Making the switch to real, minimally-processed, fresh food can feel overwhelming and challenging at first. At least it did to me.
One of the greatest challenges my family faced was figuring out how to eat real food without overspending. Overspending didn’t just happen at the checkout lane for me. It also happened after purchasing the food. Most weeks we never actually used a majority of the food I purchased due to either a lack of planning or rotting food. These “mistakes” quickly added up.
Over the years, and thanks to a lot of trial and error, I’ve learned how to intentionally shop smarter and reduce my grocery waste in an effort to save money. I want to help you do the same.
How to Shop Smarter, Reduce Grocery Waste, and Save Money
Consult your schedule.
Before grocery shopping, take a peek at your schedule. Will you be home every night for dinner? If not, how many nights will you need to cook dinner? Will you need to plan lunches? How many? What about breakfast? Once you know your schedule, it’s time to create a plan for what to eat.
Create a meal plan.
I know, I’m always talking about meal planning as though it’s the cure for all real food lifestyle issues. And that’s because in many ways it is. A meal plan is simply a guide.
A meal plan not only helps to simplify your week (once you plan, you don’t have to think about meals–other than putting them together), but also helps you strategically purchase food from the store (good-bye overspending on food you don’t need) and then use the ingredients to make food (good-bye rotting, unused food).
Learn how to create a strategic meal plan, here.
Plan to use food, particularly produce, multiple times throughout the week.
Plan to make meals that share similar ingredients. For example: If you’re planning to make tacos and need to purchase cilantro and cabbage (to make a slaw), have a plan for how to use the leftover cabbage in another meal. The other meal doesn’t need to be a complicated recipe. You could simply roast the cabbage to serve alongside another dinner.
Plan to use soon-to-expire produce first.
Along with planning to use produce multiple times throughout the week, plan to use the most delicate produce items first. This will ensure the delicate produce, such as leafy greens or herbs, don’t rot in the fridge before you’re able to use them.
Produce that spoils quickly: berries, tomatoes, leafy greens, mushrooms, eggplant, soft squash, peaches and stone fruit (once ripe), pears (once ripe), bananas (once ripe).
Shop according to your plan.
Bring your plan/shopping list to the grocery store and use it to guide your shopping. This is such a simple way to guard against overspending on food you don’t need or plan to use.
Keep food visible and organized.
Store your food, from leftovers to produce, in clear containers and easy-to-see-through bags. And keep the containers organized. When it comes to organizing, the goal isn’t perfection. The goal is practicality and simplicity with the ultimate goal of being able to easily find food (both leftovers/meals and ingredients). Because no one has the time, patience, or money for misplaced, rotting food. Personally, I like to organize my fridge according to category. Learn more about how I organize my fridge, here. And the clear containers I use to organize my fridge, here.
Have a plan for using leftover scraps.
Finally, there are times when even with the best planning, there will be leftover scraps in the fridge. Have a mental plan for how you’ll use extra scraps. You don’t need to write this plan down, but keeping a list of these ideas on your fridge is a great way to be a mindful and resourceful cook.
Scrappy ideas: make stir-fry or fried rice with extra veggies and meat, make broth with leftover veggie scraps, make smoothies with leftover fruit and some veggies (steamed cauliflower or zucchini, carrots, leafy greens), freeze extra herbs in olive oil.