• Grocery Shopping 101: Assess Your Kitchen

    January 24, 2011

    Welcome to my Grocery Shopping 101 series! I have five posts planned for the week, which I hope will cover all of the bases:

    • Assess Your Kitchen
    • Meal Planning
    • Rethink Quantity
    • Unit Price
    • Save Even More

    However, if you have questions in the meantime, please don’t hestiate to ask. Sometimes, I ramble off things and miss important info! 😉

    So, I get a lot of questions from readers about my grocery shopping habits. I’m a cheapskate at heart and grew up without a lot of money, so I’ve learned how to get creative with my spending. Nowadays, Mal and I have a budget of $75 per week ($300 for the month) and we rarely ever go over it, unless we’re hosting a get-together or buying booze. This week, we only spent $24 for an entire week’s worth of groceries, which isn’t typical, but definitely possible thanks to some serious meal planning.

    I’m all about saving money at the grocery store, but much of it happens before I even leave my house. I do all of my planning on Sunday morning, and it doesn’t take me more than 10-15 minutes.

    Here’s the first step in the process:

    Assess Your Kitchen

    The first thing I do is assess what’s in my kitchen, including the cabinets, refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. Knowing what I have in my kitchen is the most important aspect of saving money. Wasted food = wasted money.

    Keep An Organized Refrigerator

    You probably don’t hear many people say this, but I have an organized refrigerator. It’s partly due to the fact that I like things nice and neat, but even more so because I’m can’t stand wasting food (and money)!

    When I keep my refrigerator organized, ingredients and leftovers aren’t pushed to the back and forgotten about, so food doesn’t go to waste. I make sure to store half-eaten tomatoes or leftover quinoa in clear plastic containers right in the front of the refrigerator, so I can easily see what’s inside.

    Figure Out What Went Bad

    On Sunday mornings, I also take note of what foods are about to go bad or have expired in the refrigerator.

    For the foods that are about to go bad (usually fresh produce), I incorporate them into a meal that day or the very next day. For the food that is passed its prime, I toss it, which makes room for new food in the refrigerator. Plus, when I see what went bad, I’m less likely to overbuy it at the grocery store again.

    This week, for example, a package of extra firm tofu is about to expire, so I am making it into buffalo tofu for lunch.

    IMG_0020 (640x480) (640x480)

    Really SEE What You Have On-Hand

    When assessing my kitchen, I take the time to move things around and really see what I have on-hand. Most of the time, I am surprised by what I find– a jar of marinara sauce, a can of chick peas, a half-used box of pasta. So, instead of buying these items again or letting them go to waste, I incorporate them into the coming week’s menu.

    Check out what I found in the cabinets yesterday:

    IMG_0024 (640x480) (640x480)

    Almost all of these items will be incorporated into meals this week.

    Additionally, our refrigerator was fairly well-stocked. We had plenty of fruit and bread, so there was no need to buy more.

    IMG_0018 (480x640) (640x480)IMG_0019 (640x480) (640x480)

    Taking these few extra minutes to examine my refrigerator really helps me focus my shopping list, which, ultimately, saves me more money at the grocery store.

    Display Your Produce

    Before we had a refrigerator with clear drawers, I used to keep my produce in a big bowl on the top shelf instead of in the crisper where I couldn’t see them. Whenever I opened the fridge, it was the first thing that I saw.

    drop-size-clean-kitchen-150IMG_0003 (640x480)

    Similarly, I keep a big bowl on my kitchen counter to display fresh produce. The vibrant colors are a beautiful addition to my kitchen and a constant reminder to not let my nutritious produce go to waste. I’m so cheap, I’d pick an almost rotten banana over another snack just to make sure it doesn’t go to waste!

    IMG_0002 (640x480)

    Incorporate On-Hand Ingredients Into Meals

    A jar of marinated artichoke hearts, for instance, is a perfect addition to a homemade pizza. A random packet of pesto mix is an easy way to spice up a boring pasta dish. Basically, I build my meals around what is already in my kitchen instead of buying more ingredients. This also helps me get creative with my meals!

    IMG_0025 (640x480) (640x480)IMG_0029 (480x640) (480x640)

    Next up: MEAL PLANNING!

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    { 26 comments… read them below or add one }

    Rachel @ The Avid Appetite January 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    Love these tips. I am really trying to get into meal planning so that I don’t just stop on my way home for overpriced ingredients. I need to carve out some time on Sundays to do this – thanks for the inspiration!


    Justeen @ Blissful Baking January 24, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    These are great tips! I’m totally with you about eating a rotten banana before letting it go to waste!


    chirstina c January 24, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    I’m excited for this! I just started to really focus on our food budget and was able to save $45 between coupons and store deals this weekend. AND I have all weeks food planned. I am very proud.


    Lily's Health Pad January 24, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Very good tips! I see the usefulness of keeping fruits and veggies in sight. The only problem is the veggies will go bad much more quickly if stored in the main fridge area next to the fruit. When fruit ripens, it gives off chemicals that make the veggies decay faster.

    Similarly, my momma always taught me not to put an onion next to anything I wouldn’t want to taste or smell like an onion. 🙂


    Kate (What Kate is Cooking) January 24, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Great tips. This will save so much money and wasted food!


    Erica W January 24, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    wow! these tips are soooo helpful! and simple, but I have never thought of them. I’m a college student so saving money is key. I especially like the part about keeping the produce in a bowl instead of in the drawers (mine are not clear). Can’t wait for the meal planning!

    question. Like I said I am in college, I find it so difficult to buy things at the store in small portions. I love spinach but I don’t like to buy it because unless I eat spinach salads everyday that week it goes bad. any tips/advice?


    elizabet July 5, 2011 at 11:05 am

    @Erica W: Whe I was going to college I remember our local grocery store had a salad bar and sold by the pound. I always bought spinach just what I needed and never more than $2.00 dlls ate it all no waste or gulit!


    Mary @ Bites and Bliss January 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    I always have the issue of not using up my cupboard/fridge before going shopping. But I’m getting better at it!


    mary (what's cookin' with mary) January 24, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    This is a great post Tina! I think we are twins in the kitchen department?!

    I pretty much do everything that you do to plan for you upcoming week of meals. By pretty much, I mean exactly. Its kinda uncanny actually 😉

    I realllly don’t like when food goes bad, and in our house that rarely happens. I always have a plan for leftovers and fruits and veggies that are about to go bad are brought to the front of the fridge so I can see then ever time I open the fridge.

    Great tips ! -Mary


    Emily W January 24, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Thank you! I’ve been spending way too much recently at the grocery store… hope these tips will help! 🙂


    Lisa@Smart Food & Fit January 24, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Great tips! I agree you have to keep your fridge organized and make sure to use up fresh produce before they spoil. I try to clean my fridge out weekly. Can’t wait for you next post!


    Jess (Sweet Potato) January 24, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    What great tips… I definitely need to subscribe to some of them, it would make things so much easier!


    Parita@myinnershakti January 24, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    I love that you are doing this series. It’s nice to know that we all experience the same things when it comes to organizing our kitchens and using up ingredients. This post has inspired me to create a fun recipe tonight using things in my fridge and pantry!


    lauren @ spiced plate January 24, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    wow! $75/wk! That’s admirable! My husband and I are on a SUPER tight budget, and only buy food — name brands, no packaged foods (besides milk or eggs) we buy what’s on sale, utilize the bulk department, & no chocolate or kombucha even though we crave it…and still manage to spend $105/wk on average. I’m looking forward to your meal planning tips…maybe that will help!


    Hannah January 24, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    “Figure out what went bad”… this morning, I had to throw out over a pound of chocolate because I discovered weevils all through my stash.

    I’m devastated.


    Helen January 24, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    I love your tips. Several of them I do myself, but I did pick up some new info from you. I hate wasted food. I am the queen of freeze!


    sarah (sarah learns) January 24, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    this is a great series! i definitely try to assess what i have in my kitchen before i go grocery shopping. whenever i don’t do it, i end up buying something i already had and forgetting something that i thought i didn’t need. this is definitely an important first step to grocery shopping! 🙂 i live alone and try to keep it under $40 a week (including my beloved pricey larabars, coffee, and kombucha – so expensive!).


    Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin January 24, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    Great tips Tina! I really need to learn to look through my kitchen before grocery shopping. I always end up buying doubles of things I already have in my cupboards! 😛


    Kristina January 25, 2011 at 12:02 am

    While I’m a fan of sticking to a budget, I also try to buy local foods from the farmers markets on a weekly basis, and there can be some deals, but eating not only healthily but also ethically is expensive (and I’m not even a Whole Foods shopper).


    Nerissa January 25, 2011 at 12:08 am

    I love this post! Not wasting food and sticking to a proper food budget is definitely one of my weaknesses. I can’t wait to read the rest of the grocery series posts!


    Amanda January 25, 2011 at 7:19 am

    And make sure you have a list you can check of what should be in your pantry “just in case”! That will a)keep the things you’ll probably need at the ready and b)keep you from buying 2 of something as you already mentioned! I can’t wait to read your meal planning post!


    Kati @ Living Well January 25, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Can’t wait to read the rest of your grocery articles! I’m about to head to the store myself so I guess I need go take inventory!

    I think where I’m struggling is using what we HAVE before buying more…


    Scott January 26, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    Hi Tina! I see some tomatoes in one of the in fridge pictures you posted; did you know that you should never store tomatoes in the refrigerator, unless its already cut. Storing tomatoes in the refrigerator sap them of almost all their flavor!


    Sarah March 27, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    Almost bad fruit is perfect for smoothies and muffins! And for banana found this trick which is delicious: “Banana Ice Cream” Peel, slice, and freeze 1 small banana. Place frozen banana pieces in a blender with 3 tablespoons 1% low-fat milk; blend until thick. Top with 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts. Yum 🙂


    Bella July 6, 2011 at 5:31 am

    This will come in a lot of use in my home! I am always getting a huge grocery, yet there is complaining over how expensive my “bird” food is. Yes my family calls my food bird food.. Sigh… Maybe if I keep more tabs of everything it wil last a little longer and we can save some money. Thank you bunches!


    Lily August 25, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    I was noticing your fruit bowl had apples in it–Apples emit a gas that serves as a ripening agent for other fruits and vegetables. This can be both good and bad–if you have an avocado that you want to ripen more quickly, stick it in with some apples. On the other hand if you have some bananas that you don’t want to get spotty as quickly, keep them far away from those apples. Knowing this trick can help keep thing from going bad and help speed up ripening as well.


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