10 Shopping Tips for Families

Tips for stocking a healthy pantry that keep supermarket trips — and grocery bills — to a minimum.
10 Shopping Tips for Families

With a family, it can be a neverending challenge to keep the fridge full without emptying your wallet. Fortunately, we've devised these 10 great tactics for stress-free shopping.

1. Plan ahead
Use a calendar or your PointsPlus Tracker (available to subscribers only) to plan family menus in advance. Note which days you have 20 minutes to get dinner on the table and which days allow for a little more time. Devising a system will allow you to schedule more balanced meals because you can see at a glance how often you're serving vegetables vs. potatoes, beef vs. fish, or convenience foods vs. home cooking.

2. Cook from recipes
Consider them your planning guides. Everything's there in a ready-made list: oregano, olive oil, bread crumbs, canned tomatoes. What's more, making a shopping list directly from a recipe means you'll have no last-minute "oops-we're-out-of-something" emergencies, and no time-wasting trips to the store when you'd rather be eating dinner.

3. Shop while the kids are busy
Shopping is faster if you go alone. Plan grocery store forays when the kids are in school or at music lessons, or have your spouse mind them while you shop.

4. Shop on a full stomach
If you shop when you're hungry, you're subject to spur-of-the-moment cravings and impulse buys. To manage the lifestyle you want, shop after lunch or dinner.

5. Savings are under your nose
Most stores stock expensive brands at eye level; look on the highest and lowest shelves for lower-cost generics and in-store specials. Also, give yourself a moment to peruse the in-store flyer with its unadvertised specials.

6. Use coupons judiciously
Be honest with yourself and cut only the coupons you need. Saving 50 cents on jelly isn't any good if you weren't going to buy jelly in the first place. And save those coupons for when they really count; for your store's double or triple coupon days.

7. Buying in bulk doesn't mean automatic savings
Dry goods and some convenience products are good bets for bulk-buying: Paper products, cleaning products, flour, sugar, vinegars, peanut butter and grains. Never buy oils (which go rancid), spices (which lose flavor) or perishables in bulk. A 10-pound box of apricots won't have saved you anything when you throw half of it away.

8. Produce: Fresh vs. frozen
Some fruits and vegetables are fine frozen; others don't translate well. Here's a guide for each:

Buy Fresh Consider Buying Frozen
Cucumbers Beans/peas
Ears of corn Bell pepper strips
Greens Broccoli
Lettuce Carrots
Radishes Cauliflower
Zucchini/summer squash Chopped onions
Apples/pears Corn kernels
Bananas Winter squash puree
Citrus Berries
Pineapple Peaches/apricots

9. Buy meat and fish once a month
Take advantage of discounts on meat and fish, and freeze ahead for the month. Wrap the pieces individually and tightly in plastic wrap, then bundle them in batches by meal in freezer bags or aluminum foil. Label each with the contents and date. For safety's sake, always thaw these in the refrigerator, never on the counter.

10. Keep a cooler in your car
On a hot day, just getting your food home from the store can considerably reduce its shelf-life. A cooler in the trunk will help keep your dairy products cold, your meat and fish fresh, and your ice cream frozen.
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