How To Make Groceries Last And Avoid Over Shopping

There’s nothing worse than opening your fridge on a Sunday before getting groceries and finding that it’s completely full of food you bought last week.

Why is it so hard to eat up all the food we buy?

Don’t think for a second that this doesn’t happen to me because I’ve been meal prepping for two years.

I still have to toss some food out on Sunday. The truth is Americans waste around $370 a year on groceries that get thrown out according to the USDA.

That doesn’t sound like a lot of money when you think about the big picture, but at the end of the day, the feeling of throwing uneaten or half-eaten food directly from your fridge to the trash can is NEVER good.

By cooking more often, meal prepping and storing my food properly, I’ve been able to dramatically reduce the amount of food that makes it to the trash by following these simple grocery shopping (and eating) rules.

Rule #1: Make a grocery list before hitting the store.

You know what they say…

People say that, right? Anyway, it’s true.

If you take a few minutes to look at your fridge, freezer and pantry before going to the store (or before work, if you go to the store when you’re on your way home from the office) to make a list, you’re saving yourself the headache of throwing out food and wasting money.

Here’s a resource that will help you make an airtight meal plan for the week.

Rule #2: Don’t buy food you don’t have a plan for.

It might be tempting to drop produce that looks or smells amazing (AKA “impulse buys”) into your cart, but if it’s not on your grocery list or if it’s not part of your meal plan, put it back. You’re not going to use it.

Rule #3: Buy slightly fewer groceries than you think you need.

Even if you make the list and make a meal plan, studies have proved that we are all terrible at judging the size of food and how much of it we need to eat.

Even when I plan to prep five lunches and five dinners for a week with zero social engagements, something usually comes up and I miss a meal. That’s why I buy slightly less at the store, and I never prep ALL of my meals at once.

At the grocery store, be realistic. Are you really going to finish six avocados in one week? Probably not.

Rule #4: Don’t pick recipes that require a small amount of an ingredient you’ll never use again.

Many recipes call for just 1/4 cup of coconut milk or a tablespoon of vegetable stock, and then you’re left with the rest of the ingredient, unsure about what to do with it.

Don’t pick these recipes unless you know you can use the rest of those random ingredients that you only need a little bit of!

For me, this is always cilantro. I love it, but since cilantro always comes in big bunches, I usually have 75 percent of it leftover after the week because I don’t need to use that much. I’m still figuring it out.

If you look closely at my recipes, you might notice they always call for whole ingredients.

Rule #5: Cook meals based on your eating preferences.

Are you someone who likes to decide what to eat on the spur of the moment? If you are, then meal prep can be tricky.

What happens if you’re not in the mood for a chickpea sweet potato Buddha bowl or BBQ pineapple chicken?

If you can’t stand the idea of eating the same thing every day or you like to be spontaneous, try batch cooking ingredients to create meals on the go instead of assembling ready-made meals (like I do).

Here’s an example of what that looks like:

At the end of the day, you have to meal prep and cook food you actually enjoy eating. Because if you don’t, you’re going to end up throwing your meal prepped food right in the garbage at the end of the week and that’s something I want to help you avoid.

So, that being said, here’s what to buy fresh, frozen, in cans, in bulk as well as what to never buy at the grocery store.

What to buy fresh:

Buy what’s in season because it will usually be on sale and super tasty. You can check out what’s in season now here:

Spring | Summer | Fall | Winter

When you’re buying fresh fruits and vegetables, look for ones that feel heavy for their size. That means they’re the ripest, juiciest and most nutrient dense.

When picking out greens, look for deep colors. A darker bunch of kale is more nutrient dense than a lighter green, like iceberg lettuce.

Dairy products, given that you actually eat them every week, are also good to buy fresh. Keep in mind that many kinds of cheese like cheddar, mozzarella, feta and parmesan can last at least two weeks in your fridge.

If you buy yogurt or cottage cheese in bulk but aren’t able to finish all of it before it’s “best by” date, then buy them individually instead. I used to make this mistake a lot!

What to buy canned:

  • All of the beans. **Note that dried legumes are actually cheaper, but require 12 hours of soaking. So either you’re paying for the convenience of a can, or you’re saving some money by buying dry legumes.
  • Tomatoes for sauces, curries and more.
  • Tuna, salmon and sardines. Canned fish is great to have in your pantry when you need to do last-minute meal prep.
  • Coconut milk. Great for curries and other common meal prep dishes!

What to buy frozen:

Seriously, stocking your freezer can be a lifesaver on a super busy week when you have no time to hit the grocery store. Did you know that some frozen veggies can pack more nutrients in their punch? They’re often picked at peak ripeness, cooked slightly and frozen before they can start to go bad.

  • Red meat, chicken and fish are good in the freezer for up to six months.
  • Best frozen veggies: peas, spinach, carrots and broccoli.
  • Best frozen fruit: berries for smoothies. I also like to bulk buy bananas and freeze the ones I won’t be able to use up before they go bad for smoothies and nice cream.
  • Your favorite sliced bread!

What to buy in bulk that can sit in your pantry:

  • Lentils can last years in your pantry and are a great source of fiber and protein.
  • Nuts and seeds (I’m a huge fan of walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds)
  • Oats, especially if you’re an overnight oats person
  • Pasta! Pasta also lasts years in your pantry.
  • Grains: rice, quinoa, faro, etc

What to avoid buying no matter what:

  • Foods that DON’T make you feel like the rockstar you are.

I hope you found this post helpful! Happy grocery shopping 🙂

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  1. ChaCha

    Cilantro can be made into chimichurri and frozen into an icecube tray for single serves. I used to have the same issue with parsley and cilantro, now I just make up a batch of this when I am done with what I needed. It helps reduce the waste and you can use up the stems and all!

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