I’m someone who really enjoys eating out. I love trying new restaurants. And I’ve realized that’s where all my money goes. Not shopping (yes, those $120 jeans make by butt look great, but imagine what type of fabulous meal and wine I could buy for that price). In the new year, I needed to get a handle on this expensive eating habit.
Enter the cookbook A New Way to Dinner by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs (the founders of Food52.com). Full of mouthwatering photos, it had come across my desk a few months earlier. The book maps out 16 different weeks of meals. It has shopping lists and tips that tell you exactly how to prep each menu the weekend beforehand.
I knew what I had to do. And it didn’t seem daunting because Amanda and Merrill had already done the heavy lifting. I didn’t have to make any decisions or do any planning; I just had to follow directions.
“Initially, we were shying away from getting into the nitty gritty of planning and executing a week of cooking,” Amanda said. “But as we wrote the book, we realized that this detail is exactly what people want and need.”
How right she was. I followed one of Merrill’s winter weeks of dinners to a “t,” and here’s everything I learned.
- It’s easier to shop and cook on separate days. I was tempted to order my groceries and get them delivered to my apartment, but I opted for the grocery store experience. Shopping took over an hour. I had so many bags that the woman who checked me out hailed me a cab. By the time I got home I was beat. Did not feel like cooking for several hours.
- Shopping lists organized by department (e.g. dairy, meat, produce) are invaluable. The book structured theirs this way to streamline shopping, and it totally worked. I didn't have to dash back and forth between the dairy aisle and the produce section like I normally do.
- Neater fridges fit more food than messy ones. I ended up cleaning out my whole refrigerator. It felt great.
- Getting my meals organized makes it easier to organize other parts of my life. Such as my entire untidy kitchen. Seriously, I was motivated to clean it from top to bottom and throw out four extra vegetable peelers.
- Preparing food in stages is the fastest way. It feels strange to cook this way at first. But as the book points out, there’s a reason that restaurants wash all of their ingredients at the same time and peel all of them at once: it’s super efficient.
- There is zero point to round storage containers. When I was done cooking, I had about 15 different storage containers filled. Square and rectangular ones stacked neatly like bricks; circular ones wasted a bunch of space.
- Foods that require little prep stretch the menu. Eggs, avocadoes, Greek yogurt, hummus, good cheese, cured meat, and cooked grains pair well with most meals and turn leftover dinner into lunch.
- Frozen citrus zest is gold. The cookbook recommended zesting all citrus before juicing it and freezing it for later. I loved this tip. The frozen zest lasts almost indefinitely in an airtight container and thaws in seconds.
- I don't snack when I have my meals planned out. I have a pile of snacks in my filing cabinet (perks of the job) and I usually nibble all day long. Knowing exactly what lunch was and when I was eating it took away that desire.
- It saves money (really). I spent about $200 total, which seemed terrifying at the time. The recipes made enough food four 4 people for an entire week (I froze leftovers). Do the math, and each meal costs $2.38. Now imagine how much cheaper my groceries would have been if the nearest supermarket wasn't Whole Foods.
So yes, I found a way to save money (and I promise I won't be shelling it out on a pair of new jeans instead). I also found a way to save time. Sure, it seemed like a lot of work when I did it once. But if I kept working off of an organized fridge, rolled over those foods that stretched my menu, and tossed my round storage containers, the plan would work like a well-oiled machine. Week 2 of meal prep, here I come. Though this time I'm getting my groceries delivered.