So to answer the question, yes, there is a method to my madness! It's not rocket science. People have been doing this for ages...just making the most out of what we already have and buying what is less expensive. Each week, I have a scavenger hunt through the fridge and take "inventory". My goal is to figure out what has expired, what soon will, and what is still perfectly fine.
My inventory this week was this:
-leftover vegetable soup
-leftover meatloaf (complete in meals with green beans)
-cauliflower (starting to turn)
-tad of sour cream
-a few stalks of celery
-half container of (not so) fresh mushrooms
-a handful or so of carrots
-already chopped onion
(and whole onions...which are a staple in our house. If there are less than 2, I buy more.)
Note: I don't include fruit in my inventory except to figure out what to buy for snacks.
Once I do that, then I start looking at the produce sales to figure out what to make for dinner. I don't search meat sales because I buy that ahead of time when it is on sale and freeze it. I keep staples in the house (spices, sauces, etc) From what I had I knew I could make:
1. leftover meatloaf (this was SUPER easy...see above list! Ha ha!)
2. leftover enchiladas with cauliflower poppers (cauliflower was on the verge of use or toss!)
3. leftover vegetable soup paired with grilled cheese (another SUPER easy recipe)
4. beef-barley soup (which uses carrots, onion, and celery up)
5. beef-broccoli with rice (which uses the rest of the 2 lb container of beef and the broccoli, plus I threw the mushrooms in for good measure thinking maybe T would think it's chicken and mushrooms...I can dream right?)
6. chicken cacciatore (uses 2 zucchini, then I bought 2 more at Safeway on sale)
7. sweet and sour chicken (used onion and carrots. I bought the peppers even though they weren't on sale. Once A took a bite out of one at Sprouts I felt a little obligated to buy it ; P)
8. Cucumber sandwiches for MOPS tea party (uses leftover sour cream, cucumbers were 49 cents each at Sprouts)
About once per week, I spend some time pretending I work at Panda Express. I chop up the items needed for the recipes I will make and put them in square containers (because they fit the fridge better). My kids usually crowd me because they try to sneak the bell peppers! So once it's all chopped it looks like this.
The bag on the left is the beef-barley soup in a "to go" bag (for the friend that just had a baby). The top middle is sweet and sour chicken. The bottom middle is cacciatore chicken. The right is beef broccoli (with added mushrooms). Behind those are washed and ready lettuce, jicama, and snap peas. If they are washed and ready I am more likely to actually eat them! I didn't shop until after the meatloaf, soup, and enchiladas were already eaten so they aren't pictured.
So now when it's time to cook, I only have "3" ingredients instead of say "10" to put in the crockpot. So making chicken cacciatore involves putting some frozen chicken breasts, the vegetable bin, and spaghetti sauce in the crockpot. Then later in the day, I just boil some noodles to go with it. Sweet and sour chicken is chicken, vegetable bin, canned pineapple and 2 jars of sauce, then I can also make some rice. Isn't that fun? The best part to me is how it frees up that hour before dinner!