Because I am a literate grownup who notices…things…I realized after about a page and a half that last week, The Kitchn focused on grocery shopping. Specifically, how to get the most out of your money, time, and actual groceries. Which seems like something everyone should have learned in Home Ec class, or, if your high school didn’t have Home Ec, that one episode of Roseanne where Roseanne takes Darlene’s class on a field trip to the grocery store and then takes them home to make her family some meatloaf.
I am probably not the best person to give tips on grocery shopping. For one, I often break the cardinal rule, which is to never go shopping when you’re hungry. While I agree that this is fundamentally a good rule, I would also argue that I am pretty much always hungry, so how about you find a solution for that, science.
Second, as a child-free, gainfully-employed adult with no mortgage or student loan debt who works too much to take lots of vacations, I spend my money on food. While other women my age are pinning strategies for $5 meals to feed their families of four, I’m furrowing my brow at bottles of grapeseed and hazelnut oils in the gourmet aisle of the rich people grocery store. I like a good deal as much as the next person – I do have a shopper’s card and I always keep an eye to potential leftovers – but I don’t clip coupons and ultimately, the decider for me is flavor. What can I do with this item. How will it taste. That’s worth more to me than the cost per ounce and how it translates to post-apocalyptic shelf life. I can tell you what’s good, I just can’t always tell you what’s cheap.
Third, I am in the enviable position of living in one of the most walkable cities in the country. Seriously. Not long ago I had to buy a new battery for my car because I didn’t drive it for over a month. Because I am able to walk to and from the nearest supermarket with relative ease, I’m not really good for advice on big grocery shopping trips involving a cartful of items. My rule is that if I need more than the top basket of one of the small carts, I’ll probably have a miserable walk home. There is an upside to this, though, which is that buying only what I can carry home causes me to buy more wisely. I don’t buy more than I’ll use. I don’t waste what I’ve carried. Forgetting something isn’t the end of the world because I can stop by the store on my way home from the bus stop whenever I want. Works out great for me, but probably not for someone with limited time and enough room in their SUV to carry a cure for the planet they’re helping to destroy.
I do, however, have some ideas for how to optimize your grocery shopping experience. They don’t involve counting ketchup as a vegetable (ahem, Roseanne), but they’re still pretty good.
Walk. Okay, like I said, this has it’s challenges and may not be suitable for everyone. But it really does help me prioritize the ways I spend and eat. If you can walk, then walk. See what carrying your food on your back does to the way you think.
Plan. Plan plan plan plan plan. It’s one thing to go to the grocery store when you’re hungry, but it’s quite another to go when you’re hungry and have no idea what you want. Now, obviously this means that you should make a list. But what goes on it? How do you decide? Do you just replenish what you used up? Or do you do like me and create a meal plan each week and build your list around this first?
When I know what I’m cooking, I know what I need. And when I know what I need, I don’t spend 30 extra minutes wandering around a store and walking out with way more than I can comfortably carry.
Map. If you’re like me, you probably go to the same grocery store every week. Or at least the same few stores, depending on what you need and where the least-crowded evening bus lets off. But you know your way around is what I’m saying, and shouldn’t your list reflect that? From top to bottom, my grocery list reflects the map of my regular store. It goes from the first stuff I see to the last stuff, which helps me avoid forgetting anything and keeps me on track (I don’t get distracted by the bakery section if I know for damn sure that I’m not buying anything there).
Smug. Well, smugness. Because after you map your grocery trip, how superior will it feel to see that you’ve stuck almost exclusively to the outside aisles (ahem, less processed garbage parts of the store)?
Cook. I mean, duh. But really, shopping for groceries is so much more enjoyable if you have designs on the stuff you’re buying. It’s also a lot more fun to take a chance on something you’ve never used before. And it feels weirdly good when the cashier holds up that bottle of pomegranate molasses and says “I always wanted to know how to use this stuff…what do you suggest?” (Ahem, I suggest using it like balsamic or, as I did this past week, drizzling it over an hyperbolically delicious roasted carrot, citrus, and avocado salad.)
CSA. I’ve written all about my CSA adventures over at another blog, and I firmly believe that having one for even part of a year has made me a better cook and a more conscientious shopper. Having someone else select locally grown and in-season produce is a terrific way to have at least half of your shopping done and over with (and paid for in advance, which is worth almost as much as the shitty aghast looks you get from rich dicks at the farmer’s market when you just pick up your box and walk off).
Impulse buy! But not like you think. What I mean is buy off your list, but only staple items that are on sale. You might not need an extra can of tomatoes or bag of beans or can of fancy Italian tuna now, but you will need them someday, and in this past week alone, I have been delighted to see that my previous impulse buys of ham hocks, frozen berries, and pecans were able to cut the amount of stuff I had to haul back to the house.
But if you want, go ahead and download the Pinterest-y “pantry templates.” Have grocery parties. Spend $200 a week at Costco on lots of stuff you won’t use and that might not nourish you even if you do. Wonder why heading to the grocery store at 6pm on a weeknight or 2pm on a Saturday is always so stressful. I’m sure Home Ec served you well.