A friend sent me a really great series of questions in email about my shopping and meal planning strategies, so I thought I’d share my answers as they might prove interesting to others.
1) How frequently do you go to the grocery store to replenish your supply of veggies/fruits?
About every 3 or 4 days. I have a produce market close to home that I shop at almost exclusively. I have to be careful if I’m going to large Safeway-style grocery stores. Those types of supermarkets sell few things I need for my eating habits, and a lot of stuff that can get me way off-track. I try to only shop specific sections when I go there – produce, dairy, meat, freezer.
2) What strategies do you use to avoid impulse buying?
I don’t shop hungry. Shopping at a produce market cuts down on temptations because all they sell is produce. Impulse buying there is generally ok, sometimes I try a new veggie or fruit on a whim and end up adding it to my regular menu. Having a list is good, so I know what I’m after and don’t have to wander aimlessly, which would put me in contact with things that might be tempting that I shouldn’t buy.
3) What strategies or items do you use to help preserve the freshness of your fruits and veggies?
I buy frequently, and only buy what I’ll need until the next shopping trip. Another thing that I’ve become a huge fan of is frozen fruits and veggies. They don’t go bad while they’re waiting to be eaten, and are frozen at the peak of ripeness, so in many cases they’re going to be tastier and fresher than “fresh” produce that’s grown in Chile or New Zealand, picked before it’s ripe and put on a boat for 4-6 weeks before it gets to my store.
4) Organic, conventionally grown, or a combo of both?
I buy organic whenever it’s available. If it’s not available for something I want (or the organic option looks old or wilted) I will take whatever is available as long as it’s not grown thousands of miles away. My order of preference checklist goes: First – can I get it organic? If not organic, is it locally grown? If not, is it grown nearby? If no, is it grown in this hemisphere? If no, don’t buy. Because produce grown in the Southern hemisphere inevitably tastes like cardboard mush. I want the produce I eat to be in season here and organic, best case scenario. Local and non-organic is still better than something picked too ripe and shipped on a boat.
5) What tools or strategies do you use to control portion sizes?
When I’m eating fruits or veggies I don’t need to bother with portion sizes because I pretty much can eat all of those that I want. For lunches, I like pre-made entrees because they’re already portion-controlled. For dinner I try to keep my meat portions to 4-5 ounces, plus all the veggies I want. For eating in restaurants…I try not to eat in restaurants more than once or twice a week. Restaurant portions are out of control, and the fact is that the more I am presented with the more I will eat. I know that some people who are managing their weight like to ask for a to-go box WITH their meal and just divide it in half when they get it. I’ve never done that but I can definitely see the appeal! I frequently order a side-dish as my main meal which ensures a smaller portion, or a large salad. Salads can be tricky though because they’ll sneak all sorts of high-calorie stuff in like cheese and nuts and bacon, so I have to keep an eye out for that.
6) How far in advance do you plan meals?
I have a general idea when I’m shopping of which meals certain items are meant for. Like, I’ll buy salad fixings, which takes care of lunch for one or two days, then I’ll grab 4 yams, which is good accompaniment for 2 meals for me and my husband. Green veggies like asparagus or chard are accompaniment for one dinner, etc. I usually have in mind how much of each fruit or veggie I need based on the rate at which I consume them when I buy. So yes, I do tend to plan to make certain things with different types of produce as I’m buying them. Over the years I’ve gotten much better at buying the right amount so I don’t have to throw much away anymore. Trial and error – it takes some time.