Wednesday, April 23, 2008

12 Ways to Make the Most of Grocery Day

Good grocery shopping habits are instrumental in minimizing your grocery bill down and maximizing your kitchen efficiency. If you take the time for a well-organized effort, the rest of your time spent in the kitchen will be much more enjoyable! I usually grocery shop once every one to two weeks, and this whole process takes about an hour and a half at the most.

Steps to make the most of your grocery shopping experience:

1. Keep a running list of what's needed. As you use something up (or notice you're running low), add it to the list.

2. Do a quick scan of your pantry "zones". Quickly check the cupboard, fridge, and freezer to see if you are running low of any items on your pantry list. This step is necessary because lots of times family members eat the last of something and don't add it to the running list! Also check if any of your basic supplies (parchment paper, cling wrap, aluminum foil, paper towel, masking tape) are running low and add them to the list as needed.

3. Scan the sale flyers. Make note of any good bargains, particularly on items you're running low on or use a lot of (when cheese is on sale, I buy a LOT since we eat a lot and it doesn't go on sale that often.)

Now you're ready to head to the store...

4. Keep an eye out for unexpected bargains. You can often find marked down produce, bakery items and meats if you look for them. These items are near the expiration date and have been reduced for quick sale. Even though it's a bargain, you should still only buy it if you KNOW you're going to use it.

5. Stick to your list! Unless you find a truly good bargain as in point 4, don't be tempted to buy lots of stuff you don't really need and probably won't use.

Back home again...

6. Put everything in its place. Once you have an organized pantry, fridge and freezer, everything should have a spot to live in. Put it in its place as you unpack and it'll stay organized (and you'll always know where to find everything).

7. Look for expired items. As you're unpacking, toss anything that's lurked in the depths of the cupboard or fridge for too long and is no longer edible. If you do this consistently, after a few weeks you shouldn't be tossing much of anything.

8. Make note of items you've missed. Even the most organized shopper will sometimes get home and realize they forgot to buy something they need. If you notice this while you're unpacking, jot things down on your running list so you can't forget them on the next trip!

9. Freeze grains and pasta for 24 hrs after purchase. This will keep them from getting "buggy"(particularly important if you buy in bulk and will take a few months to use up your supply). I end up leaving most of my grains and pasta in the freezer until I'm ready to use them, since I have enough extra space.

10. Portion out and freeze meats. I buy meat in "club" packs, so once I get home I divide it up into meal-sized portions (i.e. a club pack of chicken will be enough for 2 or 3 meals' worth).

11. Capture your inspiration. I don't know about you, but I usually get my best meal ideas while I'm at the grocery store, and while I'm unpacking. Once it's all put away, I tend to forget all the good intentions I had. So, if you had a particular meal in mind, make note of it so you won't forget!

12. Plan to use the most perishable items first. I know, I know, this should be a no-brainer, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who's ended up with moldy strawberries and bean sprout mush at the bottom of my crisper because I forgot to use them. These highly perishable foods should be eaten in the first day or two after a grocery shop, so plan accordingly!

I have found that following the above system makes grocery shopping about as fun as it can possibly be. I also feel good knowing I'm not wasting much food or spending money on items we don't need. It's much more pleasurable to cook in a well-stocked, organized kitchen!

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