- Grocery shopping can easily lead to indecision when you consider the endless possibilities of home cooking.
- Here, author Sarah Wells describes how she developed a restaurant-style menu for her cooking to remedy the “paralysis” she had with grocery shopping.
In your early 20s, you might experience a lot of pressure from family, social media, and yourself to have “adulting” figured out. Whether that means scoring your dream job or internship after school, meticulously decorating your one-bedroom apartment, or crafting Michelin-star-level meals at home, these expectations seem designed for us to fall short of them.
While I can by no means claim to have ticked off all these boxes, I have developed a way to make at least one of those tasks easier for myself: grocery shopping.
I actually enjoy grocery stores – the kitschy holiday displays and the free samples, especially – but more often than not I find myself overwhelmed by the number of options presented in their aisles. When I first started grocery shopping for myself, my solution to this paralysis was to stick to buying staple items I knew I could use for several meals. This meant buying items like eggs, beans, pasta, and spinach every week.
Especially in college, these items made for quick and fairly nutritious meals. However, eating the same items again and again began to make cooking not only boring, but a chore.
I tried the opposite approach, too, searching for hours through Instagram and compiling an endless list of dishes I’d like to make. But deciding which of the hundreds to make on any given night became its own challenge, and creating a succinct grocery list that could encompass all those meals seemed impossible.
It occurred to me recently that I had completely overlooked a tactic that had been working for restaurants for decades: a menu.
I decided to sit down and create my own personal menu, tailored to meals I already enjoyed and knew how to make. Breaking up the list into categories like soups, fish, meat, and vegetarian helped me streamline the process even further, and options I’d forgotten I loved – like butternut squash soup or fish tacos – started to easily fall into place. By the end, the list contained about 15 to 20 reliable meals that I knew I’d enjoy cooking and eating.
From this “master” list, I can create a weekly menu before every grocery store trip. That way, I only put items on my shopping list that I know I’ll use during the week, eliminating the guilt of watching produce slowly go bad or bags of rice grow dusty at the back of my cabinet.
The weekly menu also gets at the root of my cooking fears: variety and indecision.
Because my master list has almost two dozen options itself, that means that I can now go months without repeating a weekly menu. Not only that, but by picking items from each of my categories, I can assure that indecisiveness won’t leave me bogged down with all salads one week or all pastas the next, and that I’ll have a variety of textures and flavours each night.
To hammer this newfound order home even further, I’ve begun writing my menus down weekly on a peel-and-stick chalkboard. While I’ve never been one to scrapbook or bullet journal, this creative ritual gives me a moment of reflection to concentrate on not only the logistics of food shopping and preparing but also the adventure, passion, and memories that go into it.
I may still have a long way to go before becoming a “successful adult,” but at least I can depend on some quality time each night between me, my onions, and my frying pan.