When I go to the grocery store, I try to conserve the resources of both the planet and my wallet. Now that several grocery sale ads are delivered to Jackson mailboxes each week, my grocery planning is even easier. Planning ahead is the key to helping the environment while staying on a food budget. So grab a healthy snack, this week's coupons and sale ads, a pencil, and some paper, and let's get started.
Step 1. Make a list of what you already have in your refrigerator, freezer and pantry that you need to use. The average American family wastes a significant amount of food by not using ingredients or leftovers before they go bad.
Step 2. Brainstorm what dishes you can make with the items you already have on hand. Be sure to prioritize items that will go bad sooner as you sketch out a tentative meal plan for the week.
Step 3. Make a list of what ingredients you need to purchase for the week to supplement what you already have. Choose recipes that have overlapping ingredients, such as two dishes that will each use half a carton of sour cream, to reduce waste. Be sure to put weekly staples on the list so that you don't have to run back out to the store later in the week.
Step 4. Flip through the sale ads to see which store offers you the best deals on the items you are looking for this week, and keep abreast of sale dates at the natural foods store. Keep an eye out for organic items on sale that you can stock up. Choose which store is your best bet this week. I'm personally not a big proponent of using extra time and gas to hunt bargains at three different grocery stores each week, but that is a personal decision.
Step 5. Go shopping. Eat a snack before you go so that you are less prone to impulse buys. Combine your grocery trip with other errands to reduce gas usage. Take a shopping buddy if you need help sticking to your list. Look for good deals on Mississippi produce in season. (Our local farmer's markets are a good place to look, too.). Buy items in large containers or in bulk to save money and packaging materials. Look above and below eye level on the shelves for better deals. Only stock up on food bargains that you will definitely eat before they expire. Don't stock up on fresh produce without a plan for how to use it or preserve it quickly. Wasted food is bad for the planet and bad for your wallet.
Step 6. Pick a day over the weekend to do most of your cooking or baking for the week. This can save a lot of energy if you have several items in the oven at once, and it is a good strategy for keeping your house cool as the weather becomes warmer. A general strategy is to eat more casseroles and soups in the winter when you want the house warmer and to stick to simple, cooler recipes such as gazpacho and pasta salads in the summer.
Once-a-week cooking can also save time during the week. It might even prevent you from making a last minute mid-week fast food run.
Step 7. Create and maintain a leftover management system. Glass Pyrex containers are excellent for storing everything from veggies you chop ahead of time to last night's leftovers. Glass lasts much longer and is much better for human health and the environment than plastic containers. The clear sides make it easy to see what is available in the refrigerator. Every day or two, take a quick inventory of the fridge to make sure that you are eating food before it goes bad.
Within a few short weeks, you will get into an easy rhythm of food planning that will keep your food budget in check and reduce your family's waste. Now what will you do with the money you save?