To Market, to Market to Buy a Fresh Pig… Don’t Let Shopping Make Cooking Too Big! (Part I of II)

My friend Holly – an inspired home cook – makes simple, good food with lots of variety.  What sets her apart, however, is her commitment to cooking for her family, which she does 95% of the time.  This is particularly impressive as her job takes her on the road a lot.  But, the one thing she is still trying to perfect is a technique for planning and shopping in advance.  So, on her request, Kathrin and I wrote out our ground rules for shopping, beginning with this: start every day with a plan for what you’ll serve for dinner that night. Without one, chances are high the meal will be takeout!  We hope these simple rules help get you out of the store and into the kitchen, quickly, so you can go outside and enjoy the day. Come and cook with us!  

Rule Number 1: Don’t Shop When You’re Hungry

Kathrin and I have learned this rule the hard way, arriving at the store hungry, cranky, and just before dinner needs to be prepared.  Inevitably, everything looks good in the moment, and we end up with a lot of easy to prepare starchy products such as pasta or pre-made rice dishes, snacks that we would not think to buy on a daily basis because chips look best when you are starving, or enough food to feed a small army… for a week.  Shop when you are not hungry, and you’ll keep your head, your body, and your wallet, in good shape.

Rule Number 2: Shop on a Schedule, or, the Basics vs. Fresh Meats and Produce

To minimize our time in the store, Kathrin and I divide our foodstuffs into two categories: the basics, and the fresh meats and produce.  To create a well-stocked kitchen (that will cover the majority of the meals you prepare), shop once for the list of items forming the basis for all of your meals.   Plan to spend a decent amount of money, but keep in mind, once you’ve got the basics you’ll only need to replace them on an as-needed basis.  Then, head to the store every third or fourth day (or once weekly if you just don’t have the time to shop twice a week) to buy a variety of meats and produce to take you through the next three to six days.  We’ve included, links to our shopping list for the basics, and a sample list of what we might buy when we shop for fresh meats and produce.

Rule Number 3: Be shopping savvy

To properly shop a store for deals, variety and health, take your time in the supermarket, and follow these tips

  • Don’t fall prey to the science of supermarket placement.  Markets know how to place expensive items at eye level, or on the ends of an aisle.  Walk the aisle before you purchase, and look up and down for better-priced products.
  • Buy a few extra of an item on sale.  You’ll use your basics over time so if the quinoa is 20% off, buy two.
  • Save money and the environment by buying bulk, and taking your products home in a paper bag, if available.
  • Read labels for a clear sense of what’s in the food you buy.

Just like surfers looking for the next perfect wave, we are all searching for our next favorite recipe. And while that’s a great sport, it doesn’t make cooking easy.  Next week we’ll tell you more about how to approach daily meals. Here’s a sneak preview: have a recipe in your mind, but make the dish yours and if you keep to this approach, what specific meat or vegetables you actually buy, is less relevant than how it comes together.  Come and cook with us!

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