We eat every day.
If we can better organize our grocery shopping, we can save a substantial amount of time and money. And if a lot of us adopted better eating and shopping habits? We could help the environment and drastically reduce global food waste.
There are a couple of fairly simple ways to achieve this in your own life right away:
Don’t shop every day. Frequent trips to the convenience store may seem more, well, convenient in the moment, but in the long term, it’s more expensive and time-consuming. Convenience stores charge you for that ease, whereas you can usually get better prices at a grocery store. And fresh produce? Probably not. If possible, try to dedicate one evening a week to get your groceries. You won’t have to think about it again until the following week.
Make a shopping list. This seems obvious, right? And yet, so many of us don’t do it. Without a list you will probably buy 20% more groceries than you need and forget half of what you actually need, leading to wasted money and inevitably, wasted food. When preparing a list, look in the fridge, the pantry and the freezer. Take a moment to really work out what you need to replenish and what can wait until next time. Planning ahead can make a huge difference and after a while, the savings will add up.
One of the best ways to make a shopping list is to work off of a weekly meal plan.
To create a plan, we need recipes. To better organize my cooking and shopping needs, I use Cooklang (my recipes).
Cooklang is an open source markup language designed specifically to make your recipes machine-readable. What does that mean?
It means that apps can read, organize and quantify your recipes, allowing you to create meal plans, shopping lists, food budgets… there is no end to the possibilities.
Prepare to Shop
- Write down recipes in Cooklang format. You can get started writing down your own recipes in Cooklang format by going to https://cooklang.org/docs/spec/
You can also find a lot of recipes created by other people on GitHub (if it doesn’t fully render the page, try to reload it).
- Spread them in directories to make a few mealplans. If you know how to create links, you can create them instead of duplicating files and reuse the same recipe in multiple plans. It helps reduce waste, gives your week some structure, and means you are less likely to eat out or order in.
How to Make a Great Meal Plan
- Don’t just include breakfast, lunch and dinner. Factor in snacks, coffee, and juices to get a realistic overview of what you and your family eat every week. For example, add snack recipes for a week. Create a few to rotate. If you work with recipes in Cooklang, it could be easy to track how much and what your family eats each week.
- Factor in cooking with leftovers. Most food can be repurposed or cooked into something before it spoils. That leftover roasted chicken from the supermarket can go in sandwiches, salads, even stir-fry.
- Chain your meals together. Monday’s leftover meatloaf can be part of Tuesday’s pasta sauce, or Wednesday’s sandwiches.
- Use exact weights in your recipes. While some foods make fantastic leftovers, others do not. In those cases, try to keep measurements exact to avoid wasting food later.
- Let Cooklang help you find alternative ingredients. We don’t always know what’s going to be available, fresh or on sale. If you organize your recipes well, Cooklang can help you increase your mealplan flexibility and > take advantage of unexpected savings.
- Let Cooklang help you set a grocery budget. Once you’ve gone shopping with a detailed mealplan in mind a few times, you’ll have all the information you need to set a new grocery budget.
A couple more helpful tips.
I usually plan about four meals and then decide on the rest based on meat and vegetable special offers on the day.
Buy a slow-cooker. Seriously, this has been a God-send for me. It’s so easy to just put lots of vegetables, meat and a tin of chopped tomatoes into it and let it cook all day. It is magical. The house smells devine and it’s a really healthy and time-saving way to cook. It’s also great for batch cooking big portions of stews and curries.
Consider meat free days: One of the most expensive things on your shopping list is likely to be meat. If you really want to see savings and improve your overall health, consider making one or two days a week meat-free. There are so many delicious vegetarian or vegan recipes that you won’t even miss it.
- You can organize your shopping list by department or aisle, further speeding up your shopping trip. More details in the docs.
Select a directory with a meal plan and generate a shopping list. Print it. When you check your pantry, fridge and freezer, cross off the ingredients you already have.
Some shopping tips
- When exposed to air, most spices begin to lose flavor. For this reason, buying large packets of spices (particularly already ground) may not be the good idea you think it is. Instead, purchase smaller amounts, store them in air-tight containers, or if you have time, buy whole spices and grind them at home when a recipe calls > for them.
- Stock up on non-perishable items when they go on sale. Peanut butter, grains, canned fish and dried beans can keep for a long time, so don’t worry about buying > more than you immediately need when they’re cheap. These ingredients are versatile, so you’ll certainly use them in something.
- Don’t buy things just because they’re on sale. For example, if you don’t bake, a giant sack of cut-price flour might seem a good idea, but if you don’t store it > properly and use it, it can go bad or end up full of weevils or mealworms.
- Buy frozen instead of fresh. This may not always have been the case, but because of technological advancements in the last few decades, frozen fruit and vegetables have close to the same nutritional value as fresh, but last a lot longer. They also tend to cost less. This is also true when it comes to root vegetables, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower. Consider buying a bag of frozen instead of fresh and you will notice the difference in your bill. You may also notice the > difference in your compost when you don’t end up dumping wilted spinach or yellow broccoli at the end of the week.
If you must buy fresh produce, remove it from any packaging and rinse with one part vinegar, four parts water solution to help it stay fresh just a little bit longer. Separate bananas to keep them from overripening too quickly.
Stock up on canned tomatoes. Canned tomatoes are one of the least expensive, most versatile ingredients you can use to make a delicious dinner. Not only spaghetti bolognaise, but there are also countless soups, curries, stews and casseroles that use canned tomatoes as their base.
If you can, wait until the end of the day to buy your baked goods at the end of the day. Many bakeries will put their goods on sale to clear them out for the next day, and they aren’t even stale yet.If you’re not ready to use them immediately you can freeze individual rolls and pastries. It’s best to slice bread before freezing. When defrosting, drizzle with a little water before heating in the oven and they will taste freshly-baked.
Store-brand bread, milk, cheese, and other staples like pasta and rice are all excellent quality as a rule (most are made by big-name brands too) and will save you money.
“Don’t shop on an empty stomach,” isn’t just something odd your mother says. It is just too difficult to get past the bakery section if your stomach is rumbling. Having a snack or a meal before you go makes it much easier to stick to your grocery list.
- Shop where the deals are. If you know that one grocery store tends to have deals on ingredients you regularly use, split your grocery list. If you know that certain days of the week mean sales on meat or produce, plan accordingly if you can. If the store near your work has more offers on cheap meat, maybe plan to stop by on the way home sometimes.If you can, try to base your meal planning and shopping list around what is the best value.
However, if you break your shopping up too much, you may find yourself running all over town to get your errands done. Factor in things like gas, transportation and time when deciding how much a discount on produce or meat is worth.
- The more you implement conscious planning into your grocery shopping, the better you will get at it.
If we improve our eating and shopping habits, we can make a huge impact on how much free time we have, and how much we spend feeding ourselves and our families. Cooklang can help almost every step of the way.
Use Cooklang to:
Create healthy, efficient meal-plans
Easily compile a shopping list quickly
Help you save time, gas and money by reducing your number of trips to the grocery store.