This may seem obvious, but it is so important, I had to include it as my top tip! Make a list of recipes. Include some old favorites and some new ones you’ve wanted to try. Getting ingredients for recipes will help you use groceries more efficiently rather than just picking up what looks good at the store. Avoid that frustration of “there is nothing here to eat!” as soon as you come home from grocery shopping. This usually helps save money too!
I plan about 5 recipes per week to make for my small family of two. If you have more people, you may want to plan more recipes, or just double the recipes you do make. I make a new recipe for dinner most days, and we enjoy leftovers for lunches.
#2. Cook in bulk
Bulk cooking is always one of my favorite tips! Soups and stews are great recipes to cook in large batches so you can enjoy them for days. Or, if you are like me and get bored eating the same thing over and over again, freeze individual portions to grab for lunches. Frozen leftovers are also great for dinner a few weeks/months later and it seems like a whole new meal!
Slow-cookers and Instant Pots are great tools to help with bulk cooking.
#3. Utilize leftovers
Repurposing pieces of one dinner into a different meal is another way to keep meals feeling new and fresh! Made a giant pot of chili? Make that go father by serving it over a baked potato the next day. Or, use it as topping for nachos with low sodium chips for a completely different meal. Use leftover baked chicken on lettuce salads, or to make it into chicken salad. Leftover salmon makes delicious salmon cakes. Leftovers from taco night make a delicious taco salad or Chipotle-inspired burrito bowl.
Have lots of little bits of things leftover? Get creative with that bowl. Plop leftover meat, beans and veggies on a whole grain carb like brown rice, whole grain pasta or quinoa. Top with your favorite sauce. Voila!
#4. Be choosy with your fresh veggies
Some fresh vegetables last longer than others. I’ve found cruciferous veggies tend to last the longest. Good, long-lasting choices include cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, romaine, cucumber, bell peppers, kale, winter squashes (butternut, spaghetti, acorn), Brussels sprouts, onions, potatoes, garlic, celery and carrots.
Some fruits last longer than others too. Stock up on apples, oranges and pineapple.
Of course, you can certainly buy other produce that goes bad faster like berries, spinach, tomatoes, avocado or asparagus. Plan to enjoy those fruits and vegetables within 1 week of your grocery trip and save the longer lasting ones for week 2.
#5. Utilize pantry items
Take advantage of all those old boxes of rice, pasta and half-used breadcrumbs that have been sitting in your pantry for longer than you’d like to admit. Plan your recipes around using the ingredients you do have.
Great pantry staples include: brown rice, quinoa, couscous, panko breadcrumbs, canned low sodium beans, canned fruit in lite syrup or juice, popcorn kernels, low sodium broth, dried beans, lentils, dried fruit and unsalted nuts.
More recommended pantry staples and how much you need in an emergency from The Geriatric Dietitian!
#6. Freeze your groceries
Stocking up on frozen vegetables is obviously a great way to make groceries last. If you can’t find your favorite veggies in frozen form, buy them fresh and freeze them yourself! You can freeze most vegetables perfectly well, especially if you plan to eat them cooked and you eat them within 3-6 months. More information about freezing veggies.
Meat, fish, poultry and seafood also freeze wonderfully! Of course, you can buy these foods already froze, but don’t forget you can also freeze them yourself.
Did you know you can also freeze milk and bread? These staples tend to run out sending us back to the grocery store. Throw bread, buns, bagels or English muffins into the freezer as is. Drink about a ½ cup of the milk before you freeze it to avoid a cracked milk jug.
#7. Break up your meal plan into 2 weeks
Take a look at all the recipes you want to make (see tip #1) and make sure at least half of them use primarily canned/frozen ingredients or produce that lasts a long time (see tip #4). Or, many recipes can be modified to use these types of ingredients. Use frozen vegetables instead of fresh (or, freeze your fresh ones to use a week or two later) or use dried herbs instead of fresh.
Make a note of the recipes that use more perishable produce and make those within 1 week of your grocery trip. Save the recipes that use primarily canned, dried or pantry staples for week 2 or 3.
Some meal ideas for week 2 and 3: bean soup (here is my FAVORITE black bean soup recipe), pasta with roasted veggies (pull from your frozen stash!), enchiladas, soup or chili, stuffed acorn squash, burrito bowl with canned/dried beans, baked potato topped with cheddar and frozen broccoli, quesadillas with peppers and onions
#8. Employ your refrigerator
Most foods last longer in the cold. Try storing foods in the refrigerator that you might normally store on the counter. Refrigerate bread, tomatoes, avocado, tortillas, apples, peaches, plums and other fruits.
Refrigeration tends to stop the ripening process for produce. For example, avocados will stop getting softer when you put them in the fridge. Use this to your advantage! Refrigerate produce right when it reaches the ripeness you like – and it will stay that way!
I know many of these foods shouldn’t be kept in the refrigerator traditionally (looking at you tomatoes!). But, it doesn’t impact the nutritional value of the food very much and it will help them keep longer. Some things have to be compromised to lengthen time between grocery trips!
#9. Avoid moisture
Moisture is the enemy when it comes to keeping food fresh. Place a paper towel in your box of spinach or lettuce mix to absorb extra moisture and help keep the leaves from getting mushy.
Do NOT rinse all your produce right when you get home. Wash what you want to eat right before you eat it. Rinsing beforehand will add a ton of extra moisture and speed up the soiling process. For example, don’t rinse an entire carton of berries. Only wash what you want to eat right then.
#10. Include some treats!
Don’t forget to pick up some fun foods to treat yourself! We all need a treat sometimes. Leaving these off your grocery list may make you run back to the grocery store before you need to. For me, this often means picking up Rice Krispies and marshmallows to make Rice Krispie treats or a carton of ice cream.
We all deserve to treat ourselves once in awhile!