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.

intentional grocery shopping.jpg

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.

FullSizeRender (9)

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?

Advertisements

Cheap Food February: Week 2

I’m going to be honest: I forgot to save my receipts and track exactly what I got this past week.

But I do know that I made it in around the $70 mark! I’ve got next week’s receipt sitting beside me as I type this, and I’m going to keep track this time for sure.

Before I dive into specifics (as best as I can), I can tell you one very important thing we’ve learned so far: staying stocked on the essentials is, well, essential.

Staying stocked up and a confession

Our existing stock has helped us get further into this month than I had anticipated, but it’s starting to run out. Specifically flour, oats, honey, peanut butter and jalapeno sauce (you may laugh, but we usually have a few bottles on hand since we use it all the time).

Staying stocked up may sound counter-intuitive to a minimalist lifestyle, but I learned a practical tip from an old friend: use your dry ingredients as decorations.

Decorate your kitchen, your bookshelves, the top of your cupboards – anywhere you want – with ball jars of dry ingredients. It looks lovely, saves on decor costs, and you always have things like flour, oats, and beans on hand.

Ball Jars Dry Goods

Now for the confession: for the purpose of this experiment, I’ve been taking the cost of most stock-up supplies out of my weekly calculations. Since we have been using tons of rice and beans, those are all included in my calculations.

I’d estimate it adds up to an extra $20 or so each month for things that will stretch past one or two meals – flour, peanut butter, honey, sauces, tea. But when I need these things, I try to get bulk or sale as much as I can.

Our grocery list for week two

So here’s what we got! Remember, this is a rough estimate (especially when it comes to bulk items). I only know that we stayed around $70.

  • 1 lb chickpeas
  • 1 lb black beans
  • 1 lb white rice (wanted brown, but it was out of stock)
  • 2 bunches of kale (most of which went to the rabbits)
  • 2 bags frozen corn
  • 10 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 lb jar of minced garlic
  • 6 zucchini squashes
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 4 bags frozen brussel sprouts
  • 4 bags frozen cauliflower florets
  • 5 lbs carrots
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 2 bags frozen spinach
  • 1 bunch bananas
  • 24 oz honey
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 3 lbs red onions
  • 8 burrito-sized tortillas
  • 16 oz shredded mozzarella

Looking at it now, that’s a ton of food! We save by getting frozen veggies, dry goods and very few processed foods. We had a hankering for bean burritos, hence the tortillas and cheese. I only get cheese once every couple of months or so, because it’s expensive, not highly nutritious and I also tend to eat it straight out of the bag until it’s gone.

Some of our favorite meals

I was able to do a lot with this haul. We drank smoothies every day, and I was able to make some amazing granola bars from the Minimalist Baker. They’re my absolute favorite, and I throw in any additional seeds or nuts I have available for an extra boost. If you don’t already love Minimalist Baker, I recommend them for simple, delicious recipe inspiration.

I made burritos with these restaurant-style black beans. I threw in rice, beans, frozen corn, red pepper, homemade salsa, mozzarella and some lettuce. I wrapped and kept them individually in foil so they stayed together when I reheated them as leftovers.

Burritos in foil

I tossed the rest of the homemade salsa (a random mix of onions, tomatoes, cilantro and jalapenos) into rice as a substitute for some of the liquid, cooked it up and topped it with a poached egg for another evening.

We also had this vegan black bean soup, which was ah-may-zing over rice and also over zucchini noodles.

Roasted chickpeas are an addictive snack if you’re looking for a cheap alternative to chips. You can even make a honey version for when that sweet tooth comes on strong. For the adventurous, save the water you cook your chickpeas in (which is actually called aquafaba) – you can make vegan chocolate mousse with it.

There you have it! Week two, in the bag. Look forward to our notes on week three sometime next weekend. Week three’s goal is $65, and we’ve already spent $53 in preparation. Wish us luck.

Avoiding Last Minute Food Waste

I just returned from another successful visit home! Since we didn’t go home for the holidays, we planned a trip back this month. It was a great visit, but as always it’s good to be back in the swing of things.

With all this traveling, our bank account and our refrigerator have been seriously struggling – one is too empty and the other is too full.

So how can I make sure to not waste the food I’ve worked hard to pay for? Not to mention save myself the anguish of having to throw away food when there are others in my own city that are going hungry.

Welcome to Food Saving 101: for the unprepared beginner.

Too much, too late

I often find myself in this predicament, despite adequate planning: I have too much fresh food and only a day or two to deal with it.

Sometimes I just throw it all into a smoothie and hope it works out. But there are better ways to handle it!

Here are my tips to saving your food before vacation or if you just can’t seem to eat it fast enough. Please note that I am not a food-prep expert, so these tips are just what have worked for me.

Plan

This is the best way to avoid a last-minute excess. Sit down and plan out every single meal and snack for the five days leading up to your trip. Think of recipes that allow for variables: smoothies, salads and pasta dishes can usually knock out a few stray veggies.

You may alter your meal plan to include more dry or frozen items in the week leading up to a trip so that you don’t have to worry about spoilage.

I’ll even add some frozen pizzas onto the shopping list so that I can fall back on those if I end up not getting enough.

Prepare

One or two days before you leave, evaluate your food situation. Still too much? Then it’s time to get smart with how to save it.

Freeze it whole

When bananas are on their way out, I toss them whole into the freezer. Same goes for any leafy greens that I want later for smoothies. I also toss jalapenos and ginger whole into the freezer.

For easy meal prep when you return, chop up peppers, squash or zucchini. Or whatever you find yourself in need of chopping later on.

Get saucy

My kitchen looked like a science lab a couple weeks ago: things were bubbling, beeping and it all smelled really odd. That’s because I was making sauces.

I cut up all my leftover apples that wouldn’t survive the ten days we were gone and tossed them with some cinnamon and water into the crock pot. Boom, applesauce.

I threw some spices, cilantro, onions, tomatoes and jalapenos into the blender. Boom, salsa.

I mashed up some avocados with our last bit of sour cream (and some cilantro, lime juice and spices) and boom, guacamole.

I tossed all of these into tupperware (I used a ziplock bag for the guacamole) and then into the freezer. I was so happy to have this all prepared when I returned this week.

I have no set process for this, but I did pull everything that was going to spoil out of the fridge. I took some time to look it all over and to think about how I would really use it when I returned ten days later.

Also, learn from my mistakes: label your food. For some reason, the applesauce and the salsa kind of ended up looking the same, so I accidentally made some really funky applesauce beans and rice this week.

Cook it down

If you have a little extra time, roast your veggies before tossing them into the freezer. Future busy-you will thank you for it. Same goes for soups! Just take them out a day or so before you need them and they’re a great leftover meal option.

I also had a ton of extra cooked beans (I buy them dry), and they stood up well in the freezer too.

Moral of the story, the freezer is your friend.

Keeping it all clean

At the end of all this prep, I recommend that you give your fridge a good cleaning.

Get rid of expired things, leftovers and just generally anything that is or could get gross. I see it as doing yourself a favor because there’s something almost as bad as having to waste food: having to clean up moldy food.

I know this isn’t as typical as my other posts, but I got a lot out of this process and I think it will help me avoid food waste in the future. So I decided to share!

What are your best tips for avoiding food waste?