This post is part 2 of the series Taking Charge of Your Grocery Shopping. Check in here for the complete list of posts.
Congratulations! You have made the decision to take charge of your grocery shopping. As I stated in the Introduction, this series will cover even more than the shopping. We’ll get into meal planning, list prepping, and all kinds of other goodies. (Note to self: I think the fact that I can call them “goodies” and be completely serious is a testament to being a nerd. Ah well.)
But first, here’s a question: Have you ever gone to the store, bought something you thought you were out of, only to come home and realize you weren’t out at all? Yeah, me too. It’s frustrating, especially when trying to stick to a budget. I hate spending money on something that I didn’t actually need. If it’s a pantry item, I can put it away for later, but if it’s perishable and I don’t get to it in time, it’s just a waste.
This is why STEP 1 in grocery shopping is to figure out what you already have on hand. How do we do this? Inventory.
You can do inventory one of two ways. You can do a quick glance through your cupboards and refrigerator/freezer and go from there. The other option is to get nitty gritty, empty everything out, count, throw away bad/expired food, and make a list of what’s left. Which do I choose? Well, both.
For a normal grocery shopping trip (which I do every two weeks), I do a quick glance. We are fortunate to have an extra refrigerator/freezer in our basement (necessary: no, useful: yes), as well as a chest freezer. The chest freezer usually contains meat and fish (we stock up on salmon every fall), as well as the box of 500 Otter Pops that I bought four years ago on a whim, that still isn’t finished.
The second fridge contains overflow of refrigerated bulk purchases–cheese, yogurt, milk, etc. that don’t fit in our kitchen fridge. We also stash drinks in here that we want to keep cold, like the contents of the specialty beer box I got my husband for Christmas. This freezer keeps all of the vegetables and fruits from the summer. We have plentiful rhubarb and raspberries on our property that I freeze. Also, I like to buy zucchinis at the farmers market, shred and freeze them for making bread and sneaking vegetables into my kids’ diets without them knowing.
Upstairs is the main fridge/freezer with the milk, leftovers, lunch fixings, etc., as well as the pantry for everything non-perishable. With all of these spots to check, I get a little bit of exercise.
About twice a year, I do a full on inventory. This is where I empty everything, toss the gross stuff, and count what’s left. I’m doing that this week in the freezers. Lent is just around the corner, and I’d like to make sure that I use up whatever meat is left in the freezers so it doesn’t just sit there until April. I also want to make sure that I use the leftover fruits and vegetables from last summer before they go bad.
What did I find? Among other things, one package of pork chops that I need for dinner tonight, two packages of frozen chicken breast, one pound of bacon, another bag of chicken tenders (overpurchase much?), six packages of frozen salmon, two pounds of sausage patties, and the unending box of Otter Pops. I suppose we’ll be eating lots of chicken these next two weeks, and I’ll save the salmon for Lent. The freezers also revealed gobs of chopped rhubarb, and a bunch of frozen pumpkin puree and peaches. Because I have kids, I also found an empty ziplock bag labeled “Tacos.” I frequently make and freeze tacos for my kids to put in their lunches, and evidently we ran out and no one told me. Good to know. I’ll add this to my list.
The pantry check was faster. This was a cursory glance, which told me I still have a jar of capers I haven’t used, a few pounds of potatoes, and a dozen jars of canned salmon still left from last fall. In the kitchen fridge I found a container of feta I need to use up, as well as some cream cheese.
Okay, done! Now I know that I need to come up with a few chicken dishes, grab some ground beef to make tacos, and maybe have pancakes or waffles with sausage for dinner one night (breakfast for dinner is a favorite around here). I like to plan ahead for any baking I might do, so I can factor the rhubarb and pumpkin in there. Maybe a rhubarb dump cake one night for dessert (another family favorite), and pumpkin cream cheese muffins as an after school snack/quick breakfast. We don’t eat many peaches, and I’m not entirely sure where they came from, but I’d like to use them up. Smoothies for breakfast on Saturday perhaps? If I thaw them out and they look gnarly, then they’ll be a treat for the neighbor’s chickens.
Step 1: Complete! I know what’s on hand. This will prevent me from over purchasing things I don’t need (like the abundance of frozen chicken I currently have), and jump-start my meal plan for the next two weeks. All in all, it took me approximately eight minutes. It also means that it’s the time of year that the freezers are starting to empty. This is great because it means we’re not wasting food. Last, but certainly not least, it has solidified my resolve to–FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY–get the kids to finish those Otter Pops this summer. For crying out loud.
Tomorrow: You’ve got your inventory! Good for you. Next we will brainstorm a list of your family’s favorite meals to help prevent the dreaded Meal Plan Brainfreeze.