Shop Smarter And Save On Meal Planning In 2012

Get 5 tips on making healthier and more economical homemade meals

Wayne Johnson

I’m not big on resolutions.  But, I do want to spend a little less money on dining out in 2012 and save more in the grocery store by buying smarter and wasting less.

Buy In Bulk

We all know that there are economies of scale to buying in bulk. The biggest concern, though, is waste.  There’s no bargain if a lot of the food has to be discarded because of spoilage.

Winter is the perfect time of year for soups, stews and chili. It’s also the perfect time to make large batches of those stockpot dishes and freeze them.  I love making my Texas chili and will often double or triple the recipe (printed below).  That way, I can enjoy a big bowl on the day it’s made and then freeze the remainder in portion sizes for future meals.  Another benefit of making these types of big pot dishes is that you can buy cheaper cuts of meats that will become tender as they are simmered and slow cooked.

Freeze Single Serving Dishes

In addition to making large batch recipes like soups and stews, you can also buy in bulk and use the ingredients to make individual serving size dishes.  Potpies are great for this.  You can make 4, 8, 16 or more of these 2-cup sized ramekins with the recipe below and then freeze them for any occasion.  They are great as a meal for one or for a full familiy.  Potpies are also nice to have on hand when you decide to add extra guests with little advanced notice.

Recipe Share With Family And Friends

If you have family and friends who also enjoy cooking, recipe sharing is an easy way to create multiple meals for your household by only making one recipe.  Simply make multiple quantities of your favorite casserole recipe and have a similar number of your friends do the same.  Once prepared, these uncooked casseroles can be ‘traded’ for the different casseroles that your friends have made.  If three friends prepare different dishes, then you’ll each have 3 days in the future where nobody will have to spend excess time preparing a meal.  I've printed my friend Bill Kelleher's shepherd's pie recipe below to get you started.

Buy Bargain Fruit And Freeze

Throughout the year, even during the winter, grocery stores will often mark down the price of fresh fruit as it starts ripening.  Once overripe, fruit can spoil in a day or two.  But, if you happen upon a mark down and the produce looks good, buy it and freeze it for future use.  Fruits like strawberries, blueberries and blackberries are easy to freeze and quite tasty when thawed out weeks or even months later.  They can be a sweet addition to muffins and pancakes or as a topping for desserts.

Use The Grocery Store For Single Serving Meal Ingredients

Many folks who live alone would rather dine out than buy ingredients for a single meal and then having extra portions of ingredients go to waste.  One solution to this problem is to take advantage of the salad bar at your local grocery store.  If you are considering a meal like a stir-fry over rice or pasta, select small quantities of the ingredients, like onions, mushrooms, roasted garlic, etc., and use them to create your single meal.  If you toss in everything you’ve selected from the salad bar, then nothing goes to waste and you have a simple and flavorful home cooked meal.

The bottom line is to take advantage of the pricing in grocery stores and buy as economically as possible. Then, be creative with ways to make sure none of the products you’ve purchase go to waste.

Wayne's Texas Chili


2 Ancho Chilies
3 cu Water
6 Slices Bacon, chopped
2 lg Onions, finely chopped
1 lg Green Pepper, finely chopped
4 jalapeños, finely minced
6 cloves Garlic, peeled, smashed and finely chopped
1 tbl Ground Cumin
1 tbl Ground Oregano (Mexican if you can find it)
1 tsp Paprika
1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1/4 cu Chili Powder
2 cu Beef Broth
2 tbl Olive Oil
4 lb Beef Round or Chuck, cut into 1/2" pieces, trimming away the fat
1 tbl Salt
1 tsp Pepper
1/4 cu Corn Masa


Remove stems and seeds from the ancho chilies.  Place chilies in a bowl and cover with two cups of water.  Soak for 1 hour.  Drain chilies and reserve water.  Finely mince chilies and set aside.

Meanwhile, cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until bacon is slightly crisp.  Add onions, green pepper, jalapeños and garlic.  Saute until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add cumin, oregano, paprika, cayenne pepper, and chili powder.  Sauté for an additional 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer ingredients to a large stockpot. 

Season the beef with salt and pepper.  Return skillet to a medium heat and sauté beef in olive oil until brown, about 5 minutes.  Transfer beef to stockpot with a slotted spoon.  Add beef broth, ancho chilis, and the 2 cups of water used to soak the chilies. 

Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce heat to a very low simmer.  Place the corn masa in a bowl and slowly stir in the remaining cup of water.  Mix thoroughly to remove any lumps.  Add mixture to chili.  Simmer chili uncovered for about 2-1/2 to 3 hours, stirring on a regular basis.   Be sure to keep the temperature as low as possible.  Add more water if necessary to keep beef just barely covered.

This chili tastes best if you can refrigerate it overnight and then reheat it the next day.

Shepherd’s Pie
courtesy of Bill Kelleher


2 lbs Ground Beef or Lamb
Olive oil
2 Carrots, cleaned and chopped
1 Parsnip, cleaned and chopped
1 Onion, chopped
1 clove Garlic, minced
4 tbl Butter
2 tbl Flour
1 cu Beef or Vegetable Broth
2lbs potatoes (half white and half sweet), peeled and chopped
1/2 cu Heavy Cream
2 tbl Cream Cheese, softened
1 tbl Sour Cream
1/2 tsp Ground Nutmeg


Brown the meat in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the chopped carrots, parsnips, onion, and minced garlic and cook it for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

In another saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and whisk in the flour until it's blended. Whisk in the broth and cook until it thickens into a gravy, about 10 minutes.  Pour the gravy into the meat mixture and stir to combine.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes for 20 minutes or until tender.  Drain.  Separately mixed the cream, cream cheese, and sour cream together.  Add mixture to the potatoes with the ground nutmeg and whip until smooth. (If the potatoes are still a bit stiff, you can add a bit more cream).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spoon the meat/vegetable mixture into a buttered, rectangular casserole. Spread the potatoes on top.  Bake it in the oven for about 20-25 minutes and then turn on the broiler to get a bit of a crust on the potatoes.

Sprinkle chopped parsley on top for a little color.

Serve with shredded jack cheese, sour cream, sliced jalapeños, hot sauce, and cornbread on the side.

Wayne's Note: This recipe is great just the way it is. But, I've experimented with adding a few spices to give it a bit of different flavor profile (I liked the combination of 2 tsp Oregano, 1 tsp cumin and 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper).

Chicken Pot Pie

Basic Pie Crust For Four 2-Cup Sized Ramekins


2 1/2 cu All Purpose Flour
3/4 cu Cold Margarine or Butter, diced into small cubes
6 oz Cream Cheese, cut or torn into small pieces


Cut the butter and cream cheese into the flour in a large bowl and mix until ingredients come together to form a dough.  Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead it a few times to make sure all ingredients are fully incorporated.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Once the dough is chilled, divide it into four equal portions.  With each portion, separate about 1/3 of the dough and set it aside for the top crust.  Roll the remaining 2/3 of the dough to a diameter about 2" wider than your ramekin.  Transfer the dough into the ramekin and, using your fingers, press it into the bottom and side leaving about 1/2" above the rim. If the ramekin is deep, there will be a lot of overlapping crust as you put it into the sides and bottom.  Simply use your fingers to press and seal the dough into itself and push it slightly above the rim. 

Spoon about 2 cups of filling into each ramekin.  Roll out the remaining 1/3 of the dough to a diameter about 1" wider than your ramekin.  Place the dough over the filling and seal the edges with the bottom crust.  Crimp the edges with a fork.  Pierce the top with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape. 

Baking The Pot Pies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place the pot pies on a baking sheet in the center of the oven.  Bake for 30-40 minutes until the crust is golden brown.  If the crust is browning too quickly, tent the pie with a piece of aluminum.  Serve warm.


1 tbl Olive Oil
1 1/2 lb Chicken Breast, boneless and skinless, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper
1 cu Onion, chopped (about 1 medium onion)
1 cu Celery, chopped (2 stalks)
1 1/2 cu Red Pepper, diced (about 1 large pepper)
2 cu Broccoli Florets, broken into bit sized pieces
2 tsp Dried Oregano
2 tbl All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 cu Chicken Stock
1 1/2 cu 2% Milk
1 1/2 cu Frozen Peas


In a large saucepan, sauté chicken pieces in olive oil over a medium high heat until opaque, about 3 minutes.  Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Add onions, celery and red pepper and sauté until onions are translucent and tender, about 10 minutes.  Add broccoli and sauté for an additional 3 minutes.  Add oregano and sauté for about 1 minute.  Add flour to the mixture and stir until it has coated all the ingredients.  Add chicken stock and milk and bring to a boil.  Stir until mixture thickens, about 5-7 minutes.  Remove from heat a stir in peas.  Allow mixture to cool and then spoon into four prepared ramekins as described above. 

Freezing Pot Pies

These pies can be prepared ahead of time and frozen prior to baking.  Once you've crimped the edges, wrap them in plastic and place them in the freezer for 1 hour.  Remove them from the freezer and cover the pie and plastic wrap with aluminum.
Return them to the freezer until ready to bake.  To bake, remove pies from freezer and remove aluminum and plastic wrap.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Tent the pies with a piece of aluminum and bake for 60-65 minutes, removing the foil after 45 minutes.

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