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Eating out in America

Things I expected or knew.

1. The serving sizes are HUGE.

Look at the size of these chicken wings! They were massive. Must have some huge chickens around!

And the serving of Mexican food.

And this ice cream from an ice cream parlour straight out of Grease. This was the “small” serving. I should have bought the tiny, and shared it with Mr S.

Mr S got the large. Look at it again! It is the height of 2/3 of his torso!!!

2. There’s a lot of deep fried food.

3. There’s a lot of meat.

Mr S’s paella had a huge lobster tail.

In the restaurant called Texas, Mr S’s steak came with a side of chilli beef and The Dreamer’s main dish was chicken with a steak. (OK, we’ll occasionally serve up several kinds of meat – at Christmas and BBQs, but I’m sure we don’t do it in restaurants.)

4. Salads are served before your main course. Unless you having salad for your main course. The main course is called an entree. Entrees are called appetisers.

Things I didn’t realise.

1. Creamy style dressings are the go. For salads. For chicken. For everything. Add some more fats to your deep fried food! And lots and lots of cheese and cheesy sauce with added cheese on pasta.

2. The food is sweeter. Hurt your teeth sweeter.

I had a Thai beef salad. It was lovely – except could have done with half the very sweet dressing. By the end my mouth and teeth were sore and I had to give up on the lettuce. Now I know why people in movies ask for the dressing on the side. I wouldn’t dare ask for that in France, where they have a light hand.

3. The fancy supermarkets are beautiful. And huge! Look at this fruit and veg display.

And how clever to have a kitchen set to display the kitchen items?

4. The sourdough bread is actually sour.

5. All the drinks come with masses of ice. In one restaurant, my Coke was like a slushy; the ice towering over the rim of the glass.

6. Soft drinks are refilled for free. Sugar overload or what?!?

7. I know there is a lot of people but the restaurants are HUGE. And there are a lot of them.

Look at this Mexican one.

Americans eat out more than we do. There were always queues outside the restaurants as people waited for a table. Places didn’t seem to take bookings as we do here.

Mr S’s cousins hardly ever cook at home. They did not cook at home the whole time we were with them. Mr S actually cooked three times for them. (Partly as a thank you, partly to show them how easy it is to cook at home and how homecooked is much better.) They say it is easier and cheap to eat out. I disagree. Which brings me to the next point.

8. Eating out is not cheap. Even without the state tax and the mandatory tip, it isn’t cheap. I can eat out cheaper at home. Maybe the restaurants are factoring the continuous soft drink refills? We paid $100AU for four burgers with chips, two beers and two cokes.

I really became to resent the expense of eating out by the end of our trip. The food just wasn’t worth the cost. I wasn’t enjoying the experience.

9. Americans can’t cook chips, or fries, or French fries, or whatever you want to call them. Either over cooked or powdery in the middle. Often flavourless.

10. A lot of the food is soft and mooshy. Like the Mexican above. Or like the soft buns on Maccas burgers. And messy in presentation. The places our cousins chose seem to go for quantity, not appearance. Look back at the ice creams! How are you meant to eat them? With a lot of mess, that’s how; they flop over the glass and run on the saucer. It was yucky and I gave up. Never again!

All up, no wonder they have an obesity issue. And no wonder I saw a massive dialysis centre, a multi storey block only for kidney dialysis!

We talked about doing a return trip, next time to Southern California with the cousins. I will have to make it clear that while I am most happy for them to eat out once or twice a day, Mr S and I will not. We will buy the beautiful fresh foods and pack sandwiches and snacks when out and about.

The smoked salmon was divine. The fruit soooo good. Lovely cheeses.

11. There are interminable questions from waiters as there are unending list of choices – sizes, dressing, how the meat is cooked, accompaniments. No just saying, “I will have the chicken salad and he will have the burger.”

One last thing

My favourite dish, and Mr S’s favourite, was a a bowl of chilli. I swear it was like I used to cook it before Mr S said he didn’t like my chilli beans to be so sloppy. Anyway, we had several bowls and will experiment with different recipes at home. I bought some chilli vegetable soup from a supermarket. It was soooo good. Our supermarkets do not sell hot, ready to eat vegetable soup. Oh, the power of a large market!

Last meal was a “light lunch” at the Texas Roadhouse, where you crack open free peanuts and drop the shells on the floor! (Took me quite a bit to do that. Just seems so wrong.) Anyway my light lunch was a salad and bowl of chilli. And unlimited sweet bread rolls with cinnamon butter.

Resuming normal transmission

How’d May Day Revolution go?

I did eat more healthily. 

I didn’t lose weight. Well under a kilo. But that’s neither here nor there. But I suppose it is neither on my hips. Lol!

How’s the “reclaim your life from work/ making margins around work” going?

I am averaging a 10 hour day at work. Add travel, and reclaiming my life is not going too well. But I don’t do emails from home unless I’ve been at a course of meeting during the day and I really resist doing work things on the weekend. 

I am making a conscious effort to do things I like – French lessons continue on Saturday, reading, watching movies and series on TV, exploring places, going out for lunch, dinner or drinks. And I’ve been planning our next overseas trip. Having something to look forward to is a great lifter of spirits. 

I’ve taken two sick days so far this year. Pretty shocking for me. One was really because the stress was too much and I’d had enough. And the other because I was feeling a cold developing. As it turned out I ended with the flu in the first week of he holidays. So on the sick days I was really sick. Still I normally would battle on because of the work needing attention. Not anymore. And I got my hair done. Normally I go on a Saturday but that would mean missing French lessons. Which I don’t want to do. 

And I took a Family Leave Day – explained below. 

How’d the Persian thing go?

You didn’t know I had a Persian thing? Well after reading that book, in the last post, I really had to try the food. I spoke with some Persian/Iranian students who recommended some restaurants. Turns out there’s heaps of Persian restaurants around our part of Sydney. Who knew?

I picked one, one wet week day evening. So, how’d I kind the food?

As my eldest said, glad we came as it will be more memorable than if we’d had yet another Thai meal. My most complimentary words – unusual and unique, which is up there with memorable. 

The flavours that are put together are really unusual – sweet and sour and and … and something I just couldn’t put words too. 

We were the only people in the restaurant. The two servers/cooks were so lovely and friendly. I do hope they make money. I can’t see the food taking off with Australians. I will go again to try some kebabs. And maybe to another restaurant to try the same dishes but cooked by someone else. Would hate to judge all Persian foods based on one version. 

My less complementary word was swampy. Which the dishes did look like. 


What’s the best thing that happened over the last few months?

I’ve been making sure that I’ve been doing things that bring joy (see first question) but some things bring great joy without any input or control from me. 

My eldest graduated from Sydney Uni with a double degree – science and chemical engineering. Mr S and I took leave to attend his graduation. We had an absolutely perfect day. So many people commented that I looked beautiful in the photos. It was because I wa so happy. Amazing how joy can make you glow!

My youngest is in a band. They’ve been playing gigs and they have a song that you can buy on iTunes or Spotify. Search Arborview if you’re so inclined. 

Photos below were at a free gig at Bondi in April. Perfect blue sky. Lovely warm weather. We went for a swim, as you do when at Bondi, although it’s not my sort of place and I haven’t been for over a decade. Too crowded. Still, we were there to see our son. And we couldn’t have been prouder. 

Mr S watching the gig

My high jumping bass guitarist

Classic rock star end-of-gig stance



Jamie Oliver burnt chicken san fran salad

This was the best salad ever. I’ve never been a fan of the quinoa (not only because I can’t say it, but because the few times I’ve had it, it has dominated the salad or been used in a salad so sparse in other ingredients and so bland, it has been boring and gluggy.)

I was given the Jamie Oliver 15 Minute book and DVDs years ago but have never got around to cooking anything. A chance watching on free to air TV, had this recipe featured. I had to give it a try. 

I’ve also never been a fan of smoky paprika, preferring the sweet, so if it wasn’t for the show on TV, I never would have cooked this. 

The flavours, the colours, the smells. Heaven. 

When I had started preparing the salsa and put the spices on the chicken, Dreamer came in and said the smells were making him hungry. The smell was divine!

I’m not going to list the steps if the recipe as I largely followed Jamie Oliver. But here’s some pointers. 

Of course it doesn’t take 15 minutes. But that’s OK. It really wasn’t that long, though I can’t say exactly how long. I didn’t time it as I prepared some bits before my guests arrived and, as luck would have it, had a power outage for two hours just before the guests came and then I was socialising while cooking.  You do need a food processor to moosh up the baby spinach, coriander, mint and spring onions. This spread through the quinoa, makes the quinoa edible. My salsa was a bit dry to I added a teeny little bit of water.

I used chicken thigh fillers not breast because they were on special. Also being smaller, they were quicker to cook and I am always worried about under cooking chicken. 

No cress in our fruit and veg shop, so I used snow pea sprouts instead. Like them better than the peppery cress anyway. 

Didn’t use chilli because one friend doesn’t eat it. 

I served some limes on the side, for extra juice. I didn’t have enough avo because they were not ripe so could only use half a large one which is a shame as more avo would have been better. 

The salad doesn’t really last or maybe we were left with too much quinoa. Anyway, it is nicer when the chicken and capsicum are warm. So eat it up quickly. 

Truely, this is a great one to serve with friends. It looks so impressive. I’ll be putting this one out again this summer before the mango season finishes. 

Is soup dinner?

I don’t write often about my offspring (their lives; their choice if it gets plastered over the web) but one, the younger one, (let’s call him Dreamer) has provoked some thinking. 

I served up an interesting dinner the other night. (No photos. It just wouldn’t pass the visual test.)

Dreamer said, “This looks like all the dinners we had this week.”

“Well spotted. It is.”

Rice, vegetable and chick pea curry, a sort of boiled chicken and veg stew thing. Mmm, appetising. 

The chicken thing came from the chicken soup I had made the day before. I scooped out the chicken and veggies, leaving the broth for my lunch. 

While Mr S and I tucked into the dinner with gusto, Dreamer pushed his fork around his bowl. 

Dreamer looked up and made a pronouncement. 

“Brother and I came to a ruling last night at the pub. Soup is not dinner. And we we won’t be having it for dinner anymore.”

Laughter from Mr S and me. Given the rarity of cooking by Dreamer and Brother, their votes have little chance of being acted upon by this administration. 

I really love homemade chicken soup. I thought it was complicated. Turns out it is easy. Mr S and I really enjoyed it this week. Served with thick slices of a dense sour dough. I love my pumpkin soup even more. Mr S loves his ham and split pea soup and his seafood chowder. 

All great winter fare. 

But is it dinner? A meal on its own? Or must soup come with a main course?

What do you think?

Where do you stand on oysters?

I love them raw. With a squeeze of lemon. 

Had them with a yummy champagne topping once but can’t remember much about it. 

Today I had a dozen with Tetusya sauce – sweet and salty flavour. 


Only problem, I eat them too quickly. 
Don’t like them mornayed. Too cheesy. And warm oysters. Yuk. 


I’m still hungry. My sister-in-law says Ai needed the cheese. She’s not hungry. And more butter on my bread. 

(The celebration continues. Having oyster  and champagne, a spot of shopping -oops bought three lipsticks – and cocktail in the city.)

Eating in Japan

If I had to pick eating in Korea or Japan, I’d pick Japan. 

Spoilt for choice. And so good. And quite cheap, in the main. And interesting customs around food. I found the whole experience, baring their tea, around food exciting. 

One lunch we had tempera. Oh it was good! And such as ceremony. You can sit at the bench and watch them cook. 

   
They bring the tempura out a couple at a time so it doesn’t go soggy. There’s a small tray with little containers of different flavoured salts. And a dipping sauce and pickles (much milder than the Korean pickles, hardly counts as pickled in comparison.) and a bowl of Miso soup. I am a convert. Miso soup in Japan was really good. And Japanese rice. So glorious. Little individual gems. I can see why they protect their rice industry. Very different from long grain or jasmine rice or rice from Australia, Indian or Vietnam. What a feast! Maybe $20.

  
How do you know a restaurant is open? They hang curtains on the door that go a quarter to half way down the doorway. Like this. 

  
One hint. Have it for lunch. We went back for dinner. Same food. Same chef. Three times the price. 

One night I talked my companion into eating at a tourist trap. A group of restaurants up high overlooking the glorious skyline of Tokyo. Yes, we paid much more for the experience. And the food, while fine, was not the best we had although by far the most expensive. Actually I couldn’t go into raptures about it. Italian served by a Turkish waiter in Japan. I can eat Italian at home. 

Still look at the view. 

  
And the fancy (read small) entree on the fancy plates. These plates wouldn’t work at my home. My boys already make too much mess. 

  
And second dessert came in a lacquered box. Cute. 

 
Let’s try something local! I want the noodle soupy thing. Look in here. This looks good. Few Japanese men eating in a narrow cafe style restaurant. 

So we enter. Only to be shouted at and kicked out by the waiter. Are they closing? Do they not want western women?

A passing American who lives in Tokyo explained. We have to order our food outside from an automatic machine. Pay there and take the ticket inside. 

But who do we know what we want? No, we prefer the old fashioned way of ordering food in Australia.  

Oh, what’s that?

Talking to a waiter. 

  
Anyway, ticket produced we enter the cafe to much warmth and welcoming. And are served a big bowl of laksa type soup with noodles. And the waiter speaks very good English. (Why didn’t he explain the machine ordering when he sent us out?) We can have a second serve of noodles free. Two serves come with the order. No thanks. We are stuffed. And only $10 or so. And really yummy. 

(I think you can get instruction on YouTube on how to order food from the AOM, automatic ordering machine.)

I felt like a curry. My step-mother-outlaw was Japanese and made an amazing curry that she said was traditional Japanese. My companion is doubtful and as she has  visited Japan before clearly doubts my claim. Anyway we try an Indian restaurant. 

Hahaha. Too funny. They have four curries. I order the chicken as the photo looks like butter chicken (which it was) and which was OK in the manner of shopping centre food courts in Australia. Comes with a wonderful, fluffy, large naan. And that Japanese rice I was in raptures about a few nights ago. Seems Japanese rice doesn’t really suit Indian food. And as to the other curries, they don’t have names. Just the name of the main ingredient. Okra curry. What is the base? Curry. Mmm. My companion had two curries. She said her second was awful. As was the somosa we ate. Inedible. Hardest pastry I have ever eaten.

OK, we’re in Japan. Let’s eat Japanese. I found it. A Japanese curry place. Apparently a chain. I order one that looks like my step-mother-outlaw’s. (Thank god for menus with photos.) Except I leave the lotus flower vegetable (looks pretty but tastes of nothing. Must be another “eat it cause it’s healthy” thing!) and the bean curd (blah stuff with a horrid texture) and deep fried chicken that tastes like KFC and was placed on top of the chicken curry and I paid extra for even though I didn’t realise I’d ordered them and didn’t want them. OK, I may have not made the meal sound appealing but it was! And hit the mark. And cheap. 

  

One last meal. A noodle-y dish served on a hot plate embedded in your table. Except everything is already cooked. Was this to keep it warm? Or just for effect – the finely shaved pork waved and curled up in the heat in an interesting manner?  Who knows. We’re in Osaka for this meal and unlike Tokyo, have fewer English speakers to explain. But again a cheap, delicious and filling meal.   

 

Walking to offices in Tokyo I was excited by the lines of people queuing for lunch. (A slow line. A long wait. They are soooo patient and orderly.) 

   

 I wanted a bento box. If everyone is waiting patiently for what seems like most of their lunch, it must be worth it. No?Turns out no. 

The packaging is beautiful. Told you the whole ceremony around food is exciting. But the food is cold. Cold prawn. Cold fish. Cold rice. Cold lotus flower root. Cold strange bits and bobs. I thought it would be warm. 

   
My empty box is below. I was going to keep it. They thought I was strange. Turns out they were right. The box stunk of fish. I wouldn’t get through customs at Sydney airport. But it was such a well made box to be disposable. (I was momentarily overcome and forgot my box decluttering challenge.)

 

Red win at dinnig?

I don’t buy souvenirs. When travelling food, alcohol and looking at things (buildings, people, gardens, shops) are my thing. 

Breakfast in the hotels was similar to breakfast in hotels everywhere in the world. European/Western option and Asian option. 

But besides hotel breakfasts the food is hugely different between Korea and Japan. As is the cost of alcohol. 

Wine and bubbles in Korea? Forget it. Too expensive. In Japan you can pick up good French wine really cheap. Well compared to Korea. My maths was way out in converting and I have already forgotten how much I spent but I think about 900 to 1200 yen. So about $15 to $20.  I did ask some Korean young’ns how they afford a night out on alcohol. Turns out they buy this ethanol drink for a few dollars. Made in labs, not naturally fermented or brewed. See people will always consume alcohol. Price stuff that is natural out of the market and some horrid deadly chemical mix is consumed instead. 

I had a Korean version of Vietnamese Pho soup. Quite good, except the Korean twist had an unusual base note. Think kimchee or some sour, fermented note. I always find local variations of food of other nationalities interesting. You know, Chinese food in Australia vs Chinese food in the US. (OK, poor example given I have never been to the US but I’ve seen it on tele.) And like Vietnamese noodle and soup restaurants everywhere, it was cheap and plentiful. 

I also ate pasta. Lots of pasta. Surprisingly good pasta. Italian pasta. In both Korea and Japan. It was a recurring option. So much so that we begged for mercy and other options. 

In one eat street in Seoul we ate here. 

  
Despite the cost, my companion wanted a glass of wine. I didn’t. 

This ain’t going to be pretty but in the interests of honesty I will share a story. On my second night in Korea (first one didn’t really count as we arrived late) I attended a function catered by Austrade. Lots of Aussie wine laid on. Red wine. And a plentiful buffet. With strange combinations of food in the style of buffets that have everything. Really well-cooked and delicious which made resisting eating too much and probably ill-advised combinations difficult. I had my first ever meal of ribs. (Have never been tempted before but they were really really good.) And chicken and lasagne and salad all manner of manna that I can’t remember.  

The wine I remember. New country, new foods, manic few weeks before travel. Do you get the sense I am making excuses? 

I vomited and vomited and vomited. I do remember that Korean toilets are not good to vomit in. But I do so like to look on the positive side: I did all this in the privacy of my own hotel room. 

Hence no alcohol for a couple of nights for me. But in the wine bar they had an extensive selection of red and white win. 

  
OK, it’s immature and impolite to  laugh at little errors in English use. Especially given my poor linguistic skills. Sorry for being so immature. 

The spaghetti vongoli was delish.  I could have been not in Korea but in Europe. 

Speaking of adopting European food habits, the tea house across the road would not have been out of place in an English village. 

  
Inside was perfectly decked out like an English tea room. It felt like a theme park copy. Or a stage set. Designed by aliens who didn’t quite get it. Cause they served bubble tea and iced green tea. And green cakes. 

But while we’re on tea, at least you can get black tea in Korea. Even if their milk does have a strong odour, almost goat like. The Koreans favour English breakfast for black tea. A nice robust tea. I searched and searched for decent tea bags in Japan, finally having success in a suburban supermarket. Green tea, hot or iced, is the normal offering. And most black tea was wussy Darjeeling. So weak that adding milk hid any hint of tea. 

On my last morning in Japan I was in heaven. The hotel served a perfect cup of black tea. I could give up alcohol but not a decent cup of tea. Skipping tea in the morning leaves my day with a gapping hole. 

But back to food. We took Korean clients to  lunch. They picked the venue. A fresh food place all done up like a trendy Eco joint. We would never have found it. Thank god for local connections. The food was great. Again, a buffet with a range of choices. Western and Korean. Pasta. I had several goes at the nasi goreng. Lovely salads with micro-greens. 

I tried the “but it is healthy” vegetable which apparently is quite popular in Korea. I am always quite suspicious of something that people eat because it is healthy. On its own not a strong selling point for any food item. Turned out to be a yam. Served raw. Looked like cut apple and was crisp like apple but once you started chewing, an unexpected sticky, glutinous secretion is extruded. Interesting. But one slice was enough. 

They also served with a bit of lettuce as if it was an accompaniment to mains, not dessert, mango and passionfruit salad. Still, my two favourite fruits!!! I showed them how yummy it is on ice cream. Maybe I started a new trend in Korea. And soup. I had the pumpkin soup! Noice! The whole lunch was surprisingly good. Sorry, forgot to take photos. Too busy eating. 

And of course I had a Korean BBQ. The meat was very tender. The accompaniments the usual pickled things. I tried them but nah! I just don’t get them. And I eat sauerkraut. The food is cooked at your table. Here’s the lard melting. 

   
The Korean waitresses got very mad when several at the table started meddling with the cooking. But you know Aussie guys and BBQs?

 
Notice the bottled water. My God, the amount of plastic water bottles!!! They are handed out everywhere. I don’t think people drink the tap water. So all that plastic minalisation you are doing and recycling, counts for nix globally given the plastic bottle consumption in Korea (and Japan and possibly other Asian countries). Reusing water bottles just doesn’t seem to be a concern.

  
 And while we’re on plastic, see the napkin wrapped in plastic. As if that proves the napkin is clean! Madness. But the Koreans have nothing on the Japanese for plastic use. I think they must shit plastic.  Everything is wrapped in it. And such small quantities are wrapped up. 
But back to the BBQ. My plate had the salad. Mainly spring onion and sour-ey tasting. You put the meat, which is cut up in little pieces, on the salad. And the other bits are for sharing. The dish that looks like spaghetti is a root vegetable. Pickled of course. 

It was good as in an interesting experience.  And the meat was nice. But I’d never do it again, unless I travelled with Mr S and wanted him to experience it. 

Last item in Korea. I ordered an ice beer. I thought that was just a brand name. No, turns out they freeze the head of the beer. Looks like a white turd perched on your beer glass and has the consistency of an ice block come slushy. Yeah, no. Luckily the normal Korean beer is good. And doubly lucky, I misunderstood and took someone else’s order so the polite Korean gentleman got my beer and removed the iced top. Apparently it is refreshing in summer. Given it was below 10° and got down to 2° with a wind chill of less than that in Seoul, we didn’t need refreshing. 

And last orders in Seoul?

Waiting for our plane we sat down for a bite to eat. Couldn’t risk a snack or not on the short trip to Tokyo. Also we were famished. I ordered the pasta. (Again? Yes and orcas good.) My companion ordered this. 

  
OMG. It was huge and divine. I shouldn’t have got the pasta. This was enough for two though together we made great inroads. (Yes, after my lovely and large pasta, I helped.)

It was like a big Turkish bread but more pizza base-ish. The topping was grapes, aoli, flat leafed parsley, shaved apple and shredded chicken. 

Korea. Who’d have thought it’s the place for fusion food? All those international students are returning with great skills and mixing it up some at home. 

Chicken Tikka Masala*

I will start with the main message. Chicken Tikka Masala IS the same as Butter Chicken. Simple. 

Now for the longer post, complete with digressions. 

I read a little while ago that Chicken Tikka Masala was Britain’s favourite dish. (It’s recently been overtaken by stir fry, apparently.) And was often served at pubs. (I remember on my first trip to the UK being served a curry with chips – as in fries – in a flash pub and thinking, replete with my early 20s sophistication, what uncouth barbarians these English are!)

So I planned to have a chicken tikka masala when I got here. Unfortunately, Britain has moved on. There’s a tonne of gastropubs (gastro is the new gourmet, though gastro means something entirely unappetising to me) but none serve curies. Comfort food seems in. And the Indian restaurants seen to have gone “authentic”. 

But luckily we found an “old-fashioned” curry house. (Doubly luckily, it was the cheapest place at which we ate and was yummy so we went twice. Half the price than most places so comparing taste for money it was the best.)

So I ordered Chicken Tikka Masala. 

When it arrived it looked suspiciously like the dish I always order when we go to an Indian restaurant in Australia. 

Butter Chicken. 

In fact, so often do my sons and I order it, and we always get two because we don’t want to share, we earn the ire of Mr S. But for us Butter Chicken is not only our dish of choice, it is the only main course we really enjoy. And for us it defines the restaurant. Butter chicken no good? Well we won’t return. Suffice to say, I am a Butter Chicken expert. 

Not only did the Chicken Tikka Masala LOOK like Butter Chicken, it tasted like Butter Chicken. 

Could it be the same by another name?

When we got back to our accommodation I googled it. Most agree it is. One pompous Indian writer said they were different dishes. That the Tikka Masala was developed from England based on Campbell’s Tomato Soup while the Butter Chicken came from fresh tomatoes in Indian. 

Clearly she hasn’t heard of convergent evolution. 

They are the same dish. 

Variations between restaurants will be greater for each than any variation between the two “different” dishes. 

At least my sons and I can eat at Indian restaurants in the UK content in the knowledge we will get our dish. 

* a rose by any other name. 

Do you menu plan?

Time for a post on frugal living. The need for this will become more obvious in a future post. (Oh, dear readers, I’ve been bad!)

The expenditure that households can save the most money on is the regular grocery shopping.

How so?

Well, we waste so much food. Buying too much and letting it rot before cooking or eating. Cooking more than we need, putting the left-overs in the fridge until the mould growth makes you feel OK about tossing it. Even a very little bit too much leftover adds up over the year. Dishing up servings that are too large is another way we waste food.

There’s plenty of information on food waste. Google and be shocked. Here’s one report.

And food waste is definitely not good for the environment. All that water and energy used in growing produce and raising life stock; processing; transporting.

My first step in reducing the waste, and hence my grocery bill, was menu planning for the week. It also helped as Mr S and I both work, so knowing what we were to cook at night, and whose turn it was, reduced the stress of the evening. We always had a couple of “catch-and-kill-yourself” evenings, otherwise known as left-overs. There was always leftovers in our house, because of cooking too much. And as my boys got older, they asked for left-overs so they could eat them as snacks or for lunch.

Our menu planning wasn’t strict, in that we always had some tins of things and other staples for quick meals, if we didn’t feel like our planned meal or ran short of time. (Cowboy cooking, Mr S calls it. Throw in a tin of this and a tin of that with some chopped onions and some meat and some curry paste or the like.) And we move the meals around depending on evening schedules. I actually use to only write 1 to 7 to make sure I had enough meals.

Once you’ve menu planned, the next step is to write out the shopping list for what you actually need.

These simple steps cut our waste and grocery bill significantly.

After a couple of years of this I made the next jump to fortnightly supermarket and butcher shopping.

How does this save money?

Going less frequently to the supermarket means you are not tempted to buy so much junk and all the impulse buys that jump out at you. And knowing you’re not going to buy more biscuits or other junk the next week, means you make them last a little longer rather than gutsing them in one go. For some reason instead of buying double biscuits, I bought the same amount (who wants to go through the checkout with more than 10 packets of biscuits?) My family didn’t notice, and definitely didn’t feel deprived. Really we were buying and eating too much junk.

And just recently I have lasted three weeks between supermarket visits. Mainly because we have eaten out a bit but also by using up things in the fridge and pantry. My family are so used to having excess in the pantry that a normal pantry looks empty to them. “You better go shopping. There’s nothing to cook.” Oh, just watch – as I made several more dinners. And now with adult children, there will be nights they are not home so dinner for one night becomes dinner for two nights.

All round menu planning is a time saving, money saving, environment saving, sanity saving hint. We also like dishes that can be cooked in double quantities so you get a night off!

Here’s the last and our current menu plan stuck on our fridge. They say only two weeks worth, but I generally extended them by a night or two.

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Grocery shopping for the busy family

Do you grocery shop every week?

For years I would tromp on down to the supermarket every weekend. It was a habit. One I thought you had to do. We all need to eat, don’t we? So every week we buy the food. And other assorted household stuff.

Grabbing staples, throwing a random selection of ingredients into the trolley. Buying veggies we “usually” use. Stopping at the butchers and buying different meat – beef, lamb, pork, chicken – to work out later what to cook.

In the morning: Chicken tonight? Yep. Take it out of the freezer.

After work: what shall we do with it? Stir fry? OK.

Even worse, the after-work-what-shall-we-cook conversation when nothing has been taken out of the freezer!

Come the weekend, back to the supermarket. Throw out the food going off. Restock the fridge.

After years of this, I hated the waste. Wasted food = wasted money. And the wasted time. So I changed to menu planning, working out what we would actually cook for dinner and buying for that. It cut out food waste significantly. And cut the stress of working out what to cook when we came home tired from work.

A few years into menu-plan shopping, I thought I would take a radical step: not go to the supermarket every week. I was bored with food shopping. I hated grocery shopping taking up a couple of hours of my weekend. Obviously not doing the weekly shopping could be done. Think of those who live in the country! Yet we do things out of habit, mindlessly, because we’ve always done it that way.

Now I spend half an hour working out with Mr Sans what we will cook for the fortnight. We are not strict; we just work out 12 or 13 meals – there’s always left-overs or a “catch-and-kill-yourself” night. (With two growing/grown-up sons at home, we always cook for left-overs so the boys can have food for lunch or snacks.)

Then I roughly plan each week’s menu – don’t want all chicken one week and all pasta the next! Normally the menu for the week is flexible. We swap the dinners around depending on the weather, our moods or if one of us is tired.

If we have evening functions we make sure we have a double meal (cook a double quantity so there is a meal ready to reheat). We also plan for the evenings when one of us isn’t available to cook. As we share the cooking equally but have different dinners we like and different cooking styles, we need to let the other know what night they definitely have to cook. “I’m out on Tuesday and won’t need dinner, so you have to cook.” “I’ll make the green curry then.” “Good, don’t like that one.”

After menu planning, I draw up the shopping list. Supermarket and butchers are visited once a fortnight. The green grocer I go to every weekend. That is why I divide the dinners into each week, so I buy the veggies for that week.

The benefits have been enormous: less stress, less waste, money saved. I have cut our grocery bill by hundreds. Fewer visits means throwing fewer “treats” into the trolley!

Now, my family would probably tell you I go even less than once a fortnight. Sometimes I go “on strike”. There’s food in our kitchen, so why shop? Eat the fruit in the bowl! Just because you don’t feel like an apple but want a banana doesn’t mean I have to go buy you one!

And teenage boys, well mine anyway, think if they have to do more than open a container and put it in the microwave, then there’s nothing in the house to eat. Tough, I say.

So what’s on the menu for the next fortnight?

Week 1
Sat – Mum and Dad are going out with friends for dinner, so readymade stir fry from the butcher’s with Hokkien noodles for sons to cook.
Sun – roast chook, gives some leftover meat for lunches. And I will roast extra veggies for vegetarian lasagne later in the week.
Mon – BBQ lamb kebabs and salad.
Tues – BBQ steaks, chips and salad. (We’re making the most of the end of summer. BBQs on the back verandah.)
Wed – two lasagnes – one beef and one vegetable. Lots of leftovers for lunches and snacks.
Thurs – Hokkien noodle pork stir-fry – double lot cooked for Friday.
Fri – left-over Hokkien noodles

Week 2
Sat – BBQ sausages (real meat ones) with salad.
Sun – Belgium chicken pasta.
Mon – Steak sandwiches. (We’re Aussies so these HAVE to come with tinned beetroot and fried onions!)
Tues – stirfry. Cook extra rice for fried rice later in week.
Wed – fried rice. Cook two lots.
Thur – fried rice.
Fri – leftovers / catch and kill your own.
Sat – roast macadamia and honey chicken roll.

So there you go. We love food and we eat well. A little menu planning and once a fortnight shopping saves time, money, stress and food waste.