Grocery Shopping 101

How to save money and navigate your way around the grocery store without losing your mind or your money

Mairlyn is standing in the produce department

Grocery Shopping list in hand

First things first: Lets look at the big picture. Yes, the cost of food has gone up but if you consider that on average most consumers throw out 40% of the food they buy, the savings to be made are really more about planning what we eat before we even hit the grocery store.

Throwing out food from your fridge, freezer or pantry is wasting your hard earned money but from an environmental point of view we are collectively wasting our natural resources. Think of the land and water resources wasted on food that never gets onto your plate or into your stomach, the farming man hours, fuel costs for delivering food, the cost of packaging, the price of land that we throw our garbage into, wasting food is multifaceted.

As a professional home economist (P.H.Ec.) I’ve got some tips and tricks to help you save money before you even leave your house:
• You need to plan your weekly meals, as in write them down. Yes, if you’ve never planned this out before it does require some work, but like all new skills once you get the hang of it, it will become second nature. Planning out your groceries for the week around specials will save money and you won’t end up making the same thing week in week out.

Check to see what you have left in your fridge. What does your Vegetable Drawer look like? Anything that needs to be saved? Are there some lonely looking carrots and some celery? Be creative and maybe see a vegetable based bean soup instead of random vegetables. Is chicken on sale this week? Maybe a Chicken Soup or Chicken Stir Fry using the carrots and celery is an option this week.

Plan for leftovers. One of my followers on Twitter called leftovers, planovers. Great word! I’ll make a large pot of chili with two planned dinners in mind. Dinner #1 is the Chili as is, Dinner #2 is either Jacket Potatoes or Quesadillas.

A Roasted Chicken for Dinner #1 turns into chicken sandwiches the next day for lunch. My recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Polynesian style  becomes a Thai Chicken Soup two days later.

Celebrate the International Year of the Pulse and serve beans, lentils, chickpeas or split peas. Soups are easy, economical and nutrient dense when you use pulses. Try my Spicy Red Lentil Soup. Leftovers are always freezable and make easy to grab lunch options.

Reintroduce yourself to Mother Nature’s Vitamin Pill – Eggs. A nutrient dense protein source that is economical to boot. Omelets or fritattas are wonderful dinner options.

Extend your meat. Think Beef Stew this time of year or beef stir fries. A little goes along way.

• When you are looking at vegetables and fruits seasonal and locally grown are going to be a better buy. Right now apples, squash, potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage, beets and mushrooms are going to be locally grown and cheaper.

• Think outside of the Produce department and shop the frozen food aisle. Frozen vegetables are nutrient dense and an economical choice as are frozen fruits and berries. Plan a stir fry using frozen veggies just make sure not to overcook them. Frozen berries over yogurt is a great healthy snack or dessert. Or bake up a Blueberry Crisp for a family friendly dessert.

• Once you figure out what you are going to make write your grocery list. I’m a fan of memory games, but trying to remember your grocery list is a waste of brain power and gas. Think of all those needless trips back to the grocery store because you forgot eggs and you were going to make omelets for dinner.

• Once your grocery list is written down shop your fridge, freezer and pantry. Translation: see what you already have that’s on your list and then check out your fridge, freezer and pantry so you don’t end up buying something you already have.

• BIG TIP: Remember to take the grocery list with you along with your reusable bags.

• Unless you love people crashing into your buggy, never shop on the weekend, unless it’s really early on Sunday morning, or Halloween. The best shopping day I had was Halloween night at 7:00 pm, I needed a couple of ingredients so I left my husband home to hand out the treats, while I shopped. There wasn’t a soul in my store. It was awesome, slightly freaky, but incredible nonetheless.

• My favourite day to shop is early on either a Wednesday morning or a Friday around 11:00 am. Wednesday still has the specials from the previous week and no crowds; Friday has the new specials, great selection, and not too many people until around 5:00 pm, and then watch out.

• Never ever shop when you’re hungry. You’ll buy stuff you wouldn’t normally have bought. This would explain the bag of gummy bears I bought, and I don’t even like gummy bears…

• Never ever take a small tired crabby child shopping when all you’ve had is a large Tim Horton’s coffee. It spells – DISASTER. Been there done that one. Always shop after naps and snacks.

• Don’t go driving around looking for who knows what after you have your precious groceries packed into your car, get home and put the cold stuff into the fridge right away.

• Keeping cold foods cold and hot foods hot is an important food safety issue that we tend to forget about, so perishable foods should go into the fridge or freezer as soon as possible.

• In the heat of the summer it’s wise to have a thermal shopping bag or a cooler in the car so that ice cream or salmon won’t spoil on the way home. In the middle of January in Winnipeg, you can drive around for days and the ice cream will never melt. August in Ottawa? Break out the cooler.

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10 comments on “Grocery Shopping 101
  1. joy says:

    i love all your tips!! Common sense that we just need reminding of sometimes. I always plan my meals around what’s on sale, and use coupons on sales items too. Groceries are expensive, but with some planning i do okay!

  2. Mairlyn says:

    Hi Joy,
    Being organized never was more important, love the coupon tip! I should have mentioned those. Thanks for reminding me.
    Peace, love and fibre,
    Mairlyn

  3. Serato says:

    This *almost* describes my grocery shopping yesterday (except it was a weekend), and yes we rocked it!

    Also when reviewing the flyers there were a number of items that we picked up on sale, they’re not on the dinner plan for this week but items we use often. If I pick up something on sale that’s not for the pantry I make a note for next weeks menu.

    Now, my biggest food waste is not “not using it in time” – it’s that batch of grapes/oranges/apples/etc… wasn’t all that good – now what do we do with the rejects? (And yes I know, seasonal and local is best but the kids are fruit monsters and want variety!)

  4. Pat Finlin says:

    Wonderful tips Marilyn.
    I also use CheckOut 51..a great App!
    As well as Flipp,to retrieve coupons.

  5. Lynn says:

    A thermal bag is useful in winter too. Put stuff in it that you don’t want to freeze!

    Some supermarket chains like Metro have apps that let you easily shop the specials (it connects to the flyer and you just tap “Add” to put the item on your shopping list on your phone). Metro’s app also lists your regular purchases (assuming you’ve registered for the Air Miles promos), so they’re a tap away. And the store coupons are in the app so you don’t have to print. Plus they create recipes and menus from the specials. All this is on their website too.

    I’m sure other chains have something similar.

  6. Ghislaine MacBride says:

    I loved the idea of the list and the suggestion of shopping Wed. or Fri.. Very informative. Merci

  7. Mairlyn says:

    Hi Ghislaine,
    I’m lost without my list! Thanks for the comment.
    Peace, love and fibre,
    Mairlyn

  8. Mairlyn says:

    Hi Lynn,
    Thanks for the great tips! Especially the thermal bag in the winter!
    Peace, love and fibre,
    Mairlyn

  9. Mairlyn says:

    Thanks for sharing, Pat.
    Peace, love and fibre,
    Mairlyn

  10. Mairlyn says:

    Hi Serato,
    Did you know that you can freeze grapes? They are fabulous eaten frozen not thawed. I rinse them really well, let them air dry and then pop them into a plastic freezer bag and freeze them. I eat them frozen right off the frozen stem.
    Apples become apple crisp. I cut up oranges and grapefruit and add them to my yogurt or into a smoothie.
    Hope that helps,
    Peace, love and fibre,
    Mairlyn

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