My Ultimate Guide to Reducing Food Shopping and Waste

On the instagram account for this site I spent some time during the quarantine lockdown in South Carolina giving various shopping tips and tricks. Let’s be real, times are hard.

I’ve been contemplating doing this post for about 3 years now. At first it was going to be more about ingredients to have at all times to be able to cook within The Fancy Redneck. I’m still going to include that, but also guides on what items to shop for, how to use all parts of various ingredients, keeping inventory of your pantry, and more. So without further ado let’s get started.

Step 1: Build a Pantry

In all honesty this is going to be the hardest part. There are certain items that every home cook should have on hand at almost all times. These are the things that will still allow you to have and make complete meals when it seems like there’s nothing to eat.

Now I say this is the hardest because if you do not have this step done yet it’s going to create some initial financial heat. If you do not have a large percent of this here’s my advise to reduce financial stress while building your essentials: Plan to cook a fish that uses a few of them anyway to bring in parts of this list at a time, making sure to prioritize what you need.

The reasoning on why you want this core pantry developed is because when you have it just right the only things you ever need to shop for are meats and produce, with sporadic restocking of a pantry ingredient here and there. So below is a comprehensive list of my must have pantry items that not only help me navigate The Fancy Redneck style of cooking, but most cookbooks I pick up as well.

Spices:

  • Salt and pepper (duh)
  • Sugar
  • Garlic powder
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne
  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • Dried thyme
  • Dried oregano
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Togarashi (for Japanese heavy cooks)

Saucy Things

  • Soy sauce
  • Cooking oil-avocado is my go to, but always go for the bigger bottles
  • Something spicy-tobasco, sriracha, sambal, cholua, etc
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Canned tomatoes- go for whole San Marizanos when you can. Crushed also makes a good sauce
  • Honey/agave
  • Condiments of choice-ketchup, mustard, mayo, etc. Dijon is a must.
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Stocks and broths
  • White wine- get cooking wine if you aren’t going to drink it. It’s super cheap
  • Sherry-see above
  • Tinned anchovies
  • Canned tuna

For the Freezer

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or any chicken part really.
  • Bulk shrimp
  • Bacon
  • Frozen fruit if you’re into smoothies
  • Frozen veggies that are out of season, or for emergency preparation
  • Frozen herbs
  • Bread- It actually stores best in the freezer. Slices thaw super quickly and you can take it as you need it

Dairy

  • If you use a lot of a certain type of cheese go ahead and keep a few blocks on deck. For me it’s mainly parmesan
  • Unsalted butter

Baking

  • All-Purpose Flour
  • Eggs
  • Baking Powder
  • Baking Soda
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Cocoa Powder

Grains:

  • Pasta-both long and short varieties
  • Rice-brown, a longer grain like jasmine, and a shorter one like arborio
  • Quinoa or farro

Not Every Dish Has to Be an Event

When I first started cooking I was so desperate to show off every skill I knew in every single meal. Everything had to be fancy and have all these bits and bobs. At the time I was working part-time, so devoting time was no issue. And despite making less money I didn’t have my car payment and lived with my ex-boyfriend and we split the bills, so even though I made FAR less it was more feasible financially because I had fewer bills.

One of the biggest duh pieces of advise that took me forever to learn was that the best move for both my wallet and waistline was to heavily rely on 5 ingredient or fewer meals, and having one or two days a week where I get extra with it.

Sometimes a grilled chicken breast with some greens and light sauce or oil and vinegar is fine. There’s nothing wrong with roasting a few filling veggies and eating them with quinoa. Just spice them up and she’s a star. This type of minimalism makes things so much easier in every way. You’re minimizing time and money spent on the meal.

Before Planning Your Meals Take Inventory

It may seem obvious, but go over what all you have before you go shopping. I don’t know how many times I’ve double bought ingredients because I didn’t take this step. You also want to make sure that from week to week you’re building your meal plan off of ingredients you already have hanging out so that you aren’t buying more. Make yesterday’s leftovers today’s money saver.

Create Flow in Your Meal Plans

Something you want to avoid is having multiple meals in your itinerary that you have to buy several ingredients for. What I like to do is if I’m bringing in ingredients I don’t use often is find other recipes that use it as a common thread. This way you aren’t using it for a dish then disposing of it. Most ingredients are packaged for multiple uses now, so make sure you use it multiple times. You might even have a new friend in your core pantry.

For example I recently started making mappo tofu. The recipe I use recommends fermented black bean paste. It comes in a pretty large jar and you only need to use a little in a dish. I was determined to make the mappo so I bought it. And I make the mappo with some frequency, but I also use the paste to make black bean sauce to go with chicken or shrimp and veggies. Don’t spend money on a food item you’ll only use once.

Plan for Lazy Days

We’ve all done it, buying lots of fresh healthy stuff that takes work to cook, but when the time comes you just don’t feel like it. But all you have is stuff that requires too much work, so instead you get takeout.

Definitely aim to make your menu as fresh and homemade as possible, but be realistic. Always try and have things to make a no effort dish that you’ll enjoy eating no matter your mood. For me that’s pasta aglio e olio or a hot ham and cheese. Even if you’re breaking some form of a diet it sure beats spending the money on takeout to break it.

Don’t Be Afraid of Store Brand!

This probably explains itself. While making sure you buy quality raw ingredients is super important, you can ease up the reigns on a lot. No one will take your cook card if you buy Walmart brand soy sauce over Kikkoman. It ain’t that serious.

Shop Bulk When You Can

There is so much to be said for buying in bulk. Not every ingredient can or should be, but if there are things you find yourself using and buying a lot of, hunt for bulk options. It’ll create such a huge value for you when you’re not buying it every week.

Maximize Leftover Parts

Things that look like waste don’t always have to be. Grated your parmesan down to the rind? Put the leftover rind into a tomato sauce or veggie soup for a big flavor bump. Got some carrot tops hanging out? Make a pesto! One of my personal favorites is using bones or shells if you’re using shellfish to make a fresh stock out of. Also consider using grease from bacon you cook as a base for sauces or dressings.

A lot of raw ingredients consist of multiple parts to use or can even be used twice. Get creative

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