For most, trips to the grocery store are now far less frequent, require flexibility, what with items running low on stock, and take a little more smart planning than before. We spoke to food bloggers Susan @cookwithsusan, Lirong @lirongs, and Charlotte @thecharlottemei, to get their tips on grocery shopping more efficiently. A large part of being more efficient is to plan your groceries and your meals ahead of time. This small change alone will help you and your family save on time and money.
Pick one or more of these grocery shopping hacks to adapt and you’ll easily get the most out of your meal planning. And just in case you needed some help along the way, they’ve also shared their favourite time-saving and minimal recipes below.
Lirong, food and lifestyle blogger, suggests, “Plan your weekly menu so that you know what groceries you would need to get. That way, you won’t buy the unnecessary and accidentally stock up on too much green vegetables which really won’t last very long in the fridge. Also, though it takes time to compare prices among competitors, you can do your browse-through over the different stores and save some money from there!”
Figure out what works best for you and your family. If you’re buying heavier items, canned foods, or specialty items, you can always get them through online stores. For fruits, produce, or your protein of choice, add those to the list for your weekly grocery trips. By planning ahead, you can maximise the efficiency of your trips and meals for the week.
Charlotte, nutritionist and self-taught cook, recommends frequenting your neighbourhood wet market. They offer a wide range of fresh meats and vegetables at affordable prices and you can easily buy the best produce that’s in season. When a fruit or vegetable is in season, it often means that it is produced at an abundance so it’s generally available at a lower price.
Susan, a food blogger specialising in simplified Nyonya and international recipes, agrees with that sentiment and shares, “Always, always buy in-season produce and get creative with meat off-cuts, which can sometimes be the healthier option! Another thing you can consider is buying in bulk from wholesalers, that way you can pack your protein into smaller daily portions. I also like to buy from TreeDots, they are a homegrown social enterprise that works to reduce potential food loss in Singapore by redistributing surplus produce from suppliers.”
Having a list of recipes on hand means you can refer to them whenever you’re short on time. For Lirong, “My go-tos are stir fry noodles, rice cooker rice, rice cooker porridge, and stews. As a mom of two, I don’t like to overcook and I try to plan ahead of time and cook just enough so that the leftovers don’t go to waste. Keep in mind that you don’t always need to have meat or fish for your family meals, eggs, beans, and tofu are great proteins that can easily make for hearty substitutes in a pinch.” If you want to save more time and money when it comes to grocery shopping and cooking, approach it with a flexible perspective. That way, you’re always working with what’s readily available.
Whereas, Susan shares, “Stews! Definitely Stews! Be it Chinese, Korean, or Western, stews work every time and for every occasion. What I love most is that any leftover stew can be reinvented, reconstructed, and reimagined into countless other dishes for another time, day and occasion. One of my favourite stew is braised soy sauce meat (chicken or pork). When your family is done with their servings, you can easily use the components of the dish for other dishes. The sauce can be used for Lor Mee, just thicken it with cornflour or tapioca starch and a beaten egg. The leftover meat can be served with buns and pickled carrot or daikon for a snack or light meal. You could also use the gravy and any meat on hand to stir-fry noodles, or for wanton mee (just add the toppings separately). Or, add some shaoxing wine to the meat and gravy to make the Taiwanese Lu Rou Fan.”
If you’re in need of something no-frills and can easily be whipped up together, there’s a wide array of nutritious recipes that use five ingredients or less. Susan shares that you can easily create Zi Char dishes at home, like hot plate tofu. You just need tofu, minced meat (or seafood, whichever you have), doubanjiang, garlic, and egg. As a bonus, you can add any vegetable of your choice to top it off. Another recipe that uses minimal ingredients is chicken braised in soy sauce, you just need chicken, ginger, garlic, dark soy sauce, and a mix of cinnamon or star anise. Leave it to simmer and call it a day when the timer goes off.
Lirong’s go-to five ingredients or less recipe is some kind of stir fry with noodles or rice. The latest of her choosing is a tuna quinoa stir fry. You just need quinoa, your pick of vegetables that you have, canned tuna, olive oil, and oyster sauce. Lirong shares that “Even with little ingredients, I make sure it’s a balanced meal too.”
Charlotte recommends “Quesadillas! All you need are tortillas, cheese, if you want something vegetable-forward go with capsicum, tomatoes, and tinned beans and if you don’t mind adding meat in there, use some canned tuna. No need to stick to these fillings either, you can always consider other ingredients like sliced onion, eggs, canned corn…the options are endless!”
Every family’s staple differs. What may be essential to one, may not be the same for you. The best way to figure this out is to keep track of what ingredients are always first to run out in your pantry, what gets used the most and, more importantly, gets used in a variety of ways.
For Susan, “My essentials are cabbage, dark soy sauce, garlic, and ginger. Cabbage stores well and is very versatile. It can be used in curries, stir-fries, stews, kimchis, coleslaws, and the list goes on. Dark soy sauce is the mother of all sauces. Its deep flavour enhances many Asian cuisines, and if you get creative, as a browning sauce for Western cuisines too. It can be used in stews, gravies, fried noodles, to name a few. Garlic and ginger are packed with flavour and health benefits, and they form the foundation for most recipes.”
Whereas Lirong shares, “I love my Lilo Ikan Bilis powders. They are handy when I need to cook something flavourful and nutritional. I must have minced meat and eggs too. I think they are very versatile proteins that can be cooked in so many different ways. Flour’s another essential that can work for the savoury or sweet, I can bake cookies, cake, bread or even pizza with my eldest girl whenever I find pockets of time.”