Intentional Grocery Shopping

We made it to March! And the numbers are in: we ended up spending under $300 for groceries, but it wasn’t as precise as I initially planned. My birthday was in the middle of the month, and my request for a home-cooked meal ended up a little pricier than anticipated.

Aside from that though, we did stick to meal planning, list-making, and sale-seeking.

To wrap up my series on our “Cheap Food February” challenge, I wanted to share a bit about what I’ve learned after a month of intentional shopping.

What is intentional shopping?

I’d like to think of myself as an intentional shopper (I’m sure most of us do). But this month of a lower, more strict food budget showed me that I really had become quite mindless at the grocery store.

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It’s not even just having a list and sticking to it that makes shopping intentional – it’s the whole planning process.

It’s kind of like what I look for if I need to shop for new clothing – something that’s multipurpose, is something I love and something that’s easy to mix with other things. Put that into context of food, and this is what you should be looking for:

  • Food that can be prepared in different ways.
  • Food that always (or almost always) hits the spot.
  • Food that goes well with a variety of other foods.

Basically, beans, rice, leafy greens, chicken (if you’re into it), and root vegetables (sweet potatoes rock my world). Having these things on hand taught me another valuable lesson: to try and make one more dish before shopping again.

Making a dish from what you already have

Since I want to use every little bit of food that I can, I’ve been putting grocery shopping off just one more day. And maybe because sometimes I get a little lazy, but don’t we all?

I then face the challenge of making do with what I have – an awesome challenge to help reduce your food waste. The typical solution? Bean soup.

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I usually have tomatoes, onions, carrots and sometimes celery. Boom, there’s a base for the soup. I’ll toss chicken or veggie bouillon in as well for an extra punch of flavor. Black beans are my usual favorite, but I’ve been getting into pinto beans, great northern beans and venturing into lentils as well.

I’ll switch up the spices – cumin, garlic and cayenne for a Mexican-style soup, coriander, ginger and curry powder for an amazing curry. I love this recipe, which also has you poach eggs in the soup before serving:

Takeaways from “Cheap Food February”

While I didn’t completely overhaul my diet, I did find myself making better decisions about food. My husband and I had way more conversations about it, and it became a much more important part of our days.

So here’s what I’ve learned:

  • A little prep can go a long way. Soak beans when you get home from work, then toss them into the crock pot on low for the night. You’ll have beans for tomorrow – and they’re cheaper than the canned ones.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables can save you tons. My favorite use so far has been for smoothies: 99 cents of frozen spinach can make 4-6 smoothies. I blend mine up with hot water (to thaw it for consistency), then add in frozen pineapple, banana and today I added zucchini.
  • Look for “scratch and dent” produce. I found a little corner in the back of the Ralph’s (Kroger) that has shelves of pre-bagged produce that is either too ripe or blemished. For 99 cents a bag, you can get several pounds of apples, bananas, potatoes, squash, etc. I check there first and either toss the produce into the freezer or cook it up right away.
  • Healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. We’ve been eating produce-heavy meals this month, and if you do it right, it doesn’t have to break the bank. Stews and soups use up a huge variety of veggies, and you don’t have to waste anything. Stretch them by putting them over baked sweet potatoes or brown rice!

We’ve also started talking about creating a hanging garden outside of our apartment on our railing. We want to start growing food for the rabbits! And for ourselves, too I guess. So keep an eye out for that soon.

This is definitely one of those changes that are going to stick with us as we move forward. No more unprepared grocery trips for us!

Are you an intentional shopper? Do you have any tips to share?

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16 thoughts on “Intentional Grocery Shopping

  1. Love this idea of intentional grocery shopping, I hadn’t thought of it as applying to grocery shopping.
    I’ve been resisting buying a juicer or buying expenses vegetable juice from juice bars but you’ve given me a great idea of using frozen spinach – do you mix it in a blender or hand blender?

    • I use a Ninja Blender! I want to someday upgrade to a Vitamix (expensive, but I use my blender almost every day) for a better texture. I was able to try out a juicer for a while, but honestly it was too much mess, too much waste (you lose a lot of the fiber from produce with a juicer), and too much work! Although juice is delicious, I think a blender was a better choice for me 🙂

  2. I find that following the same ‘rules’ for lunch everyday (and sometimes breakfasts too) help me plan groceries. We don’t always eat the same thing for lunch, but we follow the same system each day. I also really prefer simple lunches since they are packed for work; washing produce and putting it in a container is about all the prep I want!
    So my typical lunch plan is:
    – hand fruit
    – raw veggies
    – 2 proteins
    Maybe some days its hard boiled eggs, sometimes tuna salad. Maybe I eat apples all week for hand fruit. Maybe its carrots today, cucumber tomorrow. Knowing exactly what categories of food to buy each week really helps. I don’t have to have a perfect list, I just need to go in knowing ‘ok, I need hand fruit, and then 3 veggies to eat raw” or whatever, and then I can choose.

    • That’s a great system! I need to work on something like that for my own lunches. Lunch just always seems to be the toughest one for some reason. Thanks for the inspiration!

      • I only figured this approach after a few years of never seeming to pack a good lunch. I never planned ahead, and always had to scramble to grab whatever food I could before running out the door to not be late for school or work. And I’ve always worked somewhere where I couldn’t purchase food.
        Then it dawned on me…..have a lunch that is super easy to pack! And then committed to buying only foods I actually really like, so I wouldn’t be disappointed. It seems so simple now to me, but it wasn’t then.
        My husband prefers to eat the same lunch everyday. Spinach salad with an egg, an orange, cheese, and a granola bar. It works for him!

  3. I love that grocery stores are starting to offer discounted “scratch and dent” produce (called “imperfect picks” or “odd bunch” at my local grocery stores). I’m more than happy to take a less than perfect piece of produce home to cook, and it definitely helps with the food budget – especially if you are focused on a whole foods diet.

    Your food combos sound great!!

    • It’s amazing! I will admit that my finds in that section can change my meal plan right then and there, but the deal is worth the last minute switch. Thanks for commenting Jessica, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  4. One thing I do that I guess is more about using everything than it is about intentional grocery shopping (though it all ties in together) is I keep a bag of vegetable scraps in the freezer. When I’m prepping meals, potato skins, onion peels and ends, carrot ends, etc go into the bag. I don’t include anything that is molding/rotting, but any bits of vegetables that are suitable for broth but aren’t necessarily suitable for what I’m cooking. When the bag gets full, I dump it in a stock pot and make broth then freeze the broth in 1- or 2-cup portions so they’re ready to use. I use this “recipe” as a guideline: http://www.thegardenofeating.org/2012/03/make-homemade-vegetable-stock-from.html It saves money, cuts down on waste, and makes for more flavorful meals!

    • I have heard of this but for some reason have never actually implemented it. Thank you thank you for sharing that link! We eat tons of soup and stews that need stock and we’re also looking for ways to use more veggies than meat-based ingredients. Thanks for the tip Becky!

  5. I loved intentional shopping as a university student! Living back at home now with my parents is a little different, but I always made sure to eat every single fresh produce in the fridge before going out to get some more!

    I think eating -simply- has helped too. Whilst I enjoy fancy, gourmet meals, most of the time I’d steam or roast some vegetables, serve it over rice with some kind of home-made sauce (usually tahini, lemon and chilli flakes). It never gets boring as I tend to use different veggies, different protein sources to bulk it up (tofu, chickpeas, beans or lentils). Leftovers also make for versatile lunches for the next day as I can just use a different combination (i.e. serve it with potatoes instead or in a sandwich).

    • I could eat like that every day! Chickpeas are my weakness – if I have one, I inevitably have a couple cups of them. I’ve been starting to do the same thing with my leftovers – sweet potatoes, potatoes, rice and pasta can all be changed out for something new. Thanks for sharing Julia!

  6. About a year ago I switched from grocery shopping at our large local chain store to Aldi. Not sure if you have one near you, but if you do, it’s definitely worth checking out! The prices are quite a bit lower and what I really like is that the stores are smaller so shopping goes quicker. There’s not as much of a selection and once in awhile I have to make a second stop at the larger grocery store for an item that Aldi doesn’t have available, but for the vast majority of items I can get them at Aldi. I went from spending close to $200 for 2 weeks of groceries (me, my husband, 2 small children) to spending $100 or less. And that’s not buying any packaged meals 🙂

    • Whoa! I just checked, and it looks like there’s not one near me. I used to have one nearby when I lived in Indiana, but I never went! That sounds really great though, and I’ll keep that in mind for the future. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Your idea of a hanging garden is great. Last summer, I grew an herb wall and lettuce in hanging baskets for my bunny and me. It felt great to go out in the morning and pick them fresh.

    • Ooh how wonderful! My bunnies would love fresh greens, and I’m sure that it would pay for itself in well under a year with all the fresh veggies we go through. Thanks Jodi!

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