires quickly; keep just enough of this to get through the week. Staples that belong in the freezer or pantry will keep much longer. If there’s something you go through fairly quickly or lasts a long time, keep one in the pantry. When you use this or open it and put it in the refrigerator – such as juice or mustard and the like – then put it on the Running List.
Add to the Running List through the week. Don’t even try to remember. A weak pencil is stronger than the mightiest memory.
2. Strategy: Formulate a Plan
You don’t know everything you need until you know what you’re going to make.
The next list you’ll keep indefinitely. Call this list the Menu List.
List the things you can cook and your family likes to eat. It has to be both. Things they like but you don’t know how to make do not make the list… at least not until you’ve made them once. Things you can do but cause your family to wretch do not make the list. If your kids are just okay with it but it’s easy for you to whip up, that makes the list.
Keep this list handy so that you can add to it as you expand your own cooking repertoire. Start with something even if it’s hot dogs and sandwiches. You can add Cherry Pie and Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas if you have already tackled them from previous blogs. Heck, put on frozen lasagna if you need to.
Keep the entrees together and the side dishes and desserts on the side of the list. Meals are based on entrees, and entrees end up being the most time consuming. For sides, you can always microwave some frozen green beans or cook up some Rice-a-Roni.
Use the Menu List to plan a meal for each day you’re staying home that night. Take a piece of paper and write at the top the days of the week. Start with the night you get back from the grocery store and list across seven days to the night before you go back again.
O, by the way, in this war, going to the grocery store multiple times a week is a defeat and a quick way to insanity.
Now, write in the night or nights you know you’ll be out. Taking kids to ball practice or dance lessons or tae-kwon-do? Going to church or a school meeting? Whatever, that’s the night you probably won’t have the time to cook. Plan a restaurant or a pizza pick-up or something really easy to make, like sandwiches.
I don’t plan but one meal a day… if that. For breakfast, I have on hand some quick things or some eggs but everyone’s on their own. This is okay if your kids are old enough to do this, but if they’re still in the single digits of age, they probably don’t need to be frying an egg. They could toast a bagel though, if you taught them. But you must tell them not to stick a knife down the toaster and to wait to butter the bread until after it’s toasted.
The day your child comes to you and says she was making a grilled cheese sandwich but the cheese didn’t come out of the toaster with the bread, that’s the day a new toaster will be on your Running List. (Trust me, the cheese and the toaster bond together chemically.)
Plan for lunches by having sandwich stuff or microwave pizzas. Also, get some fruit and easy raw vegetables (like baby carrots ready to eat), because you’ve got to watch all the fat, salt, and sugar processed food has. They’re killers.
Also, for lunches there’s… leftovers…ta-da!
Once you have a Meal List, you’re ready the last list.
This is the actual Grocery List.
Turn the Meal List over and on that blank side make your Grocery List. This way at the store you can easily refer back to what you’re having the coming week.
Use the Meal List to make a list of ingredients you need for the store. Add to this what you have on your Running List, and…
Voila! You have a Grocery List.
3. Reconnaissance: Know the Layout
Choose a grocery store and refuse fancy recipes that use ingredients your store doesn’t carry. My philosophy is if Wal-Mart doesn’t have it, forget it.
Later as you become more comfortable you can branch out, but keep it simple at first. Who wants to traipse all over creation gathering up a bunch of stuff?
My one exception on this is meat. If I want a good steak or roast, I’m off to the butcher’s. Of course, if your grocery store has an in-house butcher, this isn’t a big deal. But at some places, the meat only has a foggy memory of being handled by a butcher.
Once you’ve chosen a store, stick with it and you’ll learn its layout. This will take several trips, but it really helps speed things up.
Because then you can write your Grocery List in the order you come to things. I learned this from Dona. You don’t want to have to be going up and down the same aisles like a chicken with its head cut off. Experienced shoppers will smell the panic in you and pick you off like a zombie in a multiple shooter game.
I like a store where I don’t have to circle around the freezer stuff and then come back to it. If you can start in the back with paper goods and work your way forward to produce, frozen goods, and meat, then that’s a well laid out store. Otherwise you’re going to have to be Theseus and figure out how to tackle the maze.
4. Battle: Get out Alive and (reasonably) Unscathed
Remember Mr. Mom when Michael Keaton was at the grocery store? Bless his heart. It will be like that the first few times.
You’ll be fine.
Don’t let anyone rush you. Your money is just as good as theirs.
If you need to read a label, pull your cart to the side and read. Later on, be patient with another guy trying to survive that’s pulled over to read a label. Bless his heart.
Steer around the people visiting in the aisles. Don’t get in a cart fight. Breathe. Inhale, exhale.
I give you three warnings:
Warning One: From time to time, you will get the cart with the wobbly wheel. This is life.
Warning Two: Try not to take your kids. If you do, put them to work by sending them for stuff if they’re old enough. The main warning with kids is the checkout counter. Whoever thought to put the candy at the front was a sales genius, but he should be banished to the deepest reaches of the netherworld. Learn to look you child straight in the eye and say, “No.” You don’t have to yell, just be consistent.
Warning Three: If I was a mutant in Heroes, my super power would be getting in the slowest line. It doesn’t fail. Even if the line is short, I end up behind some shopper with dozens of coupons or a wailing child or an old lady counting out change. If this happens to you, take a deep breath and smile at how life has given you this great gift, how one day you may be able to use it to fight crime… like Superman.
Grocery Shopping. You can do this.
Go ahead and hum Darth Vader’s “Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back as you go down the aisles. It is your destiny, Luke.