Meal plan magic

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

If there’s one com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor in adult­hood, it’s gro­cery shop­ping. We all have to do it, learn­ing the ins and outs of the over­stuffed aisles of our favorite store. We learn their coupon poli­cies (do they dou­ble? Up to how much?) and sales cy­cles; we look for their fly­ers and stock up dur­ing par­tic­u­larly great pro­mo­tions. We know where they stash the good clear­ance stuff, and when the dis­count stick­ers of­ten ap­pear on yes­ter­day’s meat.

Ex­cept me, ap­par­ently. I have no store fidelity.

Since we moved from our apart­ment to a neigh­bor­ing town, Spencer and I have yet to find a per­ma­nent gro­cery home. I flit from place to place on Sun­days, de­pend­ing on my mood, and tend to choose the lo­ca­tion based on what­ever other er­rands I have nearby.

Some stores are cer­tainly pricier than oth­ers, and cost is my mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor. The gro­cery chain I ac­tu­ally love most — for its at­mos­phere, I guess, if a cor­po­rate mar­ket can have “at­mos­phere” — leaves me flab­ber­gasted with an ob­scenely high bill, so I try to shop else­where. But I of­ten find my­self re­turn­ing to my first love.

When I still lived at home, a good friend used to see a lo­cal deli’s sales ads in our news­pa­per and rhap­sodize about their amaz­ing prices on meat. Sandy is a sea­soned shop­per and al­laround knowl­edge­able adult per­son, so I knew she could ac- tu­ally spot a “good value.” I could not. Af­ter Spencer and I mar­ried and my foray into do­mes­tic life be­gan, I was shocked — shocked! — at the price of, say, a pack of chicken breasts. And how to ac­tu­ally cook said chick- en. My dad has al­ways han­dled the weekly shop­ping and was the mas­ter chef at the Snider res­i­dence. My idea of “gro­cery shop­ping” was ask­ing Dad to add gra­nola bars to his list for me. By the fol­low­ing af­ter­noon? They’d ap­peared! My favorite kind, no less! Magic.

I was spoiled (though not un- grate­ful), and I know it.

As I didn’t leave home un­til my late twen­ties, even com­mut- ing through col­lege, there are still times I’m over­whelmed by the “adult” tasks I never han- dled un­til re­cently. Buy­ing a vac­uum cleaner. Do­ing taxes. Cre­at­ing a will. Han­dling all the cards for fam­ily birthdays. De­cid­ing be­tween name brand and off-brand po­tato chips.

I like to say I can­non-balled into the vast, mys­te­ri­ous wa­ters of adult­hood; no hang­ing out in the shal­low end for me. Within a year of get­ting mar­ried, we bought a house and I moved twice, then be­came preg­nant with our first child be­fore our first an­niver­sary. Six months later, our son was born — two months early.

If I thought I was “adult­ing” be­fore, that was an­other level.

Life has set­tled down a bit since then. Though I’m hes­i­tant to de­scribe my­self as calm these days, I def­i­nitely feel like our lit­tle fam­ily has found a groove.

Just in time to wel­come a fourth mem­ber, of course. I guess that’s how it works.

I never feel more grown-up than when I sit down to write out a weekly meal plan. Tired of the “what should we make?” cook­ing game, I try to take a half hour on Sun­day morn­ing to flip through recipe books, dog-ear meal con­tenders and draft a gro­cery list. It just makes life eas­ier when we’re all back from work and day­care, hun­gry and tired. I’m a woman who likes a plan.

Spence and I prob­a­bly eat four of five week­night meals at home — a record for us. In our dat­ing and just-mar­ried days, go­ing out to eat was a way of life. My hus­band jokes that the houses around here were all built with­out kitchens, ’cause it seems like the rest of the world al­ways joins us for crab cakes. Doesn’t mat­ter the time or day; restau­rants in South­ern Mary- land are jammed.

But we work hard, you know? By the time folks get home from their long com­mutes, pick up the kids, tend to pets, sort through bills . . . well, they don’t feel like roast­ing a chicken. Not on a Tues­day, any­way.

I was that way, too — be­fore Oliver. As I’ve shared, our ad­ven­tures in din­ing are very lim­ited with a tod­dler. Not to men­tion that, as he gets older, we’re also or­der­ing for Ol­lie off the menu. So that’s three en­trees we’re pay­ing for, though our son’s meal is lit­tle more than $4 mac­a­roni and cheese. Still. Costs are on the rise. When I started get­ting se­ri­ous about plan­ning for good, whole­some dinners (with left- overs for lunches), I no­ticed my gro­cery bill was ac­tu­ally drop­ping. I was no longer wandering the aisles grab­bing things at ran­dom, real­iz­ing half­way through the shop­ping trip that I ac­tu­ally wanted to make tacos for din­ner, not spaghetti, and needed to back- track to find all the in­gre­di­ents I’d al­ready passed by.

Less in the pantry. Less crammed in the freezer. Less clut­ter­ing up the fridge. And more money in my wal­let.

Time is at a premium, but so is en­ergy. At nine months preg­nant, wad­dling around a cav­ernous store isn’t good for my stress lev­els or my hips. I was so winded from a re­cent shop­ping run that I im­me­di­ately came home and crashed on the couch. Spencer brought in and un­packed every­thing as I tried to muster the willpower to . . . sit up.

I’m cut­ting my­self some slack, though. The fact that I’m still work­ing, meal-plan­ning and (mostly) mo­bile is more than I could have hoped for at this point.

But if some­one wants to bring din­ner? Well, we’re al­ways grate­ful. Never picky.

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