Tag Archive for saving money

The Two Week, No Grocery Shopping Challenge

A couple weeks back, I realized I had a problem. I was running to the grocery store literally every single day.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I my alternative life, I live in a small village in France, and I get up every day and walk to the market for fresh bread, cheese, fish and produce. But sadly, in this universe, I don’t really have time to do that.

This daily grocery shopping was a giant time-suck, and it was probably costing me more money, too, because, let’s face it, who goes to the grocery store and only buys the one thing they need? Um, nobody, that’s who.

There are two main factors that lead to this behavior.

  1. I am very spontaneous in the kitchen. When I crave a certain kind of food, I want it. Yesterday.
  2. Being a food blogger, I’d come across a new recipe and want to test it–but of course I’d never have everything I needed on hand to make it.

So. I decided to take the bull by the horns. I set myself a two 1eek, no grocery shopping challenge. And that was it. For two weeks, I wasn’t allowed in the grocery store.

Obviously, this required some planning. Here’s how it went down.

  1. I inventoried everything I already had in my freezer and cupboards. There had been a recent sale on stuffed chicken breasts, for example, and I still had salmon burgers leftover from a Costco shop in the summer.
  2. Then, using what I already had on hand, I started planning dinners for the next two weeks. I had some leftover filo pastry, for example, so I decided to repurpose that into a chicken pot pie. I had a giant bag of macaroni I’d bought on sale for a buck that had been in my cupboard for about 6 months, and that got made into macaroni and cheese casseroles. I had some boxes of flatbread mix from a food blogger’s conference I’d been to (one I’d had for over a year), and those became pizzas.
  3. Next, I made a shopping list. I had to remember things I might run out of over the next two weeks, like toilet paper, toothpaste and light bulbs, as well as every day stuff, like produce.
  4. Then, I went shopping. I don’t normally shop at big box grocery stores, but this time I did–so I could get everything in one place. I actually went to a mall where, in addition to a big box store, they also had a small-chain produce store that’s locally owned, and I got most of my produce there. The shopping trip itself took me about an hour.
  5. The next day, Saturday, I spent doing food prep. I took 3 hours and made 2 chicken pot pies, 3 mac & cheeses, and 4 pizzas. These all went into the freezer. I also peeled and chopped up bananas and put them in the freezer, and I washed and chopped up a couple heads of lettuce and kale, and then spun it dry. These were packed into large, 1-litre mason jars for the rest of the duration. I also made mason jar salads for the week, as well.

Here’s how my daily meal plan broke down:

  • breakfast: smoothie made with frozen fruit (berries), bananas, yogurt, coconut water, and a scoop of protein powder
  • snack: healthy breakfast cookie or celery or apples with peanut butter
  • lunch: mason jar salad (the second week I made a big pot of soup, instead), or a wrap made with veggies and a chicken breast (which I’d also pre-prepped)
  • dinner: any of the pre-made and frozen meals I’d made on the weekend. Mostly I served these with a salad, or whatever veggies were still on hand. I also made chicken breasts or filled pasta (that I had in the freezer) with a salad, and one day I made a quiche, packed with vegetables.

How did I do?

Pretty good, actually! I did go to the grocery store one time, to get milk and bananas. And that’s all I bought. The bananas I will make an adjustment for the next time, and make sure I buy twice as much. The milk I don’t mind going to the store for–it’s not something that I can really help. Other than buying and freezing it (which I’m not really crazy about doing), there’s no way I can either a. be without milk (with a growing boy in the house), or b. get it any other way.

By the way, I still have tons of food in the freezer.

What I learned:

The positives:

  • Creativity: this challenge really forced me to get creative! If there was something I wanted to make, but I didn’t have the ingredients on hand, I had to improvise. Kinda fun.
  • Less waste: having stuff in the fridge, I needed to use things up before they went bad. I wanted to seriously reduce the amount of food I was throwing out. For example, one night I made a quiche, but instead of putting it in a pie shell, I made the crust out of leftover scalloped potatoes. Delicious!
  • Save money: I literally spent $100 on groceries for 2 weeks. Okay, well, $106 if you count the milk and bananas. How much was I spending before? I have no idea… but I’m guessing it was more than $100.
  • Cut spending in other areas: the challenge idea spilled over into the rest of my life. For example, I was in the drugstore, looking at a new kind of mascara, and thought “I already have 2 kinds of mascara at home, do I really need this one, too?” And I didn’t buy it! Hmmmm….
  • Save time: not only does the actual grocery shopping take time, but getting there and getting back takes time. I also saved a ton of time during the week by prepping on the weekend.

The negatives:

  • It sucks when you run out of things. I ran out of maple syrup the first day! No waffles (despite having lots of homemade ones in the freezer) for us for two weeks. 🙁
  • You need to go to multiple stores: If you do decide to do a batch-shopping challenge, it’s likely you won’t be able to get everything at just one store. The reason we ran out of maple syrup is because we buy it at Costco, and I didn’t shop at Costco that week, and was then banned from shopping for two weeks. For me, I need to make about 3 stops: grocery store, produce market and Costco. That can be a lot of running around in one day.

Conclusion:

I’m going to keep at it for a while. I think it’s a valuable experiment. While I miss the spontaneity of thinking “what do I want for dinner tonight?” I don’t miss the panic of running around at the last moment sourcing ingredients. And I think I’m saving money. I’m definitely saving time, and that’s something I can always use more of.

 

Planning to Plan Part 2

As I wrote earlier this week, I want to be better at planning out what we’re eating.

There’s a bunch of reasons why:

  • I’m a single parent. I don’t have anyone at home making dinner for me (volunteers welcome! ;-)), so I can’t really leave much to fate.
  • I want to eat relatively healthy, and I want my kid to eat relatively healthy. That means a minimum of meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, and a minimum of processed foods. I want our dinners to be primarily homemade.
  • I want to try new things.
  • I’m always happy to save money and time.

Shopping List

Here’s the plan:

Breakfasts:

  • Start with a smoothie: this packs at least a couple of servings of fruit in right off the bat, and maybe some vegetables, too (kale is great in smoothies). In addition, I include a half a scoop of Vega smoothie powder for extra protein and other good stuff, ground flax, coconut milk, and yogurt.
  • For the boy: cereal (the only moderately junky kind, like mini-wheats or cheerios) or pancakes I’ve made on the weekend and frozen, which I then pop in the toaster. Bagels.
  • For me: yogurt and Holy Crap or homemade granola.

Lunches:

  • If I’m at home, I’ll eat leftovers or whatever, so I’m not really that concerned.
  • For the boy: sandwiches, leftover pizza, wraps, peanut-butter-banana sushi. He also has a thermos for leftovers from the night before. I buy him things like cheese strings, and those little packs of 100-calorie snacks for recess. Homemade cookies. Raw fruit/veg like apples or cucumber.

Dinners: 

  • Sunday: Vegan Pulled Pork Tacos with Celery/Apple/Fennel Slaw (recipe to come)
  • Monday: Mushroom Risotto.
  • Tuesday: I work, so sushi for me.
  • Wednesday: Homemade Mac ‘n’ Cheese (will make in advance and freeze)
  • Thursday: Spinach Pizza (M has gymnastics, so we don’t get home until late. There’s always a pizza in the freezer for this reason).
  • Friday: Yves Veggie Burgers, corn on the cob.
  • Saturday: Salmon steaks with vegetable “pasta”, teriyaki sauce.

Desserts:

Simple, no-bake cookies like peanut-butter squares or Rice Krispie Treats. I am now making double batches of chocolate chip cookies, scooping them into balls, and freezing them, unbaked, on cookie sheets. When frozen, I dump them into ziploc bags, and then take out as many at a time as I need and bake. Warm chocolate chip cookies, anyone?? Also, it’s easy to make big recipes of loaves and cakes and cut them in half and freeze them. Date squares are also yummy.

Snacks:

Nuts are always good. Granola Bars (can be homemade). And I want to experiment with Bliss Balls.

I will report back next week!!

In the mean time, do you have any favorite Menu Planning resources? Books? Blogs? Let me know in the comments below!