For a while there, I was on top of my meal-planning game. The neighborhood market was my happy place, where I’d often catch myself happily humming my way up and down the aisles, at once trying to stick to my list while daydreaming about what I might concoct out of the various local produce that was currently on special. I’d managed to find the sweet spot between planning and spontaneity, indulging in a few seasonal delights without overbuying, largely avoiding that modern-age sin of food waste.
But then we moved to the suburbs, and what was once a not-even-10-minute trip to the store I had been frequenting for over a decade became more of an ordeal. Shopping at a similar market now required a 20-minute drive. The close-ish “natural” market left a lot to be desired in the produce section. The easiest option was the Safeway not half a mile up the road, but after growing dependent on the organic, antibiotic-free meat served up by the butcher at my old store, I couldn’t bring myself to even entertain the idea of purchasing meat there.
That complication got easier when my younger son declared himself a vegetarian (well, pescatarian, anyhow) a few months later. But I was simply swapping the “where do I shop?” problem for the larger “what do I cook?” issue. Because my cooking (and therefore meal planning) repertoire was decidedly more meat-based than I would have cared to admit.
Fast forward a few months, and my revised shopping routine was coming into shape, albeit a shape that more closely resembled a big-box store and featured less mindlessly happy humming. I fantasized about kicking off a kid-friendly vegetarian cooking blog. I started tracking every meal I made, thinking a year’s worth of meals might make for interesting blog fodder.
And then, the meal-planning challenge to end them all fell from the sky! COVID-19 demanded we now prepare all our meals at home, with the added wrinkle of minimized (and mildly apocalyptic) shopping trips. My pre-COVID routine looked something like this:
- Look at the calendar to see which nights required quick dinner options (to fit in between soccer practices, late meetings, orchestra concerts, and the like) or were cause for a celebratory night out (at the minimum, all Fridays, just as a matter of principle).
- Peruse cookbooks and Allrecipes for inspiration. Come up with 4 or 5 options for the week. (Assume the other 2 or 3 nights will consist or either dinners out or “cheat” nights, like some sort of convenience food.)
- Add all the necessary ingredients to the list.
- Head out to the store, content in the knowledge that any forgotten items or spur-of-the-moment changes in plans could be addressed with a quick follow-up trip.
So, you know, not much has changed, except now instead of a handful of meals, I’m compiling a list of, like, 14. And, of course, a lot of ingredients simply don’t last that long, so there’s the added fun of figuring out which meals have to be eaten first (oh, you delicate leafy greens, you!), vs. which ones can be prepped in advance and frozen (into the freezer you go, blanched bell peppers and roasted mushrooms!). And once I’m done fretting over the list, double- and triple-checking that I haven’t forgotten anything or overlooked any pantry shortages, I get to mildly panic about going into The Big Scary Germ-Riddled World, once again attempting to get my glasses and face mask to play nicely together so that I can actually see what I’m purchasing.
I'm all lost in the supermarket
I can no longer shop happily
I came in here for that special offer
A guaranteed personality
Wise words from Mick Jones and Joe Strummer. Hopefully that offer will be back in stock soon, and we can all get back to the freedoms enabled by dining out, where we can pretend everything is sustainably sourced and not drowned in heavy cream.