I started keeping a Pinterest board with likely meals and then sorting through them to find common ingredients -- that way I can buy in bulk and make the most of grocery sales. I also picked a few more vegetarian entrees than usual -- we've been keeping up Meatless Mondays all this year, but a little less meat trims the budget and encourages more veggies. As the days turn colder, soups and stews are warming and filling (and they usually freeze and reheat very well for lunch or dinner).
These are the recipes we're centering our November menu around:
chicken/rice casserole - a favorite (somewhat like this)
*stuffed shells - double batch (similar recipe)
pork shoulder - carnitas style in the slow cooker a little like this
easy meat sauce (maybe)
vegetable beef soup - depending on what veggies are cheap (use your favorite! or start with this recipe)
beef stew or pot roast w/ veggies - basic recipe we usually use
chicken noodle soup - the way my sweetie makes it, with onions, carrots, celery, and rice noodles
*lentil veggie soup
*white bean and spinach soup
*veggie chili - adapted from this slow cooker rice & beans recipe and our usual style
*chile-cheese & rice burritos
*crusty white beans and spinach
Extras for sides, snacks, and breakfast: *refrigerator oatmeal (maybe -- we have a lot of instant oatmeal to use up as well)
*pumpkin muffins - this recipe has only two ingredients! (I may try one with eggs and one without to compare)
*cornbread muffins - Jiffy mix for me, 'cause it's cheap, but you can use a fancier one
fruit (we have several types of berries in the freezer -- maybe she'll make sorbet, or smoothies!)
bread - for all the soup! I like sourdough, but I think we also have what might be gluten-free naan in the freezer.
*vegetarian (sometimes by adapting recipe slightly)
I'm using this cooking spree to empty out the fridge and freezer as well. For example, we have half a jar of mild chunky salsa in the fridge door, and a take-out cup of green chile sauce in the freezer -- those and some lemon slices I froze for chilling lemonade will go into the slow cooker for carnitas. We have half a raw chicken and three Cornish game hens frozen -- I still have to buy chicken breasts for casserole, but those will do fine for soup. There's half-and-half that needs to be used by Halloween -- why not use it instead of milk in the potato soup and get a super-creamy texture? You get the idea.
Here's an approximate shopping list for the bulk cooking (actual amounts will depend on price and what we need for X meals for the two of us):
2 whole chickens - from freezer
1 pork shoulder - from freezer
beef soup bones or short ribs
ground beef (if on sale)
spinach (or kale, chard, etc. - have some chopped frozen spinach for shells)
vegetables -- beets, zucchini, bell pepper, lima beans, corn, etc.
chicken broth (extra for soup in the freezer)
cream of mushroom soup
cheddar or colby cheese
diced canned tomatoes (have one small can)
canned green chiles
tomato pasta sauce
yellow cake mix/spice cake mix
Jiffy cornbread mix
eggs (lots already in fridge)
paprika (we're all out! but we have all the other spices)
We'll also buy fruit, bread, milk, and other necessary perishables as the month goes on, but the idea is to get the bulk (heh) of the cooking out of the way at the beginning. More time to enjoy our evening meal, talk, and relax together at the end of the day.