Duke's Food Obsession
An OCD primer for stocking your pantry
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Aside from the fact that autumn is gorgeous in this part of the country, it’s a beautiful thing to see kids, especially mine, going back to school. But the lackadaisical gives way to frantic as the start of school ushers in fall sports, activities and events. The only way to survive sober, it seems, is to become organized, starting with meals and the kitchen. Also, an organized kitchen saves money, by actively using specials and seasonal produce, reduces time spent in the grocery store (!) and negates nagging questions as to what’s for dinner.
No one, especially my wife, would accuse me of being overly organized. But I am in the kitchen. This is, in part, due to my background in the restaurant and food service industry. So in the paltry amount of space allowed me by the publisher of this magazine, I will attempt to help you run your kitchen like a food and beverage manager. We will do this by using inventory and order sheets, and weekly menus.
My first job, for Bon Apetit Management Company of San Francisco, required each food service manager to inventory their entire store room, refrigerators, and freezers each week, most often on Friday afternoon. Yuk. The way to minimize the time spent, other than my favorite method of “taking inventory from your desk,” was to set up your order sheets and take inventory from “shelf to paper.” This basically means that you organize your shelves in the same order as your inventory sheets. Also, to be really slick, you organize your grocery company’s order guide accordingly, so once you inventoried, you knew exactly what and how much to order for your next grocery, dairy or produce delivery. Thrilling isn’t it?
Wait. It gets better.
Unless you are The Red Lobster, The Olive Garden, or any other depressing chain that only changes their menus with the timing of presidential elections, weekly or daily menus help dictate what is on your shelves and how much. Every company has a specific goal for holding inventory, whether it’s one week or one month, with the idea being that although you do need a certain item, any excess is money tied up that can be used for other things. For companies, it may be paying workmen’s compensation premiums; for you, it might be dentist bills, or movie tickets.
Aside from that, if you are like me, with the attention span of a three-year-old and the same amount of patience, weekly menus let you get creative. They save money by allowing you to use those weekly grocery fliers to take advantage of specials. They let you take advantage of what’s fresh by actively thinking about certain ingredients and buying them for specific uses at, say, our farmer’s market, rather than buying on impulse five pounds of squash or fresh cheese and then storing it in your crisper for a month and thus conducting your very own science experiment. (Look! I made penicillin! So, here’s how I run my home kitchen, for my dysfunctional family of five.
First, I read the weekly coupons and fliers on Wednesday of each week. Yokes publishes their fresh board on Friday, so I look for that on Friday. Safeway also has 72-hour sales on certain items that I look for. Wednesdays, if I have time, I cruise by the farmer’s market to see what’s fresh and talk to farmers about what’s coming in.
Next, I make a menu for Saturday through Friday, including lunch and dinner. If there is something on special that I like, I menu it. If it is in a value pack, and most often meat is so the stores get you to buy more of something they are making less on, I plan on using the meal twice as leftovers, using a part of that item in something else, like say roast chicken one day becomes tortilla soup the next, or freezing part of the meat for use in the following weeks. I use the specials for produce and for buying dry goods that I may need later or are low in the pantry.
I’m afraid I can’t help you actually menu, but you know what your family likes. For me, it’s just what I feel like, very often according to the time of year, and what I want my kids to try. I am a firm believer in making them try new things. But I will tell you, burgers make an appearance at least once a week.
Armed with my menu, I print out my store “order sheet” that I have on Excel. I have made a spreadsheet according to what we buy most. This I have by store, in the order of the aisles. (It’s a short hop from organized to OCD, I know. ) This saves me time, and allows me to send someone to a different part of the store who has absolutely no clue as to where things are, or what they are, and find it, like my 9-year-old son, or ahem, my wife.
I mark the order sheet with things I need for that week’s menu, and then I take my very own inventory in the pantry, refrigerator and freezer to fill in the other blanks. Then it’s off to the store, most often on one day, and most often a few stores, depending on the item. A national brand of dry goods, for example, is almost always cheaper at Wal-Mart, but I really don’t care for their meat, and certain specialty items I most likely will find at Yokes. Yes, it is a pain, and time-consuming, but I have found that although shopping daily in the European fashion for what’s fresh is hugely romantic, it also is inefficient and more costly.
This “scientific” method allows me to shop for who-is-home-on-which-nights, and since my kids are now trained, I no longer field questions like what’s for dinner?, or what can we have for a snack? They just simply go read the refrigerator where it is posted. And that, dear reader, is worth the price of admission.