There are many reasons to feel grateful for living in New Zealand, but the cost of living 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 for you.
To start, I recommend lining your pantry shelves with 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 unless there are specific items I need, it does not involve writing out a shopping list:
1. Start with your nearest fresh fruit and vegetable store. Go down all the aisles and only put in your basket fruits and veges that are selling for the best price. The selection of cheaper produce will differ from week to week, but that’s a good thing as you don’t want to be eating the same foods week in and week out (greater food variety also means greater nutrient diversity).
2. Go next to your local supermarket and be prepared to only select “best deal” options. The produce section is the first area you will walk into, but since you will have already bought your fruits and vegetables, just head straight through to the deli section; I usually do a quick scan of the deli area to see if there are any exceptionally good deals, 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 a) to look for protein foods that are on sale, to include eggs, all lean meats, seafood, and vegetarian options; b) top up on the cheapest complex carbohydrate 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.
Once home, it’s always a good idea to start food preparation right away. I almost always do my grocery shopping 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 wastage will be significantly less.
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). By the end of the week, if protein options are completely used up, I start using pantry supplements such as beans and legumes.
Also, it’s not necessary but if you enjoy baking as much as I do, I use overly ripe or excess fruits and vegetables to make bread loaves and muffins, and I use dried fruits and nuts to make biscuits (I prefer to have healthier home-baked snacks on hand versus store-bought packaged goods). And finally, 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.