I wanted to start this series of posts because I feel like delicious food, food beliefs, budget, and health are important to all but it seems we have to give up one or more in the name of time or money. I know it has happened over here more times then I would like to admit. Especially my beliefs around animal cruelty, eating whole foods, or reducing food waste. Those seem to be the first to sadly take a back burner when time or money are at stake. For those who don’t know, I am a vegetarian who eats seafood 1 or 2 times a month on special occasions, some call it pescatarian if you’re into labels like that. My husband is a meat and potato guy and our kids have two different palates that are a mix of both of our likes and forever changing. With so many different pallets, we were throwing away a ton of food, because I was making 2 – 3 dishes per meal time to satisfy everyone. Often I would go without a real main meal myself, because who wants to keep cooking?!? I would just end up standing and snacking on side dishes. Not exactly the healthiest but it’s what was “working” for us at the time. Also, our budget was ridiculous from lack of planning and over buying. I was essentially flying by the seat of my pants. Fast forward to now and I’ve gotten really good at cooking with leftovers and finding meals that fit all palates that only require the work of 1 meal. Quarantine has actually helped a lot. It has pushed me in the planning department so I’m using the foods that I have in the fridge AND I’m doing less guessing of what I need at home. Changing to online ordering and doing less frequent shopping has made it so I sit and plan my menu right next to the fridge/cabinets and check what I have as I order. It takes a little more time up front but since it’s pick up, the time I would have spent shopping in store is spent planning instead. I’m really excited about how creative this lets me be, and it scratches my planning and organizing itch too! Hopefully, I can share these ideas with you and you can find yourself making some changes too! Sometimes it’s just hard to know where to start or you need a BIG push like lockdown during a pandamic for three months, like it took for me.
With this first blog, I want to share with you shopping and planning tricks! For the next, I’ll share my tricks to keeping one meal friendly for multiple food preferences or sensitivities. And finally after that, I’ll get into a few example of meal plans and how I thought them up! Let me know if there’s anything else on this topic that you would like to see.
Here are some ideas to help you start a new way of grocery planning:
- Use Hey siri or hey alexa or just a simple note pad: As I run out of things I add them to my grocery list, instead of waiting to remember it all at once.
- With this plan you do not need to do a BIG shopping trip every week. I know they just seem so satisfactory (or is that just me?!?!) but realistically, you’ll only do about 2 – 3 bigs a month with 6 – 8 filler trips in there. It seems like a lot but it saves you a lot of money, buying fresh and keeps you from wasting.
- Another great time saver is having staple items that you always keep stocked, I like to keep some/all of these on hand at all times. When I have these staples available, I always have a what I need to build a good meal.
- Vegetable Stock
- Brown Rice/Noodles
- Beans (a few different kinds) – Pinto Beans and White Canelli beans are my favorites
- Canned Tomatoes
- Vegan Butter
- Whole Wheat Wraps/Tortillas
- Cheese for shredding
- For the kids, I like to have sides that they’ll always eat that are easy:
- Chobani Reduced sugar yogurt
- Unsweetened Apple Sauce
- 3 different fresh fruits (I rotate what we get)
- Veggie Cakes – These are a life saver, the only vegetables I can always trust my kids will eat. Try them if you haven’t!
- Annies Mac and Cheese White Cheddar Shells – The only kind my daughter will eat (RIP Kraft Spirals, you’ll always be my favorite)
- Bush’s baked vegetarian beans
- Use Pinterest – When planning your meals, assess your fridge for what you have and need to use, and create your meals around these items for less waste. Hop on Pinterest and include 3 or 4 ingredients of those things you have and then type “easy” or “instant pot” after them in the search bar to get quick meal ideas. Look for tasty items your whole family will enjoy and click on links to see how complicated they are before saving. If you find a complicated yummy meal for a night without the kids, maybe start a new board labeled ‘kid free cooking’ so the board doesn’t get too cluttered. Also, be sure to not pay too close attention to ingredients, if it looks good (even if it’s not vegan friendly) then save it. I’ll have another blog coming up on how to piece together meals that work for everyone! This includes ideas on how to change a recipe to fit your needs!
- Buy enough ingredients for one meal or plan to reuse or freeze the excess ingredients. Cooking in proper portions is a big one and surprisingly hard to do!
- Stick to 1 or 2 exciting meals a week, 1 or 2 easy family favorites, and leave room for leftovers. Whatever you do, DON’T plan out 7 individual meals unless you plan on coordinating ingredients, this is a big reason for waste in most households. As you get used to portioning, you can better plan out left overs or some people enjoy cooking on Sunday for the whole week ahead to save time. Remember to check your calendar too, as you may have plans to visit friends or moms house for dinner. I also like to leave one free night open to whatever we are feeling that day, there’s almost always something to put together from what we have or we just need a few ingredients to complete something super tasty!
- Keep your snacks, breakfast, and lunches basic and rotate between what you have on hand. Remember you’ll go shopping again, and the point is to use what you have before it needs to be thrown away. I have a friend who has a large pantry and uses containers as organization. A benefit she’s shared with me is that she buys less since she knows she only has a certain amount of storage. As one container empties, she can buy something new to fill it. It’s brilliant really, if you have the space to do it.
- After you’ve done all the research, list out your meals wherever you prefer ( I use Planner Pro on my iPhone) and then start shopping. With online shopping, you have more time to explore different stores to save more money. I typically use Cub for the majority of my groceries, Whole Foods (through Prime) for the rest, and Target grocery for a few specifics. Take an hour one day, maybe your lunch break, and just browse a few of your favorite most expensive items through different stores and see who has the best deals on what you buy. Once you get a good idea, you can stick to a routine, and shopping at multiple stores won’t seem so daunting. A few places to check out or try:
- Imperfect Foods – A great company dedicated to reducing food waste by selling you food groceries stores won’t due to size or imperfections. It’s on my list to add in to my routine!
- Thrive Food Market – Annual membership that saves on “health” food items. Your membership helps families who can’t afford a membership get one. They also have easy shopping tools to filter for specific diets, sensitives, ingredients, etc.
- Fresh Thyme – Like an extra large Farmers Market/ Co Op. This is where I get the majority of my vitamins when they have their big sale.
- My husband swears by Hy Vee which is employee owned and typically has good value items
- Your local Farmers Market (MN list here) – I suggest doing your grocery order after you’ve done a quick stop here. Don’t worry about your meal plan just go see what fun, fresh produce you can find and then create your plan around it.
- These are just the places I have researched or tried myself, there are so many options out there especially on a local level.
- Keep a dollar budget in mind, this will help you stay in line when you want to go off and buy all the fun new snacks or fancy cheeses.
- Make your meal plan less complicated on weeks that you need to re stock all the condiments and toiletries to stay on budget! For example, this is the week that includes Taco bowls turned into quesadilla night, and breakfast for dinner plus left over casserole. Not every week needs to be gourmet!
- Remember, and this one is hard for me, that you will be shopping again and soon! Don’t restock basics before they’re out unless it has a long shelf life and there’s some sort of big discount for doing so. You also do not need 5 different kinds of chips and crackers, could you really finish that all this week? DEFINITELY do not over-buy on produce and fresh foods. In order to eat fresh you will be at the store (or shopping online) more than once that week, I call these filler trips and there are usually 1 or 2 small pick up orders (under 30 dollars).
- Most important 😉 , always check your wine cabinet and keep it full! You never know when you might want/need to pair your dinner with a nice glass of wine.
***It’s important to note that “leftovers” can be used in two different ways here. Either you are making a meal and then re heating that meal again (you can also freeze and use for another week) OR you can make proper portions but use the ingredients more than once. So you make tacos one night with xyx and then use xyz again but turn it into quesadillas. I know lots of people who don’t like food re heated, so this is just another way to think about “leftovers”.
The work you’ve done above, all saves you time as you shop. It will take time to get used to changing how you get your groceries and it will take a lot of forward thinking at first. Eventually however, it will take less and less time to prepare. You’ll save money by making less impulse buys and you’ll also be doing the environment a favor by using the foods that you have and throwing less away! Your foods will be fresher and you’ll find yourself eating better meals since they are all planned out. Eventually, the lists that you write down will become smaller, because you just know the basics that you need. Plus, these websites remember your’ favorites for you, and they have other fancy tricks to help you order faster too. You might just find yourself cooking meals you may never have thought to try thanks to Google and Pinterest and planning. This is overall, a great way to a healthier, budget friendly lifestyle that can be challenging to start but easy to maintain after some time. Don’t let all the tips overwhelm you, pick a few that make sense and get started. Over time you can add more tricks in so it never feels overcomplicated.
Here is an example of some first steps:
- Start Shopping Online
- Make a week’s dinner List with 1 new meal idea. Be sure to include left overs as a part of your meal plan and filler for lunches as well.
- Start to Google/Pinterest ingredients you already have for new meal ideas for this weeks plan. This will help reduce the most waste.
- On your lunch break one day – start comparing prices of different stores. You can also take 10 min. to write down the foods your family always needs on hands – the basics.
Voila!!! From there, you can continue to build in more tactics to make you a lean mean grocery shopping, money and food saving machine!
I’m so glad that we took hold of the lemons that quarantine gave us, and made some positive changes from it. I honestly think that this shut down brought about a lot of other positive changes in our life, not just this one. I’m thankful for the light that’s been shown on some of the side effects of an overly busy lifestyle. What are some of the positive changes you’ve made as a result of slowing down during the pandemic??