Your Choice: Chaos or Order


The quick answer:  A menu-based shopping list will save time, money, stress, and maybe even your family’s health.


I’ve been reading two totally different books—one about French food culture, the other a scientific study of synchronous systems.  In a flash of intuition, I realized they were discussing the same thing—how to organize our lives.  Here’s a brief summary of the books:

French Kids Eat Everything: How our family moved to France, cured picky eating, banned snacking, and discovered 10 simple rules for raising happy, healthy eaters.  You get the picture—an American mom, married to a French guy, was feeding her young children the modern American diet and using food, unsuccessfully, to win the kid’s cooperation.  The kids were in full rebellion; the more she catered to them, the worse they acted, and ate.  Their diet was terrible.

The family moves to her husband’s hometown in rural France and run headlong into a bastion of traditional food culture.  The relatives are shocked by the children’s diet, as well as their behavior at the dinner table.  The mom, resentful at first and overly protective of her children, puzzles her way through the French approach to eating, trying to figure out the rules.  She arrives at ten rules, which we’ll discuss in the next post.  The French are wiser about food, but the American wife is clever in a profitable way—she writes a likely bestseller about her experience. 

Sync: The emerging science of spontaneous order, the other book, investigates examples in Nature of order emerging from chaos by looking into cyclic behavior:  fireflies that began to blink in unison; heart muscles that contract at precisely the right instant, year after year; even the aquarium school of fish that turn in unison without an apparent leader. 

There was even an example of spontaneous order of interest to the beautiful wife, I thought.  My mistake.  "Have you heard," I asked, "how scientists have found that in coed dorms, as the school year progresses, the women began to have their monthly period about the same time?"  This was a poor topic choice—the beautiful wife never discussed such a personal topic with her dorm mates and didn’t think the scientists should either.

Winning Family Support

Do you ever have that mental flash of light, when you suddenly see clarity in something you’ve pondered for a while?  Trying to explain these two books to my wife, I suddenly saw the books had something in common with each other, but also with her.  Sync, the book, explores how Nature brings order out of chaos.  French Kids Eat Everything reveals how a society teaches the next generation their traditional food culture.  Isn’t that another example of order replacing chaos?  Isn’t that what mothers do on their best days?

I remembered how when rearing our six children, the beautiful wife had a way of winning their cooperation and support.  Harmony was her best dish; we were of one mind, especially at the dinner table.  The kids liked what she cooked and she mostly cooked what they liked.  Picky eating is often a subtle expression of child rebellion.  Somehow the beautiful wife organized order from chaos and harmony from rebellion.  Women are good at this. 

How does a family create harmony, unity, and a common purpose?  I think it happens at the dinner table but begins in the planning that precedes the meal.  It's planning that brinds order to our lives, and reduces the chaos.  Planning is a creative process—a tiny version of that first Creation.  Here are three essential tools:

  1. A weekly menu, one created in a participatory process.
  2. Recipes for familiar healthy foods (like our 52 Breakthrough Recipes).
  3. A shopping list (the subject of this post) to keep the pantry stocked with only the good stuff. 

Shopping Lists

Here's a link to a shopping list if you go to several stores (like Costco, a grocery store, and a farmers market or health foods store).  Or if you prefer a list that includes space for menu writing, visit our daughter's blog inchmark.  In a post the grocery list, she shared her approach to meal planning and provided a link to her editable list.  You may be using an iPhone app for a list but if you don’t have a list you like, you’re welcome to try one of these.   

A menu-based shopping list brings big benefits:

#1:  A shopping list is a plan—an antidote to wandering the store aisles wondering what to eat, susceptible to the worst offerings of Food Inc.

#2:  A shopping list saves money—healthy food really is cheaper than the modern American diet, if you take a thoughtful approach to planning. 

#3:  A shopping list saves time—it’s your best way to minimize grocery store runs and streamline meal preparation.   

#4:  A shopping list reduces stress—how many times have you been in that last-minute squeeze to come up with an idea for dinner? 

#5:  A shopping list lets you teach—your family can’t learn by helping if the plan is all in your head. 

Please comment:  How do you organize grocery shopping?  Got an app for your iPhone?  Use a printed list you keep in the pantry during the week?  What works best for you?  Please share. 

Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.

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Reader Comments (6)

That list above looks almost exactly like my weekly list! Plus and minus a few things.

I've commented about my weekly lists before, but I'll do it again. I like to search for what recipes I'm going to make that week and then write out my grocery lists. I roughly base the recipes around each other so I don't buy so much of one ingredient and then have to come up with something later to use it for. For example, make a pork roast on Sunday, use some leftover pork for enchiladas one day, and the rest for some BBQ pork on baked potatoes. Or whatever. If I need a little cilantro for something one day, find another recipe where I use the rest of it. That way I'm not wasting anything. Another thing is to use coupons where you can, buy produce in season when it's the cheapest (and W.O.W. friendly :)), and maybe make your husband watch the kids while you shop so you're not tricked into getting anything you shouldn't! (The nutella in my cupboard??) Writing out a menu and lists to match make life so much easier and so much cheaper!

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRik

i just read this idea recently from simplemom.net. i'm eager to try it.


April 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbandreoli

I plan a little differently. We have a produce co-op that we get the majority of our produce from, I then plan our menus around what we get. I may need some cilantro to complete a salsa, but then it's mostly figuring out how to best utilize what we get. I love the variety and trying new and different produce options. I usually plan the following almost every week. A soup night, preferably on bread making day, a salad day, stir fry or other asian meal and either a mexican our italian themed night. I've tried to build a good food storage so my pantry is usually full of grains, seeds and nuts. I usually hit the warehouse once a month and try to do large bulk buys once a quarter for other staples. It works well for us. Thanks for all you do.

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterheidi

Here's my menu plan http://ncbrownfamilyblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/fresh-friday-meal-planning-edition.html

I shop at three stores too - regular grocery store for cans and basics, trader joes for yummy stuff and Costco for meat and veggies.

April 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Brown

I came across your blog last night and I can't stop reading. I have been desperately searching for knowledge on how to help my family of 7 eat healthier and follow the word of wisdom. I have purposely avoiding the extreme diets and the vegan "know it alls". Thank you for all of you helpful, solid and "normal person" information!

March 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi

I came across your blog last night and I can't stop reading. I have been desperately searching for knowledge on how to help my family of 7 eat healthier and follow the word of wisdom. I have purposely avoiding the extreme diets and the vegan "know it alls". Thank you for all of you helpful, solid and "normal person" information!

March 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi

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