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The Comestible Conundrum

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Grocery shopping is one unavoidable weekly chore. If not done right, it can turn your life (well, your week) upside down. So, Trisha Ghoroi & Pranika Sharma tell you how to plan and budget your weekly grocery shopping

Grocery shopping is no doubt a chore for some, but it can be a happy, exciting activity for others. We are easily enamoured by the sheer number and variety of products available on supermarket shelves, but at the same time we need to be conscientious about grocery shopping. Dumping everything you see into your cart is not the way to go about it; that wastes both food and money. So, here’s a guide to quick and budgeted grocery shopping.


Step 1: Plan weekly meals

Planning meals in advance greatly improves your grocery shopping. Decide what meals you will prepare during the week. It doesn’t have to be extremely strict; something like, chicken on three days of the week, fish once and vegetarian meals on the remaining days, is a good enough plan to begin with. That way you won’t have to worry about what to cook at the last minute, and you can plan to shop for the ingredients you need for your recipes in advance.

Step 2: Check your food stores

It is easy to get carried away when you’re at the supermarket. So, before you even make a list of the things you  need to buy, browse through your pantry. Note down what you already have and what needs restocking and make your grocery list accordingly.

Step 3: Make your list

Once you have your meal plans and the recipes in hand, write down only those things that you will require. Sort your list into convenient sections such as fresh produce, everyday staples and dairy. This way you can divide your grocery shopping effectively. This will allow you to put only the necessities in your cart rather than everything that catches your eye.

Step 4: Store dynamics

When at the grocery store, it’s an added bonus if you know exactly where everything is kept. That will save you loads of time... and you won’t be tempted to deviate from your list because you won’t be strolling past sections with foods not on your list. Skim through the aisles and see how and where everything is placed. Only then should you start on your grocery list, going aisle by aisle and picking the things you need. Try and pick up everything on your list from a particular aisle before moving on to the next. 

Step 5: Compare prices and brands

When choosing products, compare all the available brands and prices. Look for cheaper options but don’t compromise on quality; what you buy should strike a balance between quality and price. Also, check the nutritional information and the dates of manufacture and expiration before putting an item in your cart. And, don’t fall for brand advertising!

Step 6: Recheck your list

Once you have the products in your cart, go through your list and cross out everything that you have picked up. If something on your list is not available, look for a substitute. This is the time to remove any extra items that you might have picked up. Make sure that you’ve stuck to your list.

Step 7: Bag it up

Be attentive at the checkout counter. Check the prices of all the items that have been bagged. Don’t get lured in by the store’s sales people and the many offers that they may be running. Carry cloth bags with you to take your groceries home. Most supermarkets charge for bags, an expense that you can save on. Also, most provide plastic bags, which are not good for the environment.


Fresh stock

Buy foods such as fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry once a week to make sure that what you’re eating is fresh, and store them well. When buying meat like chicken, opt for the entire chicken instead of boneless or prime cuts, since it will be cheaper and you can use it for an entire week. The bones can be used for cooking broth, which can be frozen for later use. Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season; they will be fresh and are generally cheaper than off-season varieties. For example, peas can be bought in bulk, cleaned and frozen for off-season use. Save money by purchasing bundles of fresh herbs and freeze them in olive oil or dry and grind them for later use.

Everyday staples

Rice or roti is a staple in our diet, and the best way to save money on these is to buy in bulk. However, buying these in bulk can come with a bulk of problems, such as pests and fungi. To keep rice protected from bugs, place it out in the sun once in a while. You could also put a few neem leaves into the rice container. Similar problems can occur in flour as well, and the solution is simple. Place a few bay leaves in with the flour to keep away insects that feed on it. Other products that you can buy in bulk include tea, spices and sugar. However, always keep your pantry and food storage area clean and free from pests and bugs.

Daily dairy

Whether you like your morning coffee with a generous helping of milk or your burger with two slices of cheese, you must have dairy. And, there are some hacks to save money in this department as well. Instead of buying cartons of milk at the supermarket, buy it from your local dairy. It’s not only fresh, but cheaper too, since it involves less processing. Make cottage cheese at home by splitting milk with lemon. You’ll be surprised at how much better it tastes since it’s fresh and doesn’t have any additives. Similarly, you can set curd at home instead of buying expensive yoghurt.

Save money

  • Look for discounts: Who isn’t excited when it comes to tempting offers at the supermarket? But, do you really need such a big bag of chips or a pack of six soda bottles. Sales apply mostly on unhealthy snacks or those foods that are nearing their expiration dates, so beware. And, they can unnecessarily increase your bill.
  • Use coupons: When trying to save money on groceries, coupons are a saving grace. But, we don’t have to cut coupons out of newspapers anymore. Many supermarkets have a reward point system and tie up with banks, giving you discounts on your bill.Avail of these offers as they will help cut down your grocery budget.
  • Cut out packaged food: Whether it is frozen peas or packaged meat, anything that is processed costs more than its fresh counterpart. So, avoid buying packaged food if possible and buy your fresh produce from local shops and farmer’s markets. They are equally healthy, but don’t burn a hole in your pocket.
  • Keep children away from the supermarket: For children, the supermarket is a magical place where everything is supersized. Their eyes light up at the variety on offer and they simply must have all the chocolates, chips and cakes that they see. So, leave your kids at home when shopping at the supermarket. Or take them along but lay down strict rules beforehand.
  • Put on your blinders at the checkout: The checkout area always has the most tempting snacks in small packets. You think they won’t harm your budget, but it’s better to control your urges. When at the checkout counter, you’re also bombarded with deals and offers that require you to spend more. Beware of such tactics. If the option is available, opt for self checkout.
  • Stow your hunger pangs: Never ever enter the supermarket on an empty stomach. Our hunger can not only make us hangry but moody as well, and in that instant, we might throw our budget out of our minds and buy junk food. One study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2013, found that hungry grocery shoppers buy more calories, not more food.
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