Reduce Shopping Trips – Plan Menus for Two Weeks

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Baskets filled with a variety of fresh food.As we continue to navigate and adjust to what seems to be our new normal during this pandemic, you have probably changed your shopping habits and mealtime routines. Perhaps less eating out and more cooking at home. Maybe more online ordering and curbside service. You may have even found that you prefer to shop less frequently. Grocery shopping for two weeks or more at a time though, can be a challenge, especially if you are used to popping in to the store any time an item runs low or dinner plans change at the last minute.

Purchasing everything you need for several weeks of meals, making perishable food last long enough, and meal planning that far in advance takes some brain power. To avoid a big guessing game and a lot of frustration, here are some tips to reduce shopping trips and eat well even if you don’t like to plan ahead.

Let’s start with the easiest tip first. If you are used to shopping for one week of groceries at a time and you don’t mind eating the same thing two weeks in a row, just buy twice as much as you normally would. This is a great way to avoid food waste too. Making the same recipe twice helps use ingredients that may go to waste. Preparing a double batch of a recipe also means you can freeze it and re-heat on a day when you are short on time.

The second tip is to keep a running list of “must-have” items. These are foods you keep on hand all the time such as breakfast foods, lunch box items, snacks, and basic cooking ingredients. This list can serve as your base grocery list for every shopping trip and makes it easy to simply add or remove items as needed. This is especially helpful for those weeks when you just didn’t get around to meal planning.

Tip three provides some guidance for shopping without a list. All of us find ourselves at one time or another just “winging it” altogether – no list, no meal plan, and very little time to even think about it. When making meal decisions while in the store, the meat choice (protein) usually comes to mind first. As a general rule, one pound of meat provides four servings, so if you are cooking for four people, a pound of chicken would be enough for one meal. Ground meats can be stretched a bit further. Other protein-rich foods that are nutritious, affordable, and versatile include beans, eggs, canned tuna and salmon, frozen edamame, and nut butters. All of these foods provide a good base to build a meal upon.

When choosing fresh fruits and vegetables, be as realistic as possible about the amount your family will eat. It’s important to have enough of these foods on hand to meet nutritional needs, but not so much that it goes to waste. As a general rule, one serving of produce is about the size of your fist. A carrot, tomato, pear, or an ear of corn is one serving. A bag or a head of produce provides about four servings, so a large head of broccoli, one bunch of asparagus, or a cantaloupe will serve four people. Produce with a short shelf life, like leafy greens, squash, pears and avocados, will need to be consumed within a week. Longer-lasting produce such as potatoes, onions, cabbage, and root vegetables can be used during week two of your meal plan.

The final tip is particularly helpful during stay-at-home and quarantine times. When you can, buy extra, but don’t hoard. Just grab an extra bag of frozen produce, canned food, and dehydrated or freeze-dried foods. Most grains do not require refrigerator or freezer space, so extra rice, pasta and oatmeal are great to keep on hand. Staple products such as cooking oil, vinegar, flour, herbs, spices, and other seasonings are essential as well. Once you have a buffer of grains, staples, and nonperishable items to last a while, adding fresh produce, meats, and dairy will be fairly easy. Plus, you’ll be able to create a wide variety of meals using ingredients from all of the food groups.