Root veggies like onions, beets and carrots, and hearty greens like kale, cabbage and chard have the longest shelf life – or, shall we say, fridge life – of all produce department options. Keep potatoes, onions and garlic in a cool, dark place to prevent sprouting, and wrap celery and scallions in aluminum foil to keep them crisp for weeks. Pre-washed salad mixes can save you lots of prep time, but they can also be much pricier than a head of lettuce.
Shopping Tip We Love: Need pre-chopped or smaller quantities of vegetables than what’s available? Though many stores offer pre-cut vegetables in the produce section, the salad bar is a treasure trove of ready-to-go produce, especially lettuce. If you’re one of those people who end up pitching more lettuce than you consume, just buy what you need from the salad bar for single-serving meals.
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How to Shop for Meat
The freezer is your friend when it comes to the butcher counter. Look for what’s on sale that week — chicken breasts or thighs, value beef cuts like short ribs, ground beef or turkey, chuck for stews, or flank and hanger steaks that are just as succulent as ribeyes — and buy extra for future meals. You can ask the butcher to cut large pieces of meat into single serving portions or DIY when you get home. Wrap each portion in waxed paper, then in foil, making sure to label clearly the type of meat and the date of purchase. Meat will keep for three months in the freezer.
Kitchen Tip We Love: Defrost frozen protein by placing the wrapped meat on a plate (to hold any liquid that may seep out as it leaks) in your refrigerator 24 hours before you plan to cook it. Don’t leave the meat on the counter to defrost at room temperature; temperatures above 40 degrees are an open invitation for bacteria.
Look for sell-by dates on all milk, cream, and eggs before you place them in your cart; the FDA ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie with those numbers, as anyone who’s dumped an almost-full but very stinky gallon of milk down the drain will tell you! Think beyond breakfast when buying eggs – omelets and frittatas are quick and inexpensive dinners. (And a great way to use up random vegetables and other ingredients in your fridge.) Large eggs are the baking standard, so if you’re planning a cupcake binge, reach for that dozen.
Kitchen Tip We Love: Don’t despair if you’ve got old eggs in your fridge: fresh eggs are best for omelets and whipping into fluffy whites, but older eggs peel more easily for hard boiled and deviled eggs.
Like the good folks behind the butcher counter, your friendly neighborhood fishmonger can point you in the right direction when it comes to the freshest and tastiest seafood in the case. Look for sales on typically pricey pieces like fresh tuna and swordfish to stock up for the freezer, and pick easy-to-cook, mild fish like tilapia and wild salmon for weeknight meals. Don’t’ be afraid to ask the fishmongers to pre- portion any fillets for you — they’ve got the sharp knives and are happy to help.
Shopping/Kitchen Tip We Love: Most of the shrimp you see at the seafood counter has been flash-frozen as soon as it’s caught, then thawed behind the scenes before it hits the display case. Unless you’re serving shrimp that evening, you’ll get the same quality product without the threat of spoilage by buying frozen shrimp and thawing it as you need it. It’s often cheaper, too!
For the best flavor, always choose frozen vegetables over canned. They’re flash-frozen at their seasonal peak so you’ll always get prime taste, even if a defrosted broccoli floret will never be as crisp as a fresh stalk. Frozen vegetables are a weeknight lifesaver, thawing almost instantly when tossed into pasta sauces, vegetable and chicken broths and stir-fries.
The freezer section is also a surprisingly good source for frozen breads and doughs that thaw quickly on the counter or in the oven. From pre-baked breads and simple pound cakes to pizza dough and readymade pie crusts, it’s a smart move to stockpile baked goods for a last-minute dinner (or pizza) party.
Kitchen Tip We Love: Keep bags of peas, corn, broccoli, snap peas and spinach on hand for a mix-and-match pasta primavera or quick side dish. Once opened, store vegetables in a large zip-top bag to prevent freezer burn.
Dry beans take hours to prep, so stock up on a variety of canned beans – chickpeas, cannellini, kidney and black beans – to use as the base of simple chilis, soups and stews, or as a filler for burritos and tacos. Do the same for tomatoes, both whole-peeled and pureed. Heated with a few chopped cloves of garlic and a dash of olive oil and oregano, they become a quick pizza or pasta sauce even when fresh tomatoes aren’t in season. Add a can of drained chickpeas and a pot of cooked rice and you’ve got a simple vegetarian stew!
Shopping Tip We Love: Don’t forget a jar of Dijon mustard to add to the door of your fridge. Just a spoonful whisked with good vinegar and olive oil makes a vinaigrette so flavorful you can see the Italian guy making the “mwah!” sign with his hand and pursed lips as you taste it.
When sealed well in canisters like Mason jars, pastas and grains keep almost indefinitely in the pantry. Pick up a few different kinds of noodles in the pasta aisle – fettuccine, penne -- and a handful of grains in the bulk bins (your best value bet for brown rice, quinoa, couscous, and other whole grains). Mix and match your standby starches with veggies and proteins throughout the week for variety and flavor.
Boxed whole grain mixes include pre-measured servings of couscous, quinoa, wild rice and more, along with ready-to-add seasonings. If you’re just starting to introduce whole grains into your weekly meal plan, these boil-and-serve packages with easy instructions take the guesswork out of preparing a hearty side or vegetarian main dish.
Shopping Tip We Love: Don’t forget the nut aisle for another source of protein that’s freezable. Pre- sliced almonds and roasted cashews or pistachios can be kept in zip-top bags in your freezer and added to a stir-fry for a healthy crunch.
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How to Shop for Bread
Forget the bagged bread aisle (except for English muffins, which are truly magical creations) and head to the supermarket bakery counter for the freshest baked goods. Most bakery teams will pre-slice loaves for you, so sandwich breads and toast can be made from Italian semolina or 12-grain, depending on your taste preference.
Shopping Tip We Love: Bread freezes just as well as meat, so if you see a two-for-one sale on ciabatta at the bakery counter, grab it! Defrost whole loaves in the refrigerator or in a 325 oven for 15 minutes; frozen slices and pre-sliced bagels can be tossed right into the toaster for simple breakfasts.
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Trying to break the take-out cycle, but don't know where to begin when it comes to grocery shopping? Follow our simple guide and fill your shopping cart the right way. Pick and choose from each category below and you'll have a pantry stocked up for healthy homemade meals. Plus, see the 3 surprising things you always need in your pantry.