I’ve had some questions about how we have been able to go so long (3 weeks then 4 weeks) between grocery shopping so I thought I’d put together some tips.
We have made every single meal since 3/12/20. We had some dry goods delivered including small amounts of soap, pasta, flour, yeast and bread products once during that time. We have a weekly produce delivery that started up again recently. That’s a great option if it is available to you or you can do what I did before it started up and focus on longer lasting fruits and vegetables. Not much is in season right now (May 2) so my produce boxes have been very basic–onions, potatoes, lettuce, and carrots. The majority of my produce is coming from chain supermarkets.
I do not plan meals before going to the store. I buy what looks best and has the best expiration dates. Then I come home and decide what to make from what we have. We had a large spice cabinet but we didn’t have much of a pantry (beyond a few cans of tomatoes and beans, tuna and baking items) or anything in the freezer before this began due to storage issues (we live in a small house in the city with little storage and have a small refrigerator with a top freezer). I’ve been trying to stretch each dinner into two “big” meals by purposing the leftovers and making something lighter for lunch vs having dinner leftovers for lunch then making another whole big meal for dinner.
You do need to be flexible, this really only works when you are cooking what is available vs what you want that very minute. That’s not to say I’m m cooking food we dislike but if we don’t have something need to make something I’m craving then I have to wait until the next trip to hopefully get the ingredients.
I admit is it a great privilege to be able to spend our whole month’s food budget at once. We are not spending money virtually any other way beyond the same basic bills each month we had before-no entertainment, eating out/takeout or other social expenses so it’s working out. We are lucky that we both can work from home (although I basically have no work now as I am a freelance recipe developer and places are not hiring) so our transit costs are virtually nonexistent.
I shop with getting through 3-4 weeks in mind (you can check the archives and see what we eat each day) but this also works if your goal is every two weeks. The less frequently we all shop the less stress there is on the store employees, the stores and yourself.
Pick your stores wisely. I shop primarily at Aldi anyway so it made sense to go there for the basics. The two times I’ve been there it’s been fully stocked with meat, produce, tons of canned goods, paper products and their usual deals. It’s a smaller store, they are taking lots of percautions including plexiglas between you and the cashier, wiping down each cart (eliminating the need for a quarter), requiring masks and limiting the numbers of people allowed to shop at once. My husband has been going to one “regular” supermarket later the same day to fill in the gaps with food Aldi doesn’t sell (some international ingredients, condiments, particular brands of products we prefer) or something I wasn’t able to find. His trip has been more “wants” than “needs” and if we had to we could eliminate it but they do make for more interesting meals. 99% of what he is buying is shelf stable, dairy or frozen ingredients to complement the staples I bought at Aldi. If you have a store that is great for staples and everything else you could obviously just shop at one store.
Chose stores that have the best chance of having what you need. For example, we chose supermarkets with pharmacies so we could pick up things like mouthwash and vitamins while getting food. We also picked by which store was having sales of items we wanted and went on the first day of the sale; when they would most likely be in stock. We also like going to both stores on the same day so he can pick up anything Aldi unexpectedly didn’t have, it makes planning a little easier and our “outside world” exposure clocks are synced.
Meat/Seafood: Shop by expiration date. Meat in vacuum sealed packaging generally has longer expiration dates—a week or more. Pre-marinated meats, sausage, bacon, hot dogs, and ham often have expiration dates of 4-6 weeks out. When you get home, make a list of expiration dates and use the food in order of expiration. Freeze anything you can’t make in time. I also froze food to help provide variety. I had two packages of chicken that had back to back expiration dates so I froze one so we weren’t eating chicken all week. Buying in bulk from local producers is also an option if you have the storage space. Use less meat if possible.
Frozen seafood is a great option and can last 6 months or more in the freezer. Eat fresh seafood right away. I do not recommend freezing “fresh” seafood because a lot of it is actually previously frozen and defrosted before it is sold to you at the supermarket. You can freeze freshly caught, cleaned fish.
Buy long lasting fruit like apples (which were probably picked last fall and kept in cold storage anyway) and citrus. Both can last around a month or more if in a cool spot. Softer fruit like berries, peaches and plums need to be eaten more quickly or frozen after purchase.
Vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, rutabaga, celery, beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, radishes, potatoes, onions, garlic have lasted me 4-6 weeks in the refrigerator or in a cool, dark place (my uninsulated enclosed porch houses our potatoes, onions and rutabaga). Fennel, eggplant and summer squash like zucchini are good for 1-2 weeks. Hearty greens like collards, kale, dandelion greens or rapini can last up to two weeks in the fridge. Lettuce grown hydroponically and sold with the roots attached can last around two weeks if kept in it’s original clam-shell container. Eat more perishable vegetables like most lettuce, baby spinach, fresh herbs first.
Regrow your scallions and spring onions by putting the roots in a jar of water.
Check your dates. Organic milk generally has an expiration date of 4-6 weeks out. Most packaged cheese (either in plastic bags or containers) will have expiration dates of at least a month away. We have some Cabot cheddar that expires in October! Yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese often has a date of 2-4 weeks away. Hard cheeses like Parmesan can last many months stored properly.
Don’t forget the staples like pasta, rice, bread, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, any condiments. Try to keep a stocked spice cabinet to keep things interesting. Buy rice in bulk if possible, it lasts many months if stored properly. Store-bought sliced bread has been lasting about 2-3 weeks on the counter. We’ve been turning the heels into breadcrumbs and freezing them.
Canned tomatoes, seafood and beans are must haves. I like Better than Bouillon stock bases for when I don’t have homemade. We don’t have the storage space to make and store stock in bulk. Vacuum packed ready serve lentils, wild rice and farro are great to toss into salads and soups with minimal effort.
Look for long lasting ingredients that pack big flavors like chipotle peppers in adobe, capers, pickles, mustard, harissa or other spice pastes. We’ve really enjoyed packs of mi goreng noodles to toss with leftover meat and vegetables.
Chocolate chips, marshmallows and other baking ingredients last months. We have been making our own cookies and cake for treats.
Remember to get some “treat items”. We’ve been getting small packages of smoked salmon at Aldi and a few large candy bars each grocery visit.
Keep a running list of any staples or food items you run out of during the weeks between shopping. It can help you decide which store to go to and of course, make sure you remember to pick it up. I have a “note” on my phone I just add to when I think of something that has some items we always need (eggs, bread) on it already then I print it out or handwrite a list to bring with me/give to my husband so we don’t have to handle our phones in the store.
Don’t buy food you don’t think you will like it or food you don’t actually plan on eating. It’s wasteful and takes away from others. I’m seeing a lot of this online. Don’t be one of those people!
Unless you have a ton of freezer or fridge space don’t buy a ton of single meal items (frozen dinners, pizza) which take up a lot of space in the freezer or refrigerator. Raw ingredients like take up less room and are more versatile.
Be reasonable about your expectations and flexible. You can’t always get what you want when you want it.
Figure out what works for you. Do you eat breakfast every day? Can you make something that lasts longer with fewer or bulk or fresh ingredients? Think muffins, fruit with peanut butter or oatmeal vs fresh eggs and toast every day. Do you hate leftovers or eating the same things in a row? Freeze leftovers or repurpose them vs serving the same meal back to back.
Be reasonable. You are not going to want to cook an elaborate meal every day. It’s okay if lunch is a can of soup. Eat crackers for dinner one night. Who cares? Toss in some vegetables in your next meal and move on.
Have a stash of reusable Ziploc type bags and reusable containers for leftovers and storage.
Plan meals around what is available and needs to be used first. Repurpose leftovers before opening a new package of beans or meat.