In a recent blog post I outlined our current problems with food. Basically, we spend too much for it, waste a lot of it, and often opt for fast food whenever we don't feel like cooking.
Being unemployed means we have to downsize our budget, but we see it as an opportunity to start eating inexpensive, simple, healthy food instead of the expensive chemical creations we pick up at the golden arches.
I went on a research trip to Maine a few months ago, and while we were eating sandwiches at this little cafe I noticed the quaint little chalkboard set up with the menu scrawled on it. For some reason that stuck in my mind, and I realized that it was the solution to our food problems--we could keep track of our food on a menu board.
We went to Home Depot and bought a sheet of marker board masonite for $13 and cut it into a few manageable pieces. I found some double-sided adhesive tape and mounted the piece of marker board on the wall next to the fridge. Voila!
We took inventory of our food, listing the meats, fruits, breads, etc. in different sections of the menu board. We also added a section for leftovers so we'd make sure to eat them. We try to keep it updated as we use stuff, but we erase the board and take inventory again once a week.
The menu board has really simplified our cooking. Instead of planning dinner we look at the board and throw together whatever looks good--we might microwave some yellow squash and toss it with pasta and a quickly-sauteed chicken breast and a pear on the side, or we'll broil some cheese on thick pieces of toast with Italian sausage and dice up some peaches and celery sticks to eat with it. Dinner usually takes us all of 15 minutes to prepare and clean up, and it's usually much healthier than what we used to eat.
This also saves us quite a bit of money on groceries. Instead of planning meals and buying those ingredients, we just buy whatever's on sale to fill up slots on the board. Our shopping list might look like this:
and we just look for inexpensive options for each of those.
Another benefit of this is that you can do interesting ethnic foods. We just had a Mexican week--we shopped at one of those really cheap hispanic markets and ate Mexican food--made our own refried beans and ate everything on tortillas. We might do an Asian week next.