This Week’s Menu + How We Food Shop

Slow cooker pork carnitas
Slow cooker pork carnitas

After nearly two years here, I feel like I’ve finally gotten the food shopping and menu planning down to a science these days. It’s taken that long to figure things out around here as well as build up our stocks.

We budget $700/month for food, but generally only spend around $650, or maybe a little less. We allow around $450 of those dollars each month for Costco; $120 – $150 is set aside for our weekly trip to the farmers’ market (how much depends on whether there’s four or five weeks between paydays); and the rest is split between local stores – Foodland, Safeway, Cost U Less or Walmart – and/or bulk orders from Amazon. That $700 is a big drop from the $1000/month we initially spent when we arrived on Kaua’i, but we just weren’t shopping smart then. Our monthly amount will drop again next fall after WenYu leaves for college, probably by another $100 – $150/month.

We buy very little processed food these days. We occasionally pick up a Costco ready-to-bake pizza, but one of those provides three meals for Brett and the girls! We also sometimes buy things like ready-made tamales at Costco, or quiches, or a big bag of potstickers or spring rolls, which we use for the girls’ breakfasts or school lunches, and we’ll often buy something special from their bakery (last month they had guava Danish which were a big hit). Most of the items in our Costco cart each month though are basics: chicken thighs, pork roasts or chops, fish and one other kind of meat (like chicken breasts, roast turkey breast, sausages, or ham), tofu, nuts (peanuts, cashews and pistachios), eggs, bread products (sliced whole wheat, sandwich rolls, croissants, and Italian or French bread), frozen fruit and vegetables, ice cream, cheese, wine and a small amount of produce that we usually can’t find at the farmers’ market. We also buy things like peanut butter, jam, honey, butter, soy milk, cereal, rice, pasta, tortillas, crackers, English muffins, some canned goods and broth, sugar, some sauces, mayonnaise, and coffee at Costco when we need them, but those aren’t monthly purchases. We shop from a list and stick to it. If something is not on our list, even if the sample is fantastic, we don’t buy it – period. We repackage the meat and bread into meal-size portions when we get home and they go into the freezer.

Local stores are where we buy milk (just a quart at a time), the odd bit of produce (potatoes, for example), some canned goods, low-sodium soy sauce and other Asian ingredients, baking supplies and a few vegan substitutes, although I can sometimes find those at Costco. We use Amazon to bulk order items that are either too expensive or can’t be found here. For example, last month we bought pad thai kits, yellow rice, and San Marzano tomatoes through Amazon, but we won’t be ordering anything from them this month. We eat very little beef, but once in a while buy locally-raised ground beef, and very occasionally will buy a steak or London broil from the marked-down section at Safeway or Foodland.

Toiletries and paper goods (other than toilet paper, which we get from Amazon) come out of our food budget as well, and are purchased at either Costco or Walmart. A jug of laundry detergent from Costco lasts for more than four months, dishwashing soap for more than six months – both cost around $12. A package of a dozen paper towels will last us for more than a year, and a box of trash bags from Costco lasts for nearly two years. A big bottle of Suave shampoo is less than $3 at Walmart and lasts for around three months. Other paper products and toiletries we buy are also reasonably priced.

Rather than shop based on a menu, which is what I used to do, these days I make my menu based on what we have on hand, and buy the produce we need for the week at the farmers’ market. We get a nice variety of meals that way without wrecking our food budget. Everything that’s left over out of the budget each month goes into our travel fund. I always check the fridge, pantry and freezer before I make my list too. For example, right now we have a lot of pork on hand, so won’t add that to the list this month, but we will need more chicken, and because I don’t have to buy pork we’ll probably buy some extra fish or some shrimp.

Whew! Now that you know all that, here’s what’s on our menu this week. Next week is our monthly Costco shop, so we’re trying to use things up to make room in the freezer:

  • Tuesday: Panzanella with beans (we leave the cheese out)
  • Wednesday: Tuna noodle casserole (soup for me)
  • Thursday: Grilled chicken drumsticks; potato salad; corn on the cob (vegan ‘chickenless nuggets’ for me)
  • Friday: Slow cooker pork carnitas with tortillas, rice, and refried beans; cucumber and tomato salad (just rice and beans in my tortilla)
  • Saturday: Grilled ahi tuna; grilled bok choy; a treat for dessert!
  • Sunday: Yakisoba with tofu
  • Monday: Spaghetti with greens; garlic bread

Must-buys at the farmers’ market on Wednesday will be cucumbers, tomatoes, bok choy, kale, corn, and carrots. My birthday is on Saturday – the girls have an outing that day with Big Brothers/Big Sisters but will be home for dinner, and Brett and I are going to pop down to Java Kai to pick up some sort of vegan dessert to help celebrate the day. Last week went really well as far as sticking to the menu, so I’m hoping for another good week!