Steps To Identify Your Shopping Bottlenecks And Save Your Time Spent On Groceries
If you've ever found yourself wandering between shelves, buying more than you need, or making frequent trips for just a handful of items, this post is for you. I’m not just talking about saving a few minutes, I share a step-by-step approach to understanding your grocery shopping needs and changes to your habits to save several hours.
We identified 5 stages of meal prep in the earlier post:
Pre-cooking storage and preparation.
Final touches and consumption.
This post looks at stage 1, grocery shopping.
Here are all the posts in this series:
Identify Your Grocery Shopping Bottleneck
Efficient meal prep starts with optimized grocery shopping. Here are a few questions to help you think of your shopping patterns.
Inventory Analysis: Think back to your last 3 grocery trips. What were you most likely to run out of? Although you might have bought many things, lack of which 1-2 items made you go to the store?
Shelf Life: What is the shelf life of the 2-3 items you are most likely to run out of?
Storage: How can you extend the shelf life of these items at home?
Infrequent visits: After adjusting your storage methods, what is the least number of times you need to purchase that grocery item?
I hope you can identify a shopping pattern after step 4. You need not go to the shop more frequently than that number.
A few examples:
Previously, we used to run out of yogurt and milk every 4 days because the milk did not last for more than 4 days in the fridge. So, we went grocery shopping every 4 days. Later, a) we started buying 10 cartons at once and freezing half of them. This bulk-buying and freezing reduced our grocery visits to once every 2 weeks (helpful when you are busy or are in a pandemic). b) We transitioned to homemade yogurt. c) We moved to another brand and smaller packaging of milk. With smaller multiple cartons of milk, we kept some at the coldest part of our fridge to extend its life. More on our yogurt process here.
Currently, we run out of bananas. Bananas are our bottleneck given their short shelf life and our son’s consumption pattern. They also do not last for more than 5 days. So we need to purchase groceries every 5 days.
Earlier, I had to buy chicken every 4 days as it would feel stale despite refrigeration and proper cooking. Now, I know I can freeze it and thaw it gradually in the fridge. So, it is not a bottleneck anymore.
(Stage 1) 14 Tips For Meal Prep Grocery Shopping
Here are 14 things that worked for me to save time and money in shopping when doing quality and macro-controlled meal prep.
Tip 1 - Buying Eggs
I buy 30-40 eggs, balancing between large and jumbo sizes. I find it practical to buy in bulk if you have space in your fridge since they stay for 4+ weeks in your fridge.
Tips 2, 3, and 4 - Buying Vegetables
2 - I buy chopped and frozen vegetables when available. Frozen means a shelf life of 6 months, not just 2 days. Frozen also means the vegetables are from the peak freshness of harvest season. Chopped means I save time or money on chopping. I don’t find frozen chopped versions of every vegetable I eat though. Here’s Stewie’s take.
3 - Instead of buying small portion sizes of 15 vegetables, I buy large portions (say 2kgs) of 5 vegetables each week.
4 - I like variety. Other vegetables are available in other stores. But those stores don’t deliver or the vegetables are 2x the price. So, I stick to a reliable store chain that delivers consistently at good prices.
Tips 5, 6, 7, and 8 - Buying Fruits
5 - I buy only a few berries each time as they don't last long. I don’t bulk purchase berries. I avoid frozen berries because they lose juice when thawed. So, I am not sure of their nutrition content per gram.
6 - I buy extra oranges and apples as backup as they last over a week in the fridge.
7 - I purchase fruits labeled "ripen at home" about five days before I plan to chop them.
8 - I’ve realized it is often cheaper to buy 4 loose apples instead of a pack of 4.
Tip 9 - Ordering Nuts
I order from a bulk website. I buy 5 kilos of each nut if it's cheaper per kilo than at my local supermarket.
Tip 10 - Choosing Rice
We choose staples like rice over bread like chapati (Indian thin flatbread) or crepes like dosa (Indian crepe). The former can be batch-cooked and refrigerated. The latter either needs more oil or doesn't reheat well. It's also easier to measure portions with the former.
Tip 11 - Buying Cheese
I buy pre-sliced cheese, like cheddar. It saves time when making sandwiches by eliminating the need to measure.
Tip 12 - Buying Chicken
Buying a full chicken is cheaper and browns better. But, I buy pre-diced, skinless, boneless chicken breasts. It's simpler for portioning to fit my diet. Surprisingly skinless chicken breast costs the same as diced skinless chicken breast.
Tip 13 - Getting Yogurt
Some households get milk delivered daily and make yogurt every night. We order 5 liters of organic full-fat cow milk and make yogurt once every 10 days.
Tip 14 - Purchasing Dates
I buy pitted dates. They're simpler to portion to fit a diet than dates with seeds.
Here are all the posts in this series: