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You’ll find it helpful to think ahead about the coming week as a whole. If you plan a few dinners that will yield leftovers, you’ll cook two meals and have four prepared – saving a lot of time and probably money in the process. Just add a few new sides to make each dinner feel fresh.
Most large grocery stores are laid out the same way, with the packaged food and staples in the center and the fresh stuff all around the outside. Once you get a set of basics into the kitchen, you’ll want to do most of your shopping around the edges where the produce is fresher and better for you. You’ll also find that sale items are usually displayed at the front of the aisle when you do need household basics like laundry detergent or paper towels. If you shop every week or so at a large supermarket, it pays to join their rewards program because you’ll save money every time you check out with your card.
On the other hand, if you have a farmer’s market anywhere nearby, try to visit once a week. That way you’ll know you're getting the freshest, best quality fruits and vegetables.
Here are some suggestions for food shopping and storage.
Always look for meat that has a uniform color, with no signs of shriveling at the edges. Any fat on the meat should be white rather than grey. Poultry skin should be smooth with firm whitish flesh. Always check the packaging to see when the meat was packaged and what the expiration date is so you can choose the freshest. The same is true for fish. The color should be bright and fresh looking, with no smell at all.
We’ve gotten into the habit of eating a little fresh fruit every morning, so we always have a lot of fruit on hand. Apples can store in the fridge for weeks; the same for grapefruit and oranges or mandarins. Juice oranges with the thin skins are inexpensive, especially during the winter. We like to slice them in quarters, then cut out the juicy flesh with a knife and fork which takes all of about 30 seconds. They’re sweet and delicious, and are loaded with Vitamin C. Bananas are also great to have on hand, although they don’t keep as long. We also buy fresh pineapple already cut up into chunks in bags or plastic containers. Berries are another favorite. We buy blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, wash them in a sieve under the faucet, and then store them all together in a big plastic container in the fridge. They last at least a week and are wonderful with a little yogurt or cereal. They also make a mean smoothie, blended with a banana, some fruit juice and ice.
It’s also good to have a few fresh veggies on hand so you can make something for dinner even if you find there’s no time for shopping, or you get stuck in the proverbial storm. Always keep some potatoes, onions and garlic on hand. Ditto for different kinds of lettuce. Fresh broccoli is as versatile as a good running back. You can boil it for a few minutes until it’s crisp tender, then add a little salt, pepper and butter. It’s delicious when roasted in the oven for 20-30 minutes with olive oil, salt and pepper. And you can dress up a green salad with broccoli florets. It also goes with just about any main, whether meat or fish, and stores well in the fridge. Peppers keep well too. So do celery, carrots, and fennel – a delicious root vegetable that can be shaved into a salad or roasted Italian-style in quarters with olive oil, salt and pepper. Summer is the time to splurge because veggies are freshest then, often from local farms, and you can find the best of everything – including tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes. Don’t forget snap peas or snow peas that are great in a stir-fry. And it’s smart to always keep a package of frozen peas in the freezer to add at the last minute to stews or stir-fries.
Staple herbs like fresh parsley and even basil can be stored for up to a week in the fridge by trimming the stems and placing them in a glass of water. Other fresh herbs can be lightly wrapped in damp paper towel and stored in sealable plastic bags in the fridge. To keep lettuce fresh, wash it, dry it, and then store it in sealable plastic bags. Other sturdy veggies like carrots and celery can be stored in the crisper of the fridge in plastic bags.
Keep meat and fish separately wrapped and be careful not to keep too long. For cooked food and leftovers, you’ll find lots of tightly sealed plastic containers in your supermarket. We keep lots of these on hand for leftovers, and just put them in the dishwasher to clean them for the next batch of leftovers.