As we go into a new year, it’s fun and refreshing to switch out some old habits for new ones. On the top of the list for many people is organizing the many aspects of their lives – from health and wellness to their career. We’ve found that putting order to one area in particular – the kitchen – is a good place to start as it can help save time and money at home and in the grocery store. (Who knows, with a little more change in your pocket and more time to spare, you may be motivated to tackle your other New Year’s resolutions, too!).
Here are 17 of our favorite tips and savvy shopping secrets:
— Take time to organize your pantry and cupboards, fridge, and freezer. Decide how to organize your food so you’ll always know what you have on hand.
Keep similar products together, for example cereals and grains; oils and vinegars, and spices and herbs. You’ll ﬁnd that when things have a designated place you’ll be able to keep things organized more easily.
— Keep a running tab on your food inventory. As you use something up, add it to your shopping list. If your budget can handle it and space will allow, always keep one item in use and have a back up in storage. Store older items up front so you’ll use them before newer ones.
— Keep kitchen counters clean and clear of clutter that can be distracting when you’re cooking. Keep utensils and other items that you use frequently at hand in a main drawer, cupboard or on your counter near your stove so you’ll know exactly where they are when you need them.
— Embrace your freezer. Freezers works more eﬃciently when full, so stock up on bulk and frozen foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, when on sale. Make extra portions of meals and freeze them for later use.
— Store foods in an airtight containers whenever possible – air can dry out and spoil many foods. These containers can also help avoid cross contamination between foods as well as prevent nasty spills or accidents in cupboards and in your fridge.
— Plan Your Weekly Meals — Ten to ﬁfteen minutes each week is usually all it takes to get your weekly shopping list and menu plan in order. Once you have a few meal plans under your belt you can rotate them, giving you variety throughout the month.
When planning your menus, let your ingredients work in diﬀerent dishes. For example, chicken can be the main focus of one meal, and left overs can be added to a soup or top a salad. (Leftovers are terriﬁc for lunches and snacks, too!).
— Check out your store’s website before your trip and search for weekly specials or coupons for items that you use or need based on your shopping list. (Alternatively, you can read the printed circular when you arrive at the store.) Avoid the temptation to buy something if you don’t need or use just because it’s on sale – you’ll more than likely not use it.
— Avoid shopping when you’re hungry or tired – either can lead to expensive or unhealthy impulse buys.
— Learn to read labels, ingredient lists and understand how unit pricing works. You’ll be able to comparison shop and ﬁnd the healthiest items for your budget. Having a calculator on hand can help you determine the best buy.
— Look for store brands and compare with their national brand alternative. You’ll ﬁnd in most cases they’re less expensive and are similar in nutrition value. Store brands are usually made by the same manufacturers as the well-known brands, but you’re not paying for advertising and special packaging).
— Look up, look down – most often, pricier brands are placed at eye level, with less expensive options above or below
— Buy in-season fresh produce, but only purchase what you think you’ll use in 2-4 days.
— Buy canned and frozen produce. Eat your fresh produce ﬁrst and then ﬁll out your week’s menu with your canned and frozen items. Select low-sodium versions, and look for ones without sauces or butter added.
- Buy whole grains, coﬀee, nuts and seeds in the bulk aisle whenever possible. You’ll save money and have less packaging waste. Items such as nuts and grains can be frozen, so if they’re on sale, stock up and store in your freezer to use later in the month.
— Pantry items, such as canned tuna, canned tomatoes, low-sodium stocks, as well as frozen vegetables, are ideal to stock up on when on sale, too.
— Buy frozen ﬁsh in place of fresh ﬁsh. It’s usually less expensive and more convenient – you won’t worry about it spoiling in the fridge and it’s always ready when you are.
— Check expiration dates on perishables such as yogurt, milk, cheese. Buy only what you think you can use by the expiration date – that gallon of milk on sale is no bargain if it spoils before you can use it all.
With a little preplanning and a few shopping strategies you’ll ﬁnd your time in the kitchen and in the grocery store will be more pleasurable and eﬃcient. We hope these tried-and-true tips will be inspiring and helpful to you in the New Year.
For more ideas, tips, and recipes check out our Oldways Nutrition Exchange Toolkits.