1. Stock Up On Basics: This is an obvious piece of advice and something many of you likely do already, but stocking up on basics makes for easy throw-together meals throughout the week. Even if I can't remember if we're out of eggs, I buy a dozen. They last a long time, and it's better to have a few extra than realize you're out when you need them. I also always pick up milk, some coffee beans, yogurt, a nub of cheese, and a small baguette (which I usually slice and freeze and just toast up when we need it).
2. Get Friendly with the Bulk Bins: I find the bulk bins are a great place to grab something interesting in small bits rather than having to buy a large box. Here, I often grab a scoop of heirloom beans, a grain that's not in our weekly line-up, some pasta, and lentils for soups or salads. I like buying in bulk once a week (or sometimes twice a month) because it's usually fresher than buying packaged boxes that could've been sitting on store shelves for months.
3. Shop On Off-Hours, if Possible: Of course not everyone can shop on off hours, and most weeks, I don't manage it myself. But I find that one of my major stresses at the grocery store is the post-work crowds, so if I can go on off hours (mid-morning on a day I'm not working or later in the evening), it's a much more pleasant experience.
4. Choose One Recipe to Shop For: I get discouraged by magazines that say to plan out the week's recipes and shop for them once a week. I know it's organized, and it's something I aspire to do, but I just don't plan that far in advance. So what I've taken to doing is choosing just one recipe per week that I'm excited to try and shopping for that. This guarantees I'll try something new, but doesn't result in overwhelming trips to the grocery store and a discouraging reality that I didn't end up making all of the recipes I thought I would by the end of the week.
5. Select One "Emergency" Dinner: We've all got them. These are the dinners you throw together when you can't be bothered to think about cooking. The dishes you turn to that satisfy you and those at your table with very minimal effort. Ours is something I call "Mexican Pizzas," and they're really just glorified bean and cheese quesadillas that I broil in the oven and slather with mashed avocado, sour cream, and whatever chopped herbs we have on hand. So when I'm at the grocery store, I always make sure we have things like tortillas, beans and an avocado with the knowledge that these nights come up more often than we may like to admit.
What are your tips for smarter shopping?
(Image: Flickr member Amy Jeffries licensed for use under Creative Commons)