There are many reasons to feel grateful for living in New Zealand, but cheap food is not one of them. Grocery shopping for the average family is either a major financial burden or a nutritional nightmare. I don’t claim to have the perfect solution, but I do have a system to share that may work as well for some of you as it does for me.
First of all, before you even begin, I recommend spending a few weeks lining your pantry shelves with some staple ingredients such as spices, seasonings, sauces, healthy oils, dried fruits and nuts, seeds, baking essentials, and also canned beans, legumes, and low-sodium vegetables. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to go! This is how I do my weekly grocery shopping, and it does not involve writing out or taking a shopping list (unless there are a few specific items that I want to remember to pick up):
1. Start with your nearest fresh fruit and vegetable store and grab a basket. Go down all the aisles and only put in your basket whichever fruits and vegetables are selling for the best and cheapest price in terms of quality and quantity. The selection of “sale price” fruits and vegetables tend to differ from week to week, allowing for not only an affordable selection of varied fresh produce but also a wider range of nutrients.
2. Go next to your local supermarket of choice and be prepared to only reach out for “best deal” options. The produce section is always the first area when you walk into most supermarkets, but since you will have already bought your fruits and vegetables, just walk right through towards the deli section. I usually do a quick scan of the deli area to see if there are any exceptionally good deals available but if not, I keep moving.
3. Beyond the deli section you’ll start to encounter the meats in the back of the store, as well as the first aisle entry. My strategy when supermarket shopping is to specifically look for: a) whichever protein foods are on sale, to include eggs, all lean meats, seafood, and vegetarian options; b) top up on the cheapest complex carb options, such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, oats, seeded breads, etc. (root vegetables would have been purchased at the fruit and vegetable store); c) choose whichever dairy (and/or refrigerated vegan) products are on sale, and d), top up on any pantry staples that need replacing.
The main thing to keep in mind is that your objective is to specifically seek out the weekly deals on: fruits and vegetables, meat and non-meat proteins, complex carbohydrates, and dairy and/or vegan cold products.
Once you get home, it’s always a good idea to start food preparation right away. I almost always plan my grocery shopping trips on days that I am off work and have enough time to shop and meal prep all in one go. You’ll find that by practicing this one habit, the likelihood of food being wasted will be significantly reduced.
By now you’re probably wondering how I create my meals without having planned an advance menu, and the answer to that is that I simply mix and match the groceries I come home with. All of our meals are built around the concept of a balanced plate that contains some type of lean protein, a complex carbohydrate, a decent size serving of vegetables, and a small serving of some type of healthy fat (such as avocado, nuts and seeds, or olive oil, for example). By the end of the week, if protein options are completely used up, I start using pantry supplements such as beans and legumes.
Finally, it’s not necessary, but if you enjoy baking as much as I do, I use up ripened or excess fruits and vegetables by making bread loaves and muffins, and I use dried fruits and nuts to make biscuits; I prefer to have healthier home-baked sweets on hand in place of store-bought packaged goods.
A final tip: have plenty of portable containers available to pre-pack meals for school and work, and to also store ready-made meals in the freezer that can be pulled out later in the week and re-heated.