Magic shopping list to save money and stop waste (plus free printable)

Facing a massive store full of food can be daunting. You might end up spending way more than you planned or you might end up not buying everything you needed. And in most cases, you will spend more than you wanted and also forget things.

You need to go shopping with a game plan in place. You don’t necessarily need an extremely detailed shopping list or even a meal plan, but you do need to have some idea of what you’re going to get.

This is a very long post!

The first part describes how to use the printable to make the most of it, and the second part describes each part of the list in detail with examples and ideas. The ‘basic ingredients’ are explained here.

If you’re only after the printable, they are here:

Part 1: using the list

Before you head to the shops

We all want to save money and reduce waste, and this is the goal of this list. If you use it consistently, you will be able to prioritise ingredients you already own instead of always buying new ones.

First of all go through your whole kitchen. Really check, don’t just go by memory. And take stock of what you have. Then complete the list that things that will fill in the gaps. I explain how to do this in more detail below.

You need to know what you already have and what you’re missing that will actually help you prepare food. While it’s great to have tons of vegetables, you won’t be able to do much with them if you have no herbs or spices for example. You’ll get bored of plain veggies and quickly reach for the phone to get a takeaway.

Using the list

First of all, print the list. Or make a copy on your phone or on a piece of paper. The list is meant to be for one or two weeks, it could be used for longer, but chances are you will get bored by the limited amount of ingredients. If you prefer to buy for a month, print more.

You’ll want to keep the filled in list as reference throughout the week to help you remember what ingredients you have.

You can find the printable here:

Now go through your kitchen filling in each section. You will probably surprise yourself by how much you already have. Go through the pantry, the fridge, and the freezer. Don’t forget any areas.

Write the names of the ingredients on top of the descriptions (they are in light grey to allow you to write on top), and write a cross or a tick on the box. That means you already have it.

First, start with the basics. Last week I wrote a post explaining what those ingredients are with full explanations, with a printable for those (plus a few free spaces for snacks, drinks, or things like cleaning supplies). If you’re on a budget, make sure you buy these first.

Then, move on to the rest of the ingredients.

Once you have completed as much as possible you have two options. Fill in the remaining ingredients with things you want to buy. This is your shopping list. Or alternatively, leave them open and check for deals and offers while at the store. After you grabbed something, do a tick or a cross.

Keep the list somewhere you can see it. The fridge is a good idea. When you don’t know what to cook, look at it for inspiration. A good trick is to choose one vegetable, one protein and one starch and add whatever flavours you feel like having that day. You will end up with a balanced and tasty meal.

Once an ingredient is finished, cross it out. When the week is finished, start again with a new list.

Other times when you can use the list

Even though I came up with it as a way to control my spending and limit waste, it has proven a great tool when I want to do one of my kitchen spring cleaning exercises. In fact, I usually end up having to do a spring clean whenever I stop using the list!

It’s also a great tool if you want to try a new cuisine but are not sure how or where to start. Most of the main ingredients will probably stay the same, with some of the flavour ones changing. The same carrots, chicken and potatoes can go round the world and make completely different meals just by switching mixed French herbs, for a Mexican chilli sauce or for an Indian garam masala blend.

Part 2: the list explained

Main ingredients

The main ingredients are the stars of the show. Without these you basically can’t cook.

Fruit: 2 to 4 varieties. Fresh, frozen, canned or dried.

  • For snacking
  • Instead of pudding
  • In salads
  • Added to some savoury dishes (curries, tagines…)
  • As cereal or porridge toppings
  • For baking

Vegetables: 4 to 8 varieties, at least 1 a leafy green (the darker the better). Fresh, frozen or canned.

  • For snacking: tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, celery, radishes, sweet peppers… all make great snacks
  • For salads
  • For stir-fries
  • To bulk up sauces
  • In soups
  • To bulk up grains

Proteins: 2 to 4 varieties, at least one vegetarian and one fish (or another vegetarian if you don’t eat fish). Fresh, frozen, canned or dried.

  • Vegetarian options include: beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, eggs, high-protein dairy
  • Limit processed proteins

Starches: 2 to 4 varieties, at least one vegetable and one whole grain.

  • Vegetable options include potatoes, corn, sweet potato, winter squash, plantain, parsnips, cassava, and yam
  • Limit processed starches
  • I personally don’t count breakfast starches (bread, oats, cereal) within this group, but you might want to

Flavour ingredients

Flavour ingredients bring fun to the kitchen. They add variety and interest to meals. You can stick to one country or area, or mix them up.

Herbs and spices: 2 to 4 varieties. Fresh or dried.

  • They add interesting flavours to food
  • Growing herbs is easy, cheap and uses little space
  • Get single herbs and spices for more flexibility, instead of mixes
  • For favourite ones, buy in bulk from ethnic stores for about 1/5 of the price

Acid: 1 or 2 varieties.

  • They help lift up and freshen flavours
  • Usually used right before serving
  • Some options include: citrus fruits or juices, vinegars, pickles

Heat: 1 or 2 varieties.

  • They add punch to meals
  • Don’t skip just because you don’t like spicy food, instead go for milder options
  • Some options include: black pepper, chilli, hot sauces, pepper sauces, garlic, ginger

Umami: 1 or 2 varieties.

  • They add savouriness and that hard-to-describe moreish quality to foods
  • Some options include: tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon (and most processed meats), soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, MSG (can be bought in some ethnic stores), cheese (especially hard cheese), dried meats and fish, ketchup, BBQ sauce, beef and chicken stock, miso paste, seaweed, anchovies, marmite, and many many more!

Textural ingredients

Textural ingredients add a new dimension to cooking. You won’t use them always, but keep them in mind as a way to improve dishes.

Creamy: 1 or 2 varieties.

  • They add a rich mouthfeel to foods
  • Some options include: cream, mayonnaise, coconut milk or cream, smooth nut or seed butters, soft and cream cheese, avocado, butter

Crunchy: 1 or 2 varieties.

  • They add a crispy texture to foods
  • Some options include: croutons, nuts, seeds, crunchy nut and seed butters, breadcrumbs, fried batters, some raw fruits and vegetables, crackling

Once again, here is the printable:

Click here to read all the posts in the Spring cleaning the kitchen: a no-buy month challenge topic. And don’t forget to check my Instagram to see what I’m eating and cooking as I go through the challenge. Join me by tagging with #springcleanthekitchen

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