Customisable SHOPPING LIST to help you save money, reduce waste, follow the seasons, and eat a balanced diet

(Approx. reading time 6 mins 13 secs)

Facing a massive store full of food can be daunting. Or you might have to deal with the opposite: a limited selection of ingredients. I both situations you might end up spending more than you planned for or you might end up not buying everything you needed. And in most cases, you will spend more than you wanted and also forget things.

You need to go shopping with a game plan in place. You don’t necessarily need an extremely detailed shopping list or even a meal plan, but you do need to have some idea of what you’re going to get.

At some point I will have printables available for this, right now they’re a ‘work in progress’.

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Before you do anything

We all want to save money and reduce waste, and this is the goal of this list. If you use it consistently, you will be able to prioritise ingredients you already own instead of always buying new ones.

First of all, go will through your whole kitchen. Really check, don’t just go by memory. And go through the list writing down those things that you already have. You can use an actual piece of paper or your phone, whatever works.

If you have fresh jalapenos, sriracha, tabasco, and chili flakes you don’t really need to buy chili powder. You can buy it if you really want to, of course. But, you don’t need it. And if you’re trying to save money and limit waste, it would be better if you didn’t and just used what you already have.

Once you know what you have, you can complete the list with things that will fill in the gaps. You don’t need to be extremely detailed if you don’t want to, all that you need is to have an idea of what you need. I explain how to do this in more detail below.

It’s important to know what you already have and what you’re missing so that you can actually prepare food. While it’s great to have tons of vegetables, you won’t be able to do much with them if you have no herbs or spices for example. You’ll get bored of plain veggies and quickly reach for the phone to get a takeaway.

Creating your shopping list

The list is meant to be for one or two weeks, it could be used for longer, but chances are you will get bored by the limited amount of ingredients. You’ll also want to keep the filled-in list as reference throughout the week to help you remember what ingredients you have. And remember to cross them out when you use them up.

First, start with the basic ingredients. A few days ago I wrote a post explaining what those ingredients are with full explanations. If you’re on a budget, make sure you buy these first. They are the building stone of cooking.

Then, move on to the rest of the ingredients on this list. Go through your kitchen: fridge, freezer, pantry, hidden areas… everything. And plug each ingredient to where it goes on the list.

Once you have completed as much as possible you have two options:

  • Fill in the remaining ingredients with things you want to buy. This is your shopping list.
  • Leave them open and check for deals and offers while at the store. After you grabbed something, write it down and do a tick or a cross to show that you have it.

I usually got for option 2. It allows me to make the most of my money, get what’s in season, and take advantage of any deals.

Keep the list somewhere you can see it. The fridge is a good idea. When you don’t know what to cook, look at it for inspiration. A good trick is to choose one vegetable, one protein and one starch and add whatever flavours you feel like having that day. You will end up with a balanced and tasty meal. If you’re completely lost.

Once an ingredient is finished, cross it out. When the week is finished, start again with a new list, and remember to add whatever leftover ingredients you have to your next list!

Other times when you can use the list

Even though I came up with it as a way to control my spending and limit waste, it has proven a great tool when I want to clean up the kitchen and use whatever I already have. In fact, I usually end up having to do a kitchen ‘spring clean’ whenever I stop using the list!

It’s also a great tool if you want to try a new cuisine but are not sure how or where to start. Most of the main ingredients will probably stay the same, with some of the flavour ones changing. The same carrots, chicken, and potatoes can go round the world and make completely different meals just by switching mixed French herbs for a Mexican chilli sauce or for an Indian garam masala blend.

Gatherings and celebrations are good time to make use of this list too. It’s not uncommon to overbuy some ingredients and completely forget about others. Using this list could help make a tasty meal, even if some things are missing.

The list explained

It took a while but we got here! This list is divided into main ingredient, flavour ingredients, and textural ingredients. It sounds confusing, but it’s easier than it seems. Promise.

Main ingredients

The main ingredients are the stars of the show. Without these you basically can’t cook. Much like basic ingredients, the main ingredients might not sound extremely exciting but they are important. The fun stuff comes later.

Fruits

Get 2 to 4 varieties. Fresh, frozen, canned, or dried.

You can use fruit:

  • For snacking
  • For pudding (dessert)
  • In salads
  • Added to some savoury dishes (curries, tagines…)
  • As cereal or porridge toppings
  • For baking

Vegetables

Get 4 to 8 varieties, with at least 1 a leafy green. Fresh, frozen, or canned.

You can use vegetables:

  • For snacking: tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, celery, radishes, sweet peppers… all make great snacks
  • For salads
  • For stir-fries
  • To bulk-up sauces
  • In soups
  • To bulk-up grains

Proteins

Get 2 to 4 varieties, with at least one vegetarian and one fish (or another vegetarian if you don’t eat fish). Fresh, frozen, canned, or dried.

Keep in mind:

  • Vegan options include beans, lentils, seitan, tofu, and tempeh.
  • Vegetarian options include eggs, and high-protein dairy.
  • You should limit processed proteins (vegan, vegetarian, or omni)
  • 2 to 4 varieties can sound limited, but once they are combined with the other ingredients, you will be able to create a large number of dishes.

Starches

Get 2 to 4 varieties, with at least one vegetable and one whole grain.

Keep in mind:

  • Vegetable options include potatoes, corn, sweet potato, winter squash, plantain, parsnips, cassava, and yam
  • You should limit processed starches
  • I don’t count breakfast starches (bread, oats, cereal…) or snacks (crackers, rice cakes…) within this group, but you might want to. My breakfast and snack ingredients are a small separate list.

Flavour ingredients

Flavour ingredients bring fun to the kitchen. They add variety and interest to meals. You can stick to one country or area, or mix them up for some interesting fusion meals.

Many ingredients could go into several of the sections (especially the umami and salty ones), just divide them around however it suits you best! It’s all about flexibility and using what you’ve got.

I didn’t include any sweet ingredients here, because they are part of my basic ingredient list.

Herbs and spices

Get 2 to 4 varieties. Fresh, frozen, or dried.

Keep in mind:

  • They add interesting flavours to food.
  • Growing herbs is easy, cheap, and uses little space.
  • Get single herbs and spices instead of mixes for more flexibility.
  • For your favourite ones you can buy them in bulk from ethnic stores or online for about 1/5 of their supermarket price.

Acid

Get 1 or 2 varieties.

Keep in mind:

  • Acids help lift up and freshen flavours. If a food tastes good but it’s missing something, add acid!
  • Acids are usually best used right before serving, if you use them at the begging of cooking they will often lose their freshness and tang.
  • Some options include: citrus fruits or juices, vinegars, pickles, tomatoes, wine, sour cream…

Heat

Get 1 or 2 varieties.

Keep in mind:

  • They add punch to meals.
  • Don’t skip this section just because you don’t like spicy food, instead go for milder options.
  • Some options include: black pepper, chilli, hot sauces, pepper sauces, garlic, ginger…

Umami

Get 1 or 2 varieties.

Keep in mind:

  • Umami ingredients add savouriness and that hard-to-describe moreish quality to foods.
  • Some options include: tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon (and most processed meats), soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, MSG, cheese (especially hard cheese), dried meats and fish, ketchup, BBQ sauce, beef and chicken stock, miso paste, seaweed, anchovies, marmite…

Salty

Get 1 or 2 varieties (beyond salt).

Keep in mind:

  • Salty ingredients add saltiness to meals and help bring out flavours, the same way salt does.
  • Some options include: ‘fancy’ flavoured salts, anchovies, soy sauce, salt-dried fish (like cod), some cheese (feta, parmesan…), some deli meats (bacon, parma ham…), fish sauce, miso, capers, olives, some spreads and sauces, salted butter, salted nuts and seeds, brines…

Textural ingredients

Textural ingredients add a new dimension to cooking that goes beyond just flavours. You won’t use them all the time, but keep them in mind as a way to improve and round-up dishes.

Many times the texture is also affected by the method of cooking.

Creamy

Get 1 or 2 varieties.

Keep in mind:

  • Creamy ingredients add a rich mouthfeel to foods.
  • Some options include: cream, mayonnaise, coconut milk or cream, smooth nut or seed butters, soft and cream cheese, avocado, butter, melted cheese, yogurt…

Crunchy

Get 1 or 2 varieties.

  • Crunchy ingredients add a crispy texture to foods.
  • Some options include: croutons, nuts, seeds, crunchy nut and seed butters, breadcrumbs, fried batters, some raw fruits and vegetables, crackling…

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