Monday, January 3, 2011

Menu Planning

4th of January, 2011

I mentioned a couple posts ago that I have been thinking a lot about simple living and brainstorming about how to be more frugal and sustainable in general. I've been thinking a lot about the future, but I've also been trying to come up with ways to put in use some new simple living skills while we are here in New Zealand. Given, our life here is pretty simple, and there's not a lot of money going out- the housekeeping work we do here pays our rent, so our only expenses are food and petrol, and our entertainments are all free- surfing, beachtimes, cribbage, reading, movies, and using the free internet. But since there is little money coming in either, I started thinking about how we could cut costs even more.

I recently reread some posts on menu planning over at Down to Earth, and was inspired to try it while we're here. It will help us shop for groceries more effectively, make use of the foods we have on hand, and with a pre-planned menu for the week and all the supplies available, we will be less tempted to go out to eat (although I did plan for one meal out because we wanted to try out the main restaurant in the village). I planned only for dinner/supper, and wrote down ideas for lunches that would make use of leftovers or extra of any supplies we had. Our breakfasts are pretty simple anyway, so there's little use planning those- we usually just have toast, eggs, or cereal with tea or coffee. I took inventory of what was in our food cupboard and on our shelf in the fridge, and came up with this dinner menu for the trial week:

Monday: Chicken Tikka Masala (we had leftover Tikka Masala sauce), brown rice, and cucumber & feta salad with vinegar and thyme

Tuesday: Breaded fish with white wine and spring onions, leftover brown rice, and fruit (we had kiwifruit)
(Normally I would have breaded the fish myself, but frozen breaded dory was on sale).

Wednesday: Dinner out at Butlers Reef before the Fat Freddy's Drop concert

Thursday: Egg & Spinach pie, and salad with feta

(This is me trying to get into New Zealand style cooking. Here, you can buy sheets of frozen puff pastry, and one of the more common Kiwi meals is a pie made from whatever veggies or meat happen to be in the fridge, several eggs, and a crust of this pastry on top. I've even seen people throw leftover pasta and things into pies. Anyway, they're definitely a staple here. Mine turned out pretty good, just kind of deflated!)

Friday: Chickpea salad using the remaining feta, steamed asparagus
(The can in the cupboard that I initially thought was chickpeas turned out to be butter beans, so I just used those instead, and there was no asparagus at the produce market, so we had steamed broccoli).

Saturday (New Years' Day Dinner): Roasted whole chicken with sage, salad, and roasted pumpkin

Sunday: Chicken soup and dumplings, green peas (frozen, steamed)
(Matt made dumplings for the first time, and they were some of the best I've had! We were both getting over colds, so chicken soup made from the New Years chicken was perfect. We had potato-leek soup for lunch the next day, using the last of the chicken stock.)

Monday: Fried rice using leftover chicken, green salad with orange-sesame dressing
(This was yesterday. We actually ended up BBQing/potlucking with Megan and Nigel and Stefan, so I just made what I was planning to make, and it was shared along with venison burgers, steak, and Nigel's homemade bread. Yum!)


For lunches we have had leftovers, sandwiches using the same greens and tomatoes that go in the salads, and of course several meals using the chicken stock and remaining meat.

I have to say, I'm a fan of menu planning. I look forward to seeing what it's like when I actually have a pantry/stockpile with lots of beans, rice, and things in bulk, but it has been very useful here too, where we have relatively little food storage space. Shopping for groceries has been much easier, because I know exactly what needs to be bought, and buy no more than that. Also, it means a lot less trips to town- we tended before to go into New Plymouth about every other day, always stopping to pick up one or two things we were out of. Now I can plan ahead and have gone in every four or five days to pick up whatever fresh ingredients are needed for the next several days. It will be a goal of mine when we get back to Portland to be able to shop only once a week or less for any staple foods, and try to get the majority of fresh ingredients from the farmers' market.

I'm also thinking that menu planning will come in handy when we are back to living in the van. Especially when we go to the Far North, where the only shops are the small town ones that are more expensive, planning ahead and stocking up in a bigger city will save us a lot of money. We have discovered that the local dairies and FourSquares are definitely the most expensive places to buy groceries, and almost always go into New Plymouth to shop at Pak'n'Save and go to the excellent produce market across the street. There is a FourSquare here in the village, but the prices are so high that we don't buy anything there unless we're in a real pinch!

We've also cut down food costs by scoring some great free food! We've gotten several loaves of bread, new potatoes, and courgettes (zucchini) from the "Free Food" basket here at the Wavehaven. And Blair, the gardener and groundskeeper here, has a great little vegetable patch by his caravan on the other side of the creek, and has invited us to pick as much of his lettuces and greens as we want! He also brings loads of cucumbers, courgette and other veg to the "Free Food" basket, so we have a constant stream of fresh produce and only have to supplement it a little by shopping in town.

So far, so good with the menu planning, I'll let you know how it works out when we're on the road again!

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