Smart grocery shopping

Simple and practical tips on how to improve the way you do your grocery shopping, getting the most out of it and spending less money by the end of the month.

Grocery shopping is often expensive, however with a little effort, one can actually have the best products while keeping costs under control. Organization is the key, as with many areas we might like to improve upon, but somehow that can be quite difficult to apply on a daily basis.

The Fridge

Why is your fridge the top tool to organize yourself? Well, the fridge door is the one we open the most, right? That means it is the best place to attach any important piece of information. Three very important things to attach to your fridge: The “Groceries Quick Reference Guide”, the “Cooking Favourites Mind Map” and the “Weekly Menu Plan”.

1. Groceries Quick Reference Guide

You can easily find online spreadsheets with a standard list of groceries per category. Just download one and take a few minutes to adapt it to your usual list of items. It really helps. You can find my own inventory spreadsheet here: Grocery Shopping List.

For a truly smart grocery management, you should actually keep track of all of your items at least once per week (fridge, freezer, pantry and the rest of the house). This would be the perfect solution…for a perfect person. But I’m not that person, so here’s the way I do it: I just use this inventory sheet to make my shopping list, it is my quick reference guide.

With a two-steps shopping list, the key is to check the house to see which items are missing or almost finished, then compare it to your weekly menu plan and add the remaining items.

I’m totally in favour of weekly shopping for fresh products, so an average of four trips to the supermarket. I’ve tried with monthly shopping, but since I became a mum, if I don’t keep track of things I’ll forget something, that’s for sure!

2. Cooking favourites

smartshoppingMind map your favourite family comfort food. It may seem like a crazy idea, but believe me, it’s a very effective way to get all your meal plans done in a matter of a few minutes. I’ve used mind map philosophy for ages, and for pretty much everything (work and leisure), since it enables me to easily capture an idea and make it effective.

Here’s a 30 minutes exercise that will enable you to draw your “Cooking Favourites Mind Map”. Tools needed: A piece of paper, a pencil and a good mood! Results expected: Two mind map drawings with your family meal favourites.


Step 1 – Take 5 minutes to write down a list of comfort food your family enjoys. Just list the ones that quickly come to mind.

Step 2 – Group your choices by categories: Meat, fish, pasta – add others if needed, but always keep it very simple. This task should take you no more than 2 minutes.

Step 3 – Verify how many ideas you have in each category. You now have 8 additional minutes to complete your list in order to get a minimum of 5 items per category.

Here are some of my choices: spaghetti bolognese, portuguese cod fish, meatloaf, fish sticks, pizza and tagliatelle carbonara.

Now, on the other side of your piece of paper, write down some popular grocery items of your choice which are usually on promotion at your supermarket (minced meat, chicken breasts, cod fish, pastry, tomato sauce, rice, canned tuna…). Circle each item and link them with at least 2 dishes that easily come to mind. This shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.

3. Weekly meal plan

This is a very important piece of the puzzle. It is much easier to do than it may seem at first, and it will make the difference.

You can either use a piece of paper or an app on your iPad or iPhone (MealPlan and MealBoard are great examples). Personally, I use a customized plastified cardboard like this one. Weekly Planner It’s easy to write and erase using a dry-eraser.

Shopping rules

  • Bring shopping bags (reusable bags), special bags for the fresh/frozen items, a jetton (or €0,50 coin) and your shopping list.
  • Choose one or two supermarkets and stick to your choice. This way you will gradually learn about the usual promotions.
  • Buy in bulk (gros volumes). Every three months or so you can find very good deals to buy in bulk. I get milk, canned food, bottled water, juices, diapers, wipes and much more in this way.
  • Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry. This is one of those so obvious rules that we forget all the time, right?
  • Try to avoid rush hours. If you are in a crowded supermarket, you will naturally tend to speed up your shopping, ending up with some wrong buying decisions.

There are other tips and tricks to save time and money when grocery shopping and to help you plan your meals. Please let us know if you want more!

Text and illustration by Rute Vendeirinho, October 2013

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