5 Tips to Make the MOST Out of Grocery Shopping
When we first figured out that we were probably going to be sheltering in place in the near future for an undetermined amount of time, I was actually out of town. I was visiting my Oma + Opa in California and they had just been given warning that they themselves would be sheltering in place come Monday.
Given that my grandparents are in their late 80s, I decided it was best I prep their house for the shelter in place to come – stocking it with everything from toilet paper and soap to frozen veggies and canned goods. I also wrote Oma a quick list of ways to make food last longer – I really, really didn’t want her going shopping!
At the same time, I texted Ben a list of items to pick up before I got home; since I was flying we decided it was best that I quarantine myself as soon as I leave the airport. I remember Ben texting me a picture from the grocery store of an uber, full cart and I couldn’t help but think, “Did I go overboard?” I have a tendency to go overboard…
That first food run lasted us 4 weeks. We ate well, wasted nothing, and didn’t have to leave our house for a month. It was a true shelter in place. We have continued to do this, more or less, since that first grocery trip in March.
When friends + family caught word of our grocery store habits, they kept asking HOW?!
HOW ON EARTH DO YOU ONLY GO GROCERY SHOPPING ONCE A MONTH??
In an effort to answer that question, I thought I’d write down and recommend a few tips that I use to make this happen and of course, share them with you 🙂
Keep in mind, I have A LOT of practice when it comes to menu writing and grocery shopping. For 5 years – 260 weeks straight – I wrote daily/weekly/monthly menus for the bakery and ordered food in weekly/monthly in order to serve hundreds of people each week. I have practice.
So don’t be thrown off if you forget something your first trip or overestimate or underestimate, eventually you’ll catch on to what you + your family needs and hopefully these tips will help you plan meals better + feed yourself forever (rather than just during the pandemic).
Tip #1: PLAN YOUR MEALS AHEAD OF TIME
I know this seems obvious but we are going to get into a little more detail here. When planning, I suggest you make a list of what you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 4 weeks (or 2 weeks or 1 week… whatever it is you’re planning for). I know this sounds time consuming but it really doesn’t take that long. I think you’ll find that you have some pretty serious food habits and may not even realize it!
For example, when I think of breakfast for Ben and I, I know Ben does a protein shake every morning so he’s easy; I just need to double check we have enough protein powder for a month. For me, I always eat an egg with 1 slice of toast and half an avocado. This gets trickier.
There is no way in the world you can buy avocados to last a month! So I have to adjust my eating habits a little. I buy some softer avocados to start eating immediately and a few harder ones that I know will last about a week. After that, I switch over to yogurt + granola. So then I need to plan for that as well – we will get to quantity planning later…
A few more things on planning:
- Remember, you don’t need to make something new every night! I’ll make a casserole for 8 so Ben and I can get two dinners and two lunches out of it. In Tip #5 I’ll talk more about how to spread out leftovers so you’re not tiring of eating the same thing over and over.
- Veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and potatoes tend to last longer. Plan to use items like these later in your menu and use items that go bad quicker first (like avocados and bananas).
Tip #2: GATHER RECIPES + WRITE YOUR LISTS
After you write your menu for the next however many weeks, gather any recipes you plan on using. Though this might take 10 or 20 minutes now, especially if you need to print some new recipes you want to try, it will save you time in the weeks to come. Keep all the recipes together in a folder or a binder so when it comes time to make them, you already have them ready to go!
You’ll create your grocery list from your recipes + menu. Go through each recipe/menu item one by one and write down everything you need. I recommend writing one item per line so that you can add quantities later. It’ll look like this:
- __ Butter:
- __ Eggs:
- __ Milk:
- __ Sugar:
- __ Tomatoes:
The space in front of each item will be where you put the total amount you need. The space after will be where you add it all up – we will get there in Tip #3 and eventually you’ll be ready to combine Tip #2 and Tip #3.
After you’ve gone through your menu and recipes, you’ll have a pretty solid list of everything you need. However, don’t forget to check the basics like olive oil, salt + pepper, spices, peanut butter, jam, and so on. These are often overlooked but much needed for our everyday eating habits.
Tip #3: FIGURE OUT HOW MUCH YOU ACTUALLY NEED
This step is a little tedious at first. There is a lot of food math to be done but I swear, after doing it a few times you’ll stop thinking about it as it will just come to you naturally!
So let’s take the yogurt + granola from Tip #1 for example: I eat 5 ounces of yogurt with 2.75 ounces of granola each morning. If I have fresh berries, I’ll throw in a handful – if I don’t, I use frozen berries (I’ll talk about this in Tip #4).
If I plan to have yogurt + granola for 3 of the 4 weeks Monday through Friday, I’ll need 75 ounces of yogurt and 41.25 ounces of granola. When grocery shopping, keep in mind that all products must state in ounces or grams how much they contain. So though this food math seems like a lot, it’s actually extremely helpful in buying just what you need.
So we if go back to our list from Tip #2, after each item write down how much you need per recipe or menu item. It will look like this:
- 20 oz + Butter: 4 oz + 8 oz + 2 oz + 6 oz + extra (just in case you want to bake more 😉)
- 125+ Eggs: 4/day x 30 + 3 + 2 + a few extra
- (write TOTAL here) Milk: (write quantities needed here)
- __ Sugar: …
- __ Tomatoes: …
Yes, this sounds like A TON OF FOOD and that’s because it is. But remember, you don’t have to shop for 4 weeks at a time! Try menu planning for 1 week and then 2, practice makes progress and eventually you’ll figure out what works best for you. Maybe it’s 10 days or perhaps it’s 20, whatever works, works!
I also realize I am only feeding two mouths. If you’re feeding a family of 4 or more, there probably just isn’t enough space in your fridge to buy in bulk and that’s totally okay! You can still plan ahead to make your life easier and eliminate waste.
Tip #4: STOCK UP ON PANTRY STAPLES + FROZEN FOODS
You can never go wrong stocking up on canned items and frozen foods. When all else fails, you can make some pretty damn good meals out of both. Plus, if you ever run out of a certain ingredient, you can usually find a decent substitute. The following are items that I usually keep on hand:
- All the beans (black, white, refried, chickpeas, you name it)
- Tomatoes in every form (diced, whole, stewed, sauce, paste)
- Frozen veggies + veggie mixes (I love the chow mein mix for an easy stir fry)
- Frozen fruit (great for smoothies, making jam, and tossing into yogurt bowls or baked goods)
- Canned corn
- Canned diced green chilies (great for soups + sauces)
- Canned bean sprouts
- Rice (brown + white)
- Frozen pizza crusts (or fully topped pizzas)
- Butter (keep extra frozen)
- Spaghetti Sauce
- Nut milks
- Nuts (buy in bulk, keep frozen)
Tip #5: LABEL EVERYTHING
Whatever you’re putting in containers, be it fresh veggies or last night’s leftovers, LABEL IT with a name + date. I find that we are much more likely to eat everything in our fridge in a timely manner without waste if we can easily see what we have on hand. If you notice your romaine is reaching day 7, you might want to consider swapping your steamed veggies that night for a fresh salad.
Or maybe you have 4 leftover servings of lasagna and 2 of broccoli soup. Having them labeled makes it easy to choose what you want to serve for lunch and dinner the following few days, allowing you to spread out leftovers throughout the whole week rather than eating the same meal over and over again.
One last bonus tip, if you’re so inclined, store leftovers in single serving containers. This way if you’re hubby wants to take soup for lunch, he can just grab and go. Or maybe you feel like that lasagna but are running late for work, just grab and go! It does take up a little more space in your fridge but it really adds to the convenience factor of solid food prep.
There you have it, 5 tips to make your groceries last longer and your food budget spread further.
If you have any questions or comments, join the RylieCakes community on Instagram to get in on the conversation. We’d love to hear from you!
Lick the Bowl, It’s Gluten Free!
P.s. Here’s a guide to basic baking + cooking substitutions, always handy to have around 🙌