Yesterday was shopping day: our dreaded, loathed-but necessary, bi-weekly grocery run. Yes, bi-weekly. We have developed a system where one single trip to the grocery store provides three meals/day plus snacks for at least two weeks.
Some of you might ask: Why?
Nobody in our family likes to shop: not for groceries, not for clothes. We don’t get any pleasure out of picking out cereal or choosing the kind of pasta we will have with our ragu. It’s not fun, and I always get stressed out by how much everything costs. Then there’s dealing with the 4-5 men who pack our groceries and expect tips, and worst of all, the taxi situation. Because we don’t have a car, we have to take a taxi to the store, have the driver wait, and then take us back. As you might or might not know, I’ve had bad experience with taxi drivers here in Beirut, and I just don’t like having to deal with taxis - period.
So, how is it possible? How do we go two weeks without entering a grocery store?
First of all, since there’s no way fresh produce would last two weeks, we do pick up fresh vegetables and fruit from Osama’s produce stand a couple of times during the course of the two weeks. He’s right off campus, very friendly, cheap, and has great fruit, herbs and veggies. So there’s that. Everything else though – and I mean everything: meats, grains, cleaning products, personal hygiene, dairy, etc. – is purchased during that one grocery run.
All it takes is a little planning, and I’ve decided that the time this takes is SO worth not having to go to the store more than twice/month. I start with a master list of all meals that will be cooked or prepared over the next two weeks: 14 breakfasts, 14 lunches and 14 dinners. Everybody in the family has to suggest at least one lunch and one dinner each. I also use a list that I have of some of our regular, favorite meals, cookbooks, internet sites, and I write down all the meals on one list, and the ingredients required on another list. To reduce the spread of ingredients needed, we limit meal choices to one or two cuisines – usually one/week. If we plan one Italian meal, for example, we might as well plan several, since often many of the ingredients are similar, e.g. parmesan cheese, flat leaved parsley, tomatoes, balsamic vinegar. This reduced the amount of ingredients needed for the two weeks and hence the cost, significantly. In addition to the groceries, I also walk around the house to figure out if there’s anything else needed, e.g. laundry detergent, soap, light bulbs, toiletpaper, batteries, and write that down.
When I have a list of everything that is needed, I divide it into three: one list for the boys, one for the Husband, and one for myself. At the store, everyone takes off with their own cart – the boys together – and we all meet up at the cash register when everything on our lists has been gathered. This usually takes a little less than one hour, and costs around $400.
The boys always do a great job, and they get to pick out a treat as a reward for their work. Several times their friends have asked why they can’t just stay home while we – the adults - go to the store, and they’re always shocked to hear that the boys don’t just come along, but that it’s something we rely on them to do. (Actually, most of their friends are shocked that the boys have chores that they have to do at all.)
I love coming home with all the groceries, knowing we don’t have to do it again for a while. The first 10 days after a grocery run are the best: the meal choices seem infinite, and there’s a lot of fun food to cook. When we start getting down to only a couple of boring choices though, we might order out one night (which not only spices things up but extends our two weeks with an entire meal/a day), but eventually, we run out of food entirely, and the process has to start over again.
Today though, freezer, fridge and pantries are stocked. So. What’s for dinner?