I always feel like there are probably better ways to do the grocery shopping and meal planning – or at least, ways to get better deals – that I’ve just never been able to figure out. Short of clipping coupons and watching the ads for the best deals, though, what more can we do?
If you’ve ever wondered the same thing, or wished there was some kind of class you could take in order to have a leg up, we’ve got some good news – Redditor u/aichliss, a professional chef, has some tricks that should allow us to keep things affordable and healthy.
Here are 8 tips on what you should be buying and eating, and why.
8. How to Shop
– FOR SHOPPING: Generally when you buy produce you should go, in order, to the discount rack, then the sales, and then everything else. Someone out there has a recipe for literally everything, and some of them are even good. A pepper with a blemish or tiny spot of mold is still fine, assuming you cut away the blemish or tiny spot of mold.
– I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH; FIND THE UNDER-APPRECIATED AND OVER-SUPPLIED PRODUCE. There’s always a bin of some forgotten veggie no-one eats for some reason. In the west, at least, it seems to often be rutabagas/turnips. I’ve also seen apples in the fall, corn, and cabbages fall into this category. This is because of a good harvest, or because of a lack of consumer interest – any time this happens, capitalize on it. Everything is delicious if you cook it properly. Buy seasonally, and learn how to use the things you buy. You’ll eat like a king and pay like a pauper.
-Buy these dried as often as possible. Keep a stock of beans, lentils, and dried chickpeas around if you can. They’re cheap, almost always available, and virtually imperishable. As such, assuming you don’t throw them out and keep them properly stored, buying these is a 100% return on your investment.
-Legumes are one of the most versatile options in your kitchen. As long as you soak them and put them in the fridge before you go to bed they’ll be available the next day to cook quickly. These are the best thing to have if you’re looking to stretch a meal because of their nutrient density and the fact that they’re just damn delicious on their own.
-Look into middle-eastern and African cuisine for creative ways to use these ingredients. Some really common examples are lentil curry, hummus, falafels, and putting chickpeas in a shakshuka. This isn’t a recipe post, so look up how to make them yourself – some grandma has a better (and probably even cheaper) recipe than I do.
6. Canned Goods
– CANNED STUFF – I generally have a personal aversion to all canned veggies and fruits except tomatoes, but that’s just my privilege speaking. If you want to buy them or if fresh produce is hard to come by, avoid getting anything with added salt or sugar. Cross-reference the nutrient info on the can with info from a fresh counterpart to avoid buying filler garbage, and try to find somewhere to live with better food accessibility.
Alternatively, save up and make a killing by opening a fruit and vegetable market to remove the need to read this very ling post any further. (This is a joke and I recognize the struggle of those in impoverished communities with awful food accessibility.)
5. Grains and Cereals
-Like legumes, these are very versatile. However, I find most people know very little about them outside of wheat and maybe oats. I highly recommend learning what the most commonly eaten grans and cereals in your locality are, and then finding the affordable ones. There will be at least one. I guarantee it.
– FLOUR is an essential staple, unless you’re celiac or gluten free – a topic on which I won’t speak because I’m confident anyone who has to deal with those issues knows more than I do. I recommend grabbing all-purpose flour due to its gluten content being a middle ground between low-gluten pastry flour and high-gluten bread flour. You can still use it to make bread, and it has a myriad other uses as a binder or thickener for sauces.
– RICE is amazing, as most know already, but seriously – it’s one of the most important crops in the world. It’s kept civilizations alive on its back for all of recorded history, and it’ll keep you alive, too. There is no better “fill me up” food I can think of. Wait for those huge sacks of rice to go on sale (it happens pretty frequently), then buy 2. They last forever. Ideally grab long-grain rice if you’re just looking for a side-dish or fried rice base, but in a pinch short grain’ll do; it’s just less forgiving and the starches don’t retrograde as fully so when you cool it it doesn’t keep as nicely.
– KEEP IN MIND that rice is pure carbs. It’s a good base, but you need other stuff to go with it or else you’ll be deficient in nutrients and feel awful all the time. Trust me from experience – college me went through a raw-egg-on-rice phase, and it wasn’t pretty.
– BARLEY, also, is amazing, but for other reasons. It’s high in protein and iron, and can help dramatically improve your nutrient intake for very little cost. In soups, roasted in tea (thanks Korea), and used in tandem with rice, it can go a very, very long way in making your diet a more sustainable one in times of austerity and plenty, alike.
– IF YOU EAT MEAT, buy the least processed cuts you can. Whole chickens, meat on the bone, and ground meats are your best friends. Go to butcher shops, if you can. Freezing meat is fine, but try to avoid buying pre-made frozen protein options. Get raw product and do the work yourself to save a LOT of cash and get better food out of it.
– MEAT IS A LUXURY, NOT AN ESSENTIAL. I say this because in modern western culture eating meat everyday is seen as normal. This is an oddity when we examine all of human history, and this notion should be abandoned if we’re trying to live more affordably. Meat is grossly overrepresented in most diets, and you should always ask if you could cut your portion of meat down in exchange for more vegetables and grains.
– LEARN HOW TO BREAK DOWN YOUR PROTEINS. A chicken isn’t just 8 portions of meat – it’s also bones and carcass for a stock or soup, fat to be rendered out and used as a cooking oil (thanks, jewish folks!), and skin to be cooked down into delicious little chips. This same list can be used for pork, beef, and any other mammal you eat.
3. On “Superfoods”
– AVOID “SUPERFOODS”. Not because they’re bad for you – just because of their jacked prices. Not to mention oftentimes the industries surrounding them are ethical nightmares. Don’t get me started on avocado cartels and the impact of quinoa farming on low-income South American communities.
In reality, most grains and cereals have a lot of nutrients and minerals, and they’re often overlooked. Learn the nutrition facts, and make decisions accordingly. Google and online databases are your friends, here.
2. That Iffy Fish
– FISH IS IFFY. Like, as an industry. Not many people know their fish, and fish processing companies know that and capitalize on it. I always tell people who like fish to buy fresh and whole, and to learn how to pick good fish. Buying cheap processed fish products is akin to asking to be ripped off, to harm the environment, and to accumulate toxins in your body, all at the same time. To not get completely F-ed over by what is maybe the worst food industry in the world you need to know your fish, know the company you’re buying from, and know who’s doing the fishing. Good luck, and please try not to contribute to the death of our water ecosystems. (A good trick is that if you can afford fish when you’re poor and you don’t live beside a large body of water, you almost certainly DON’T WANT IT.)
– IF YOU DO BUY FISH OR SEAFOOD, all the rules for proteins apply. Fish bones and crustacean shells for stock, fat deposits on the occasional salmonid for whatever you want, and fish skin, if it’s your cup of tea, for a lovely snack. Hell, fish organs and salt make up the base for a fermented fish sauce, if you really want to go the extra mile. Rome survived off of fish sauce and bread for longer than our society has been around. The one big difference between fish and meat is that frozen fish tends to suck relative to fresh in a much bigger way – both in terms of quality and retained nutrients. Put frozen fish in soups or curries, to avoid nutrient drain from the water that inevitably will leak out of your fish.
1. Fruits and Veg
– ONIONS: buy them fresh and store them in dry, enclosed spaces, and buy tomatoes canned and without salt added. Use onions in almost everything, they’re delicious, cheap, and nutritious.
– TOMATOES: Good fresh and better canned. Use fresh tomatoes raw for whatever you want and use canned tomatoes for sauces. Buy canned tomatoes with as little added salt and sugar as possible.
– POTATOES: Treat these as a starch option similar to grains or cereals. Buy them unprocessed, in a sack. Store them in dry, enclosed spaces.
– BASICALLY EVERY FRUIT: go for it, these things are nutrient bombs and they’re delicious. Buy them seasonally for the best value and if you have a day to do so, preserve them if you ever see a huge sale. I’m still enjoying lacto-fermented blueberries from last year’s insane blueberry harvest where I could buy a pint for a dollar.
– STAY AWAY FROM THE INSTANT RAMEN. I know it’s cheap. I KNOW you like how easy it is. I don’t give one flying fuck. It’s awful for you, it isn’t cheaper than a bowl of rice with soy sauce, a fried egg, and some frozen peas, and it’ll kill you slowly. Just don’t, and ignore anyone’s advice about how it got them through college. Hell, if anyone’s advice involves doing what they did in college, take it with a grain of salt. There’s good advice sometimes, and a LOT of bad.
– AVOID THE JUNK FOOD AISLES. Chips, sugar cereals, pre-made salad dressings, sweet juice/pop, and processed foods like KD or tv dinners are not the way to go if you’re looking to get the most out of your dollar at the grocery store. They’re bad for you, they’re expensive relative to the cost of production, and they put a burden on your body that you’ll pay for down the line. Exceptions to this are staple sauces like a good soy sauce and fish sauce, grains and legumes, and canned veggies.
I’m feeling smarter already, though I’m not sure I’m ready to be this healthy, to be honest.
If you’re an expert with foods and grocery shopping, add your own tips down in the comments!