Modern menu building on a budget – summary and wrap-up

These are a great start, but I’d also like to reiterate some of the tips we’ve talked about in our modern menu building miniseries.

1. Know thine habits. By anticipating your hunger patterns and outside buying triggers, you can more effectively plan to have the food you want to be eating on hand instead of ducking in, grabbing fast food, and not eating the food you already have in your fridge.

2. Take stock of what you already have. Raid the fridge and, while you’re at it, make sure food is where you can see it. Nothing worse than finding two rotting halves of an onion. Look through your pantry, too. A great tip from Vintage Eater, vintagejenta, is to put your grains and beans into air-tight, clear glass jars. Again, if you can see it, you’ll use it. 

3. Build a framework to organize your menu. Include entries for the meals you’ll cook for yourself and the meals you’ll eat while out.

4. Figure out what you can buy on sale. It’s about being flexible and also, about knowing what you regularly eat week after week. Watch for those items (or those type of items) while perusing sales flyers. Also, bear in mind what you already have, so that you can pick up additional items to supplement.

5. When you’re done, write a menu. I always play a game with myself to see how much existing stuff I can use up while bringing in as few new items as possible. An empty fridge can be a good thing sometimes, folks, though if you asked 8 year-old Jenny that same question, you’d hear a totally different answer.

If you can plan ahead and organize what you already have, you’ll find that you waste less food and eat a whole lot better.

Next Saturday is our vintage Christmas cookie swap here in Boston and we’re encouraging Vintage Eaters elsewhere to host their own, so for all of our posts this coming week, we’ll provide old recipes that you can use for your own baking. Thanks for reading.

Published in: on 5 December, 2011 at 10:36  Comments (3)  

Modern menu building on a budget – step 5: build your menu

Have your inventory in hand? Saved a ton using coupons and sales flyers? Built your template? Now here’s a sample menu that pulls it all together. First, look at breakfast and follow the asterisk past the shopping list.*

Week of 10/11 Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Breakfast Bread with cashew butter, coffee Egg sandwich, coffee Egg sandwich, coffee Bagel with cashew butter, coffee Egg sandwich, coffee
Snack 2 raw green peppers Asian pear 2 raw carrots Eggplant caviar Raw veg.
Lunch Tabbouleh with falafel Squash, stuffed with quinoa, lime, corn, chiles + tomatoes Baked sweet potato with sautéed kale Tabbouleh with falafel Chicken salad on a toasted bagel
Snack Sauteed sprouted wheatberries Radishes Raw veg. Baked sweet potato Mo’ raw veg. Cookies!
Dinner Baked sweet potato with sautéed kale [Dinner out] Whole wheat pasta with mushrooms, onions + garlic Roasted chicken thigh/drumstick with sautéed eggplant Mac + cheese with some sort of veg. Chicken and brown rice soup
Before bed Crispy bar + tea Warm cider Crispy bar + tea Warm cider Crispy bar + tea

Produce: already at the house

2 tomatoes
3 carrots
4 green peppers
9 onions
3 eggplant
1 squash
5 sweet potatoes
5 blue potatoes
2 ears of corn

Shopping list:


1 whole chicken (on sale at Whole Foods)
Sausage/meat for breakfast sandwich


½ doz eggs
¼ lb Vermont cheddar from Shelburne Farms (swap for whatever cheese is on sale)

Dry goods

Whole wheat WF brand bagels – 6 pack (on sale at Whole Foods)
Annie’s Home Grown Cheddar Cheese shells (on sale at Whole Foods)
Envirokidz crispy bars (on sale at Whole Foods)


Wax paper (baggies?)
Apple cider

*When I considered my behaviors around food and mealtimes, I noticed that I had a habit of grabbing a latte and a breakfast sandwich at a cafe whenever I was running a little behind for work. So for breakfast, I got a 6-pack of bagels, eggs to fry, cheese, and sausage to create my own sandwich to go. I also filled the coffee maker the night before so all I had to do was hit a button.

Eating the same breakfast day in and day out is boring, though, so I looked the list of stuff from my pantry (not shown here) and remembered the cashew butter.

Snack time was a great opportunity for me to eat the raw veggies and fruit that came in my CSA.

Now for lunches and dinners. I probably have more time than you do. But notice how the meals repeat? That’s because I’m not going to pretend that I can cook distinct meals for lunch and dinner seven days a week.

That’s why when you cook, you cook enough for two meals, eat one and then the other in a day or so. Don’t forget to build meals outside the home into your menu, if you have any planned for the week.

Lastly, leave a free day or a few free meals in your schedule so you can eat any leftovers that might accumulate. Having a menu like the one above isn’t something you need to stick to religiously. Think of it as a guideline, but if there’s food that needs to get eaten before your regularly-scheduled meal, feel free to swap days around. Waste not, want not. 

For our next post, we’ll wrap up all of these menu building tips into a neat little package and answer any questions you have about how this works. Send questions to us via the comment section below and get excited!

Next week is vintage Christmas cookie week, and we plan to post a few recipes that you can use in your own baking. If you’re Boston-based, we hope you’ll join us for our own cookie swap, December 10, 4:00-7:00 p.m. at the chocolate tarte, 199C Highland Avenue in Somerville, MA.

Published in: on 2 December, 2011 at 10:54  Comments (1)  

Reminder: our vintage Christmas cookie swap is in little over 1 week!

Hey there and happy holidays to our community far and wide! This is just a reminder that we’ll be holding our first event – a vintage Christmas cookie swap – from 4:00-7:00 p.m. at the chocolate tarte, 199c Highland Ave, Somerville, MA. A big thanks to our friend, Author Jane Alessandrini Ward, for the announcement via her blog.

If you’re participating in our event in Somerville, please bake at least dozen cookies (or three – we spoke to a friend last week who said, who bakes a dozen cookies?) and bring them with you to the party. Take a tin along to collect a sampling of cookies that others have brought. Don’t forget to RSVP to to let us know you’re coming!

If you’re Boston-based and want to make a day of holiday foodie goodness, visit Eat Boutique’s Holiday Market before you head over. We won’t be mad at all if you swap THOSE cookies at our get-together ;-)

Lastly, if you are swapping vintage Christmas cookies in your neck of the woods, or even if you’re just baking according to Grandma’s treasured recipe, send us photos! We’ll post them in our Facebook album here.

And if you’re short on inspiration, stay tuned – next week we’ll run a few recipes from our own vintage sources that you can use. For our next post, we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming (menu-building on a budget).

Published in: on 30 November, 2011 at 10:18  Comments (2)  

Modern menu building on a budget: step 4 – consult the sales flyers

I used to think that consulting sales flyers and clipping coupons was a huge waste of time. And granted, a lot of the time it is. Many food manufacturers create coupons for cheap food to make it seem like you’re getting a better deal than you really are. $1.00 off of some sugary cereal here, $.50 off of some processed item there, and there you have it – a cart full of crap food that will leave you both hungry AND unhealthy. Awesome.

But I’m learning that if you regularly shop somewhere, you can build the bulk of your menu around things that are on sale week after week. For example, take Whole Foods or your local co-op. Think back to our previous post on your buying habits.

Now consider your inventory. What can you put together with the rice in your pantry and the leftover veg in your fridge? How about risotto? Grab your sales flyer, find chicken (it’s almost always on there), grab some stock (or make your own – it’s easy and cheap), use up your leftover white wine, saute the vegetables, bake the chicken and add it all in at the end when the rice is finished cooking. A little parmesan cheese and you’re set.

This is just one example of how you can supplement the food you already have with food you will definitely use. Love eggs? Buy a dozen, but plan out the meals where you’ll use them. Eat a lot of sandwiches? Find the bread that’s on sale.

The goal when you go shopping should be to buy things that will eventually bring the amount of food in your house down. When the amount of food in your house goes down (because you’re eating it and not throwing it away), that means you’re saving money. And in vintage eating, saving money and minimizing food waste is the name of the game.

A couple more tips: Don’t shun store and off-brands because, generally, they’re the same thing as the major brands anyway. Also, don’t forget about your local farmer’s market for in-season fruits and veggies. This produce is often the best and freshest you can get, and nothing beats putting a name and face to the person who grew your food. Lastly, check out my old-OLD post on Fair Food Fight for other ways you can save money while shopping.

Next up is a post where we’ll build a hypothetical menu for you and show you what this all looks like. Thanks for reading! To keep up with us on a daily basis, be sure to follow us on Twitter and become our fan on Facebook.

Published in: on 28 November, 2011 at 12:16  Comments (3)  

Modern menu building on a budget – step 3: build yourself a template

“It is best to look at the three meals of the day and balance them as a unit against yesterday’s or tomorrow’s meals. No longer do we try to balance each meal separately. This is where the intelligent meal planner shows [his]her skill as a nutritionist.”

– Foods: Their Nutritive Economic and Social Values, 1938

For your next trick, you’re going to learn how to incorporate the pantry and fridge items you inventoried last time into a coherent weekly menu. Remember our first post on your eating habits?

We’re going to assume that you’re a three square + three snack kind of eater and that you plan to eat food you make at home four times a week. Draw yourself a diagram like so –

Week of x Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Before bed              

Now add your inventoried food to the bottom. Next, we’ll learn to shop for the additional items that’ll make up the meat and potatoes, so to speak, of your menu.

Grab the sales flyers from your local supermarket/co-op, start looking around at your local farmer’s market, and tune in to our next post!

Published in: on 25 November, 2011 at 12:20  Comments (2)