Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

Going Off-List

Week before last I did something I haven’t done in over 5 years: went shopping without my Menu Mailer grocery list.

For those not familiar with Menu Mailer, it’s the invention of Leanne Ely, the Dinner Diva, and features a set of dinner recipes, serving suggestions and an itemized, categorized shopping list each week. Even though I’ve got a culinary degree, am a veteran list-maker and perfectly capable of decided what to make for supper every night, it was nice to not have to make those decisions each week.

After so many years, though, I was starting to chafe at the repetition of flavors (all cooks have their favorites, after all) and some of the more questionable processes she recommends (there are very few times, after all, that any good comes of playing the hokey-pokey chicken: cook the chicken, take it out, make the sauce or something, put the chicken back in, finish cooking). And don’t get me started on caramelizing onions by adding brown sugar.


But I had become somewhat a slave to the convenience of it all. It was my turn to do the grocery shopping and I had plenty of things I wanted to road-test for the cookbook, so I made a quick list. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be, even if I was so very out of practice. Have you ever had a hard time making a grocery list? When you break it down into simple building blocks, it’s not difficult:

  • Proteins–choose 7; beef, pork, chicken, fish, beans, tofu, some can be repeated or skipped altogether
  • Vegetables–choose at least 7, 10 might be better; salads can cover you for a couple of meals, and a mix of fresh (whatever looks interesting) and frozen veggies (broccoli, cauliflower and green beans are always good staples) that can be easily steamed
  • Carbs–yup, you need these, too! Even when you’re watching your weight choosing healthy carbs can help keep your cholesterol in check and add fiber to your diet (especially for those who don’t like veggies). Brown rice, whole wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, whole wheat rolls.

After that it’s all a matter of matching the pieces together. Imagine it like one of those games with the revolving pieces–one for the head, one for the body, one for the legs. You just spin your pieces around til you like what you see and that’s what’s for dinner!

Of course, it helps to have a well-stocked spice cabinet and plenty of condiments at the ready to dress up whatever components make up your meal.

Another way to make your list is to pick specific recipes to try each week. This is what I used to do at 19, when first married, and charged with the task of having dinner ready each night when my husband came home. My cookbook collection was much smaller then and it was still in the darker days on the Internet so I only had a few sources to choose from. Still, I tended to choose one from here, one from there and it got a little confusing.

Instead, a better option might be to pick recipes all from the same book and just note down the page numbers for reference. Not only does it give us more use of these tomes we collect, but it makes things a little simpler. Granted, if the  book you picked was 101 ways to serve Chicken, you might get a bit bored over the course of a week. Then again, many flavor profiles can work regardless of the protein of choice and it could provide interesting for the adventurous.

Jennifer Walker
Jennifer Walker

  1. Jennifer
    Those are all good ideas.
    I only cook for one most of the time but just go willy nilly through Trader Joe’s. Sometimes, I have a list and sometimes not. I don’t go into a traditional grocery very often. Sometimes I go into Sunflower Market for produce. They are not a traditional grocery store. I cannot imagine cooking for someone picky.

    My staples are eggs, cereal (but don’t always have milk), bags of salad, salsa, beans, whole wheat pasta. It’s amazing what I come up with but not sure anyone else would want to eat it. 🙂

    As much as I like food and like to cook in spurts, I don’t like to go grocery shopping. Wish I had a grocery shopping genie.

  2. When I was primarily cooking for 1, I’d cook for 4 because it was easier and have leftovers (meant I only had to cook half the time!).

    I enjoy shopping in a nice grocery store, probably because I like shopping in general, but going for the necessities is not fun at all. I have friends that despise going to the store so much that they’ll call for carry-out for a week or more rather than go to the grocery store!

    Unfortunately they don’t offer grocery delivery in our neck of the woods–I’d probably take advantage of it, too, in that case!

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