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How often do you shop for food?

I'm trying to get into the habit of shopping only every two days or so, as I've heard so many Europeans do. I like the idea of buying only what I'm going to cook for the next 3 to 6 meals or so, and ensuring everything is at its freshest. And during the spring and summer, it's a joy to visit local stands and farmer's markets as often as possible, and select freshly harvested produce.

However, it's really hard to shop often, when life is so hectic, and your parents gifted you and your new husband a pair of Costco memberships! It's sooo tempting to fill a massive cart with food to last an entire season, you know?

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  1. First, practice frugality. IT'S A MAJOR SIN to buy beautiful fresh produce and allow it to go bad because you over-bought (or under-ate). Same with freezer-burning meats because you keep finding great deals.

    Second, write a shopping list. At least a general plan for only two days - Chicken Something and Lamb Something. Now when you go to the store you're going to look for ingredients that can be used with lamb and/or chicken. Not beef short ribs and fresh mahi mahi.

    Third, when you go to Costco/Sams, take in 4 freshly washed cloth grocery tote bags. When they're full, leave! No carts or trolleys or semi-trailers!

    1 Reply
    1. re: KiltedCook

      Amen on the frugality.

      I aim for at least 20 no-spend days per month (during the winter, I manage 25-26), and if I'm spending money, some of it is going to be on food; therefore, I shop for food 10-11 times per month in the spring and summer. I also don't eat fish or meat, so my groceries are less volatile than most, but I have thrown the odd forgotten potato into the compost.

    2. i shop for fresh stuff 2 days at a time. until you get in the habit it's easy to get too much. i also go to markets (farmers, fish, meat, bakery) rather than big box grocery stores (the big store is usually every 2 weeks or so). that said i have a very deep pantry of non-perishables. good luck!

      1. i shop 4-5 days a week, however I live in a very small apartment with almost no storage (I have literally one small overhead cabinet for food storage) so I can't keep much in the house. I usually run into my local grocery store on the way home from the subway at night and pick up something for dinner (which is also lunch the next day) generally spending between $3-$6. I do one "big grocery" trip every two weeks where I get about $60 worth of stuff from trader joes.

        1. We are being sort of forced to shop Euro-style by my European MIL who has no concept of what "planning ahead" means because her apartment is tiny, her fridge is tiny, and she has a sprawling open market right outside her door. I find it expensive to shop this way here. I can't complain too much since she's cooking wonderful meals, but sometimes it's frustrating when we went to the store yesterday, asked her if there's anything else she can think of that she needs, only to find out today that she ran out of tomatoes and wants to make a dish tonight that calls for one or two and used up all my canned ones. Such is life for the 3 months they are here, bless her heart.. ;)

          2 Replies
          1. re: Jen76

            Its not unusual for me to go to the grocery twice in one day (did that today, actually, after realizing I didn't have as many grape tomatoes at I thought!) i rarely run out of "pantry" items but I do most of my cooking with lots of fresh veggies and dairy so I usually spend the day trying to plan my dinner meal so by the time I'm on my way home I have a shopping list set in my head. Plus, my fridge and freezer are SO tiny- I can't even really keep lots of frozen meats so I generally buy the meat or fish I want the day I'm going to cook it unless I come across a really great deal.

            1. re: CarmenR

              "so I usually spend the day trying to plan my dinner meal so by the time I'm on my way home I have a shopping list set in my head"
              ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

              Key word is "plan." And we don't have a tiny space. We live in a moderate house (1500 s.f.) with an American fridge/freezer (i.e. huge), a small chest freezer, and a pantry. Plenty of food in the house, but if you don't plan a course of action to use it, you end up going to the store daily to find the one ingredient you're missing. Sometimes the one ingredient can only be found in an ethnic market that's 20 minutes away by car. I'm the planner in the house, but we don't speak the same language so it's difficult for me to help her plan since I am at the mercy of my husband's willingness to play translator, though I'm improving my comprehension of some words/phrases. ;)

          2. During the warm weather months every two days. During the winter once a week.

            Once you get in the habit, you'll find it very easy and relaxing to do. Instead of planning every meal, every moment you get to eat what looks good that day. For me, it's meant putting fresh fish on the table every couple of days. Delicious AND healthy.

            You'll save so much time and stress not having to hone your spatial logic while standing in front of your open fridge that the 5 minutes in the store will seem like a vacation.

            1. The short answer is that food shopping varies seasonally. This time of year I often shop 4-5 days a week. In the winter, it is often as infrequently as once a week. I try not to shop Costco weekly, but other family members aren't good about noting when they use the last or next to last of something, so that's difficult at times.

              1. In our house it is once a week, regardless of season. From mid-May through mid-October, we have a Farmer's Market only on Saturdays. So we go to the FM, pick up what's fresh and then come home and plan a week's menu around it. Then make a grocery list and go to the stupid market for the items on the list. The rest of the time, we just plan our menu and shop for that list.

                1 Reply
                1. re: boyzoma

                  Buying food "like Europeans" do is quite difficult if you don't live in a neighborhood with a decent density of food stores, and worse if you have to drive/walk/bus/cycle in a couple of different directions to do so.

                  I usually shop about 3, 4 times per week depending on the season, I'm lucky to be able to do almost everything by walking from the subway to home, or 5 minutes walk/cycle for the rest of the shopping.

                2. I go to the grocery store once a week. The produce market 2x, and when the summer rolls around, the farmers market twice in place of the produce store. The grocery store trip i will usually get my meats for the week, one pack of chicken breasts, stuff for sandwiches for lunch, and maybe some steaks if they are on sale. Other staples if needed, rice, etc. The rest of the stuff is all fresh produce bought on the other two days I stop by either the produce store or farmers market.

                  1. I go to the farmers market once a week and try to keep limit trips to the grocery to once a week. I'd love to shop every other day, but it just doesn't work with my schedule or neighborhood.

                    The farmers market is open year round on Saturdays and open during the spring/summer on Wednesdays. I usually can't make it to the Wed. market due to my work schedule. The produce available at the Saturday market is very predictable based on local harvest patterns. I plan my weekly menu based on the grocery store sales and what will be at the market, hit the grocery store on Friday evening and the market on Saturday. Usually I plan to use the most perishable vegetables early in the week and buy hardier items to use later.

                    1. I find myself buying food and/or drink pretty much everyday. In fact, a few days a week, I find myself buying food two or three times a day. For example, I’ll get produce from the farmers’ market first thing in the morning, some sort of staple items (pasta, orange juice, garbage bags, etc.) from the supermarket a bit later, and then maybe a stop at the fish monger towards the end of the day for the protien for dinner. (I’m not including a stop for a bottle of wine . . . .)

                      I do not plan meals in advance, unless you consider talking with my wife about dinner to be “planning.” I do not buy processed food, unless you consider dried pasta, hot sauce, or canned beans to be “processed foods.” Generally speaking, I tend to go to different places for different items based upon what my past experiences with those places have been. Where I live, there are three fish mongers I trust. I get different seafood from each and know which one to go to based upon what type we are looking to eat. Only one of the supermarkets in the area has free range chickens (the others sell “organic” or “hormone free,” but I much prefer the free range).

                      Ultimately, I am a self-admitted food geek (or, perhaps, "food prick"). I have explored the foods available to me and considered the places to get them. I go to two different health food stores to buy things like mayonaise or certain vinegars. I get my Frantoia olive oil from an Italian specialty shop where I almost never buy anything else (save some occassional prociutto - I go to a different place for fresh mozzarella or pancetta). There is a turkey farm nearby to get fresh birds a dozen or more times a year. When we want bread, I go to a bakery. For a special treat, I know which butcher carries Niman Ranch chops and dry-aged, prime beef.

                      Like others, I define my priorities. (Hell, I probably spent more money on sea salt last year than I did clothes.) I generally prefer to shop at a "mom and pop" than a national chain. I find Costco to be a depressing place, and the idea of getting food from Wal-Mart or Target is somehow disturbing. I live at the Shore and all of the places I go to are within 5 miles of my house. On average, we eat 5-6 meals a month in a restaurant and generally eschew take-out. Yes, sometimes it takes more time to shop than I feel like devoting to it, but eating well is more important to us than watching TV (or almost anything else, I suppose).

                      1. "I'm trying to get into the habit of shopping only every two days or so, as I've heard so many Europeans do"

                        Most of us Europeans actually do the weekly visit to the edge of town supermarket (although I buy most of my meat over the internet a couple of times a year).

                        It's a quaint thought that we still pop to the local butchers every couple of days and buy what's fresh. Those days pretty much passed 30 years back - you only have to look at what were our main shopping streets in village and small towns to see the number of empty premises.

                        1. I was at Costco a few days ago- got grapes, cherries, beautiful salad greens, blackberries, no room in the fridge to put them, but by God they were all so beautiful I just had to buy them, and I have no regrets, they're all fabulous. I go when I want to buy something or need something, sometimes I go just for fun.

                          1. I go all the time, except I won't go to Costco on weekends. Too crowded and too many sheeple clogging up the ailes around those damn sample tables. I like food shopping, it's fun, always has been for me. Checking out the good looking middle-aged ladies is a plus also.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                              LOL - "too many sheeple clogging up the ailes" I'll have to remember that next time I am at the stupid market and see all those sheeple!

                              1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                                Something I do in my car with the windows up when people are moving way too slowly through a crosswalk, as if looking for something to graze on, is say-
                                "Mmmmmmmmmooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooove!"
                                It embarrasses the hell out of my poor long-suffering son, more when he was a little shaver.

                              2. Shopping for one person who rarely eats out, and dogs who never do: Costco every 6-8 weeks, local supermarket (and farmer's market in summer) every 2 weeks. In autumn I watch for sales on staple pantry items at the supermarket which does delivery, and place one large order to cover the winter months so I do not have to lug lots of grocery bags on icy walks and stairs. I shop the weekly circulars but the mark-down sections are my first stop at the supermarket and I'll adjust on the fly accordingly.

                                1. I buy proteins once a month at Costco (chickpeas, nuts, fish); coffee beans every 10 days or so; vegetables weekly (because it's the only time I can get to the greengrocer), and anything else I need from whatever supermarket is convenient as and when I need it.

                                  1. I shop every 2-3 days ever since I got into the habit while living in England.
                                    I used to shop less frequently but noticed I invariably bought product that went bad, esp bananas and potatoes. Besides, I don't necessarily know what I will be cooking for dinner until an hour or so beforehand so buying protein and freezing it doesn't help. I am lucky because I have a Whole Foods, an independent grocery store and a weekly farmers' market all within 2 miles of where I live.

                                    1. We do the major shopping once a week. I hit the health food store after work occasionally for things they don't have at our supermarket (like Quorn!). And in season I like to go to the midweek farmer's market, so that's an additional trip.

                                      1. I generally only food shop the day of or the day before i am going to cook something.

                                        1. I shop for food whenever I need food. Pretty much the same way I shop for socks, or shampoo.

                                          1. I hate mega-shopping, except for paper towels, etc., and it doesn't make sense for my family of four. Costco really is for your basic nuclear holocaust shopping. I try to go to the store 3 or 4 times a week. But I have to confess that my weakness is condiments and the purchase of a single interesting condiment--walnuts in red wine honey, for example--can send me to the grocery store to buy a salty cheese to go with them, and then back again for the dinner ingredients that should surely accompany such a fine snack in the same day.

                                            1. I must admit more than a little disappointment with the responses to this thread. Now, I know to expect a confused countenance from the kid at the deli counter when I ask for "a single slice of prosciutto nigh a quarter inch thick," or "3 slices of American cheese" (sometimes that's precisely what the burger needs). When you tend to shop one meal at a time you get used to it.

                                              But, you folks, no. You folks are supposed to be my food geek brothers and sisters. I antcipated empathy - kindred spirits who sometimes aren't quite sure what's for dinner until after the burners are lit. All these responses of bi-monthly shopping, mega-stores, and weeks of menus planned in advance - How can it be? Surely there most be others out there who feel incomplete on days when they don't buy something to eat. Others who came home and noticed "those tomatoes are perfectly ripe and dinner absolutely must be centered around them." Anyone? . . . Anyone? . . . Bueller? . . . Bueller???

                                              9 Replies
                                              1. re: MGZ

                                                Did you even read all the posts? Mine, for example.

                                                1. re: Isoldamay

                                                  You know, Isoldamy, I suppose I missed your submission because I was too busy bitching. I did read it subsequently and welcome it warmly. You appear to be just the sort of "food over substance," kindred-soul, goofball I need to know exists!

                                                2. re: MGZ

                                                  I would love to shop and eat that way, but I can't. It does not work in terms of schedule or budget. I plan meals one week at a time based on what is in the pantry/freezer, what is on sale, and the time I have for cooking that week. As much as I love good food and eating exactly what I want when I want it, right now I love being able to pay my bills and save for a house more.

                                                  1. re: MGZ

                                                    I'm so envious of you, MGZ.

                                                    I wish we had quality shops nearby where we could even consider shopping on a daily basis. But we don't. Here in the suburbs of a major UK metro area, we have nothing locally - within walking distance - where it's worth shopping. Pretty much everything involves a car trip - hence the ease of making that trip once a week to the supermarket, where there *is* a deli counter and so on.

                                                    Whether I would shop daily, even if I could, is another matter. I'm retired, so I don't really have too much spare time, to do that.

                                                    1. re: Harters

                                                      Envy, huh? Most of my neighbors (and family) think I'm nuts.

                                                      1. re: MGZ

                                                        Envious of your access to suitable shops.

                                                        1. re: Harters

                                                          True, they are the "silver lining" to the dark clouds of overpopulation.

                                                          1. re: MGZ

                                                            Only if you're fortunate. My metro area is some 3 million but few small neighbourhoods have decent independent shops.

                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                              I realize that I am risking significant digressing from the base topic, but I admit that I am unable to supress my fascination with the phenomenon you allude to, Harters. Given your comments here and upstream concerning the changes in shopping patterns, am I correct to assume that you are in a minority that laments the changes? I can't help but note the irony in the "Americanization" of your community while in much of America the glorification of European food culture has begun to lead in the opposite direction.

                                                  2. I was speaking to a good friend the other day. She said that shopping and eating local and healthy has become a full time job and she is exhausted. She and her family live just out of town. The farmer's market is about 1/2 hour drive for her. The farms to get local meat and raw milk are way out in the country in a different direction. She says she spend probably 5 hours a week in the car just driving between these locations. Then she tries to grow her own veggies as much as possible, and she says she must attend the garden daily in order to get the best of her produce.

                                                    I cannot imagine spending that much time in a car just to get "local" foods. After work I go to the gym and then go home and make dinner. After dinner is when we may or may not have time to shop. Only the major grocery stores are open at that time and often we're just too tired. So we usually hit the grocery store on a weekend day. One trip, not driving to 5 different locations. I will go to a nearby produce stand that same day to supplement the grocery purchases.

                                                    If we realize while preparing dinner that we need something, we may or may not run out after we eat. Most often it's more wine or beer for the evening and a couple of little things.

                                                    1. Last month I either went to the grocery stores or out for "to go" items 23 times! The stores are
                                                      1/2 a mile away. The "to go" chains are in competition and offer buy one, get one coupons. I spent less when we lived 10 miles from the grocery store and I only shopped once every three weeks. In the heat of summer it is nice to get the food "to go". With lettuce approaching $4.00 per bag it is ridiculous and now that the drought is affecting corn and the rust disease in wheat, we will be paying even more. We try to eat only once per day.

                                                      1. We are a household of two, who enjoy both cooking and eating out. We have adult children and other family, who may arrive "just in time for dinner" on any given day. I shop 3 or 4 times a week for fresh items (DH doesn't like frozen meat... what's with THAT?) and two or three times a month for pantry items and wine.
                                                        When I am trying to focus on uber-local food sourcing, I probably shop every 2nd day... just because I don't feel I have time to visit all the farms & butchers in one or two days.

                                                        1. We are a family of two adults and a child. I do all the meal planning, cooking and shopping.

                                                          We have a big upright freezer in the basement and buy our beef and pork by the half and whole chickens, all locally from farmers who are friends of friends.

                                                          I am at the grocery store almost daily. I live and work within a few blocks of a nice grocery store. Sometimes I meal plan for the week, sometimes I am thinking about dinner as I drive towards the store.

                                                          I can't keep fresh produce stocked in our fridge, it seems to get funky on me after two or three days so any meals that require fresh produce, I will definately shop on the way home from work.