Use a List
A successful shopping trip starts before you leave the house; shopping without a list is like going on vacation without a destination in mind, a map or hotel reservations. I’ll provide a few specific tips on list building below, but at the very minimum you should start with your weekly menu in front of you.
Hungry? Stay Home!
You hear this all the time, but it’s worth repeating: Don’t shop when you’re hungry…and… Don’t shop when you’re hungry. Okay, you get the point, the reality is you’ll end up buying all kinds of junk that you don’t need and will spend a lot more than you planned. Your list and budget should help you stay on track, but why add unnecessary temptation?
Plan ahead for left-overs. I love making homemade soups and will always make at least 10 cups of soup at a time. Even though it’s just the two of us, we’ll have enough for the current meal and the rest will be stored in individual serving containers for future meals. This is an excellent method to control portion sizes too.
Just Say “No”
…to Junk food. It has little to no nutritional value, providing empty calories without nourishing the body (it’s called JUNK food for a reason, right?) Truth of the matter is the best form of willpower is passing by junk food items in the store. It’s easier to walk past the Ice Cream aisle in the STORE than it is to ignore the ice cream sitting in YOUR freezer at home, calling your name. If it’s in your house, yes…you will ultimately eat it.
No, that’s not some prestigious University, it’s Price Per Unit and it’s listed on virtually every price tag you’ll see on a grocery shelf. Learn to read and compare items based on their PPU, both in comparing variations in package quantity and in comparing like brands. Smaller packaging often has a higher PPU than purchasing larger quantities (just make sure you’ll use it and it won’t go to waste!)
Speaking of Menus
Plan ahead for the upcoming week (or two); breakfast, lunch and dinner. Start with a basic framework making sure you cover all the bases: Proteins, Grains, Vegetables, Fruits and Dairy. Pick the days when you’re going to “Go Big” and plan for leftovers. Having a well thought out menu can prevent the inevitable “…aw Mom, not meatloaf AGAIN!” 😉
About that List
I’ve found the easiest way to build our grocery list is to have a magnetic notepad on the side of the refrigerator and anytime we use something up we add it to the list. Once everyone is dialed in to jot down when they use the last of anything, the system works pretty well.
Slow and Easy
The ultimate in EASY! Crock Pot or Slow Cooker meals are simple and require little prep time. Toss all your ingredients in the morning before heading out for the day, come back home to a meal ready to eat. A quick Google or Pinterest search of “Healthy Crock Pot meals” will reveal some tasty selections.
You have your weekly menu, you’ve done your shopping, but life happens and for some reason you don’t make the planned meal – Don’t Stress Out! Have a Plan “B”, it could be left-overs from a previous meal, it could be “Breakfast for Dinner” or you can pull from some basic staples and get creative. I always have plenty of Quinoa and fresh vegetables of various types on hand. If I’m stuck for an idea, a quick veggie stir fry over Quinoa is an easy “go to” meal.
Use it All
Don’t let your food go to waste, do you have veggies that you don’t think you’ll be able to use before they go bad? Freeze them for later use. Save all the ends and cuttings from your vegetables, the chicken or turkey carcass and use them to make soup stock. In the summer we can’t eat our home grown tomatoes fast enough so we freeze them to use in soups later. I routinely make impromptu stir fry meals with “what’s left in the veggie drawer!” Be Creative.
Just the Facts Ma’am
Pay attention to the Nutritional Label: Look for fiber, healthy fats, protein, vitamins and calcium. Avoid foods with trans fat, hydrogenated oils, high amounts of sugar, saturated fat, lots of sodium or cholesterol. In addition to the nutrient value, check the first few items on the ingredients list, do you recognize them? If they’re unpronounceable chemical names (or sugar), you may want to pass. Also, it’s pretty standard that known Allergens are required to be listed in bold at the end of the ingredient list so be sure to check this if you have food allergies.
Money in the Bank
Have a budget in mind BEFORE you enter the store, knowing how much you can spend helps you stay in check. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (who tracks this stuff), the average American family spends about 13% of their annual household income on food (with a little more than half of that going to the grocery store)
Somethings lend themselves to buying in bulk, but be careful: don’t get caught up in buying in bulk just because you can. If you’re not going to be able to use all of the item before it goes bad, it doesn’t matter how good a deal it is if you have to throw it away. Purchasing “family packs” of fresh meats at your local grocery store can be a great savings if you cook and freeze it for later use.
…With the Produce Manager. Find out what your favorite grocery store’s restocking days are. I know our local grocer puts out fresh fruit and veggies on Wednesday so I’m careful to plan my shopping trips on Thursday or Friday because I know I’ll be getting the freshest produce.
The Bottom line is that there are many ways you can fine tune your shopping experience to get the most bang for your buck. Heading out to the grocery store with a plan and a budget is essential to staying on track and not overspending. Planning your meals and having some “go to” back up options will help take the stress out of meal prep.
Divide and Conquer.
If you buy in bulk, divide your items up into appropriate portion sized packages before you freeze or store them making it easy to “grab and go” with the right portion when it comes time to cook.
Pay me Now or Pay Me Later
Washing and pre-cutting vegetables ahead of time and putting them in sealed containers labeled with the meal they will be used for is another time saving idea. Pre-cooking, chopping, portioning and freezing chicken breasts is a convenient way to jump start a meal – just reheat and serve. An hour or two on a weekend afternoon spent prepping, portioning and planning meals can make weekday meal time a snap.