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10 Tips to Grocery Shop Like an Expert

10 Tips to Grocery Shop Like an Expert

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Grocery shopping is super time consuming—or it can be if you don't have a plan. We Test Kitchen folk spend a lot of time shopping for groceries, not because we aren't good at it, but because we test a lot of recipes. Over the years, I've gotten pretty good at getting in and out of the grocery store efficiently, and here are my top tips and tricks:

1. Make a habit of going to the same store for all your groceries; eventually you will learn where everything is.

2. Don't make grocery lists by type, i.e. international, canned goods, fish, frozen, etc. Grocery stores don't really organize their stores like this.

3. Instead, make your list based on the aisle or area. For example, my store has the deli counter and specialty cheese right in the produce section. On my grocery store app (more on that later) I have Gruyere cheese, rotisserie chicken, and lemons all under the "produce" area.

4. You don't have to bag all of your produce. GASP! Lots of people have handled your produce before you decided to put it in your cart. Your hands and the cashier's hands are just the end of the line.

5. Avoid the big, oversized carts if you can. Smaller carts keep you nimble and quick on your feet. They also keep you from overbuying, and you don't have to put your food in carts used as miniature jails or personal go-carts for kids.

6. Find a grocery shopping app that you like. Lots are available, and several will remember your normal list and auto-fill for you. I've been using Buy Me a Pie for years and love it.

7. Skip the store during busy hours. This is not always possible, of course, but immediate time savings are gained, starting from the parking lot through not having to hunt for the "short line."

8. Don't push your cart everywhere you go. Leave it at the end of the aisle before searching the aisle for what you need.

9. Pile your fresh ingredients on the top or on one end of your cart, and place your raw meat on the bottom or other side. Food safety starts at the grocery store.

10. If you need something special from the meat or seafood counter, go there first. While they prepare your order, continue shopping for the rest of your list.

Anything we left off? What's your favorite way to save time when you shop?

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Expert reveals 10 simple ways to start eating healthier & the top tips could save you HUNDREDS a year

DETERMINED to eat healthier, but the high cost putting you off? Low-carb and healthy eating doesn't have to cost a fortune.

There are many benefits to eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, including helping you save money in the long run.

A healthy diet gives your immune system the nutrients it needs to function correctly and lowers the risk of long-term illnesses like high blood pressure, diabete and obesity.

Plus eating better helps you maintain a healthy weight, which will also save money long-term.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you consider starting to eat healthier. So don’t try to overhaul your food habits all at once - make one small change at a time.

Here, Tom Church, Co-Founder of money-saving community LatestDeals.co.uk, shares 10 clever tips that can help you eat healthier - and won’t cost you a fortune.

AVOID SPLURGING IN THE SUPERMARKET

Don’t splurge in the supermarket, says Tom. He advises people to get acquainted with their local supermarket to find out what time all the goodies get discounted.

He says: “That way, you’ll save hundreds every year by making sure to stock up just when the yellow stickers come out.

“You can bag everything you need for your dinner, such as vegetables, meat and bread - plus lots more that you can store in your freezer for future meals.”

2. BE ORGANISED AND BATCH COOK

The money-saving food expert says being organised and batch cooking are simple ways to start eating healthier - that won’t cost you a fortune.

He says: “Batch cooking is one of my favourite ways to be healthy and save both time and money.

“When cooking, just make more and keep it in containers in the freezer, whether bolognese, shepherd’s pie or soup.

“Then whenever you come home exhausted from a day of work, all you need to do is heat up your dinner and you have a home-cooked meal in minutes.”

This is a great way to avoid ordering a calorific takeaway or chucking an unhealthy microwavable meal on.

MAKE NOTE OF HEALTHY RECIPES

Tom says he likes to go through cookbooks and bookmark recipes he likes at the weekend - it’s a great way to learn all about new healthy meal options.

He suggests: “I put all the ingredients in one shopping list and do the shop online so I’m not tempted by extra things in-store.

“I schedule the meals throughout the week and we have everything planned. This helps avoid those last-minute takeaway splurges and saves £20 a week!”

USE A MEAL PLAN WEBSITE/APP

Using a website or app that generates healthy meal plans based on diet is another simple tip to eat better and save money - especially when a free trial is available, says Tom.

He shares: “An alternative approach I take is using a tool such as EatThisMuch.com - it has a 14-day free trial - which automatically generates meal plans for you based on your diet.

“Tell it what kind of meals you like, whether you’re vegan, paleo, allergies etc, and it smashes together a full plan for the week: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“Then it automatically creates a grocery list for you.”

USE A PRICE COMPARISON TOOL

One of the best ways to eat healthier - while not spending a fortune - is to use a supermarket price comparison tool.

Tom says: “I use the free supermarket price comparison tool on the Latest Deals app to check where’s cheapest for any expensive items. For example, alcohol or beef steaks.

“Then, I’ll do my online grocery shop with that supermarket. I’m not loyal to any supermarket brand, and shop at up to seven different supermarkets to get the best price!

“A weekly shop at Aldi is approximately £9 cheaper than a weekly shop at Tesco for me.”

‘FANCY HOME DINNERS’

Reenacting restaurant meals is a great way to save money, advises Tom.

“During Lockdown when we couldn’t go out I started to do ‘Fancy Dinners’ at home,” he says.

“We got dressed up to the nines and I cooked a meal inspired by a favourite restaurant. When Lockdown eased this week, my girlfriend and I went to Carluccio’s.

“It was lovely to be out and supporting a local restaurant again. However, the bill came to £45 which was a stark reminder of how expensive eating out is.

“Next week I’ll be returning to the Fancy Dinners at home as it saves us about £180 a month!”

SHOP SMART

Shopping smart is a simple way to eat healthier meals while not spending a fortune.

One of Tom’s top tips is to substitute vegetables when they are more expensive and buy frozen veg instead of fresh veg due to the cheaper price and lifespan.

I compare the price of frozen vs veg aisle for veggies as often the veg aisle is much more expensive.

He says: “Be smart in the supermarket. I always check the prices online before going to the shops to make sure I don't spend too much on meat by grabbing the first thing I see.

“I also compare the price of frozen vs veg aisle for veggies as often the veg aisle is much more expensive.

“I substitute where possible if the veg is more expensive - for example, one week the cauliflower was twice the price of broccoli so I doubled up.”

FAKEAWAYS

The money-saving food expert suggests a simple way to eat healthier - and save money - is to make fakeaways.

He says: “I make takeaways at home by getting the same ingredients and avoid both the price tag and the extra sugar and salt.

“I've become very good at curries now and we even wrap fish and chips in newspaper and sit outside.”

USE YOUR PHONE

Use your phone to save money, encourages Tom.

He says: “Apps like Too Good To Go and Olio help you find food for cheap - or even for free - in your area, either from neighbours or from local restaurants.”

You can also make healthy food choices using the apps.

MAKE THE MOST OF DISCOUNTS AND TRIALS

There’s lots of healthy recipe boxes and meal kits that do all of the hard work of thinking of healthy meal options for you. While these seem expensive, Tom says they often do deals.

He says: “Keep your eyes out for discounted trials of recipe boxes or meal kits.

“There are always appealing discount codes online for first-time users and there are so many options out there that you should be able to get a few weeks’ worth of hugely discounted dinners!”

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The Grocery Shop as a Daily Practice

Yesterday I went into a green grocer and spent exactly five dollars and thirty-two cents. I remember this because I had to fish the two pennies out from the bottom of my bag, where they were nestled among crumpled cab receipts and one tarnished hoop earring that lost its mate months ago.

I’ve been paying for my groceries in loose change from the corners of old totes more and more lately often because I don’t meet the $10 minimum required to swipe a card. This is because I buy groceries every day—yes, every day—so sometimes all I need is a head of garlic, or a jar of telicherry peppercorns. Yesterday, I bought a carton of cherry tomatoes, still clinging to the vine and coated in a furry layer of dirt, and two bunches of fresh basil, which were bruised a bit at the edges. I planned to make linguine with pesto from scratch, and I thought it might be nice to toss in a pop of crimson at the end, to watch the tomatoes sizzle and squirm their way out of their own skins in the hot pan.

You have to give yourself permission to abandon your entire plan for one ripe pear

Not that tomatoes were in my original plan. But if good cooking is an improvised ballet, then shopping for groceries should feel like stretching in toe shoes you’re warming up, focusing your breathing, checking in with what your muscles want to do that day. You have to be open. You have to allow ingredients to seduce you. You have to give yourself permission to abandon your entire plan for one ripe pear, and expect that sometimes you will stumble home with an elephantine bulb of fennel and no idea what you are going to do with it.

I did not always go food shopping every day. At first, the concept, borne out of cosmopolitan life—where one wanders out of the house to buy one bunch of herbs at a time, usually without a car or even a basket—was not natural to me. When I moved to New York City over a decade ago, I was used to buying provisions in the rambling West, a land of big-box stores and roomy sedans designed to haul away obscene quantities of condiments from Sam’s Club. Growing up, grocery shopping was always an event, a full restocking of the pantry that required a cartography, a battle plan, a squirrel-like affection for storing away nuts.

The Four Types of Shoppers You'll Meet in the Grocery Store

Later, in New York after college (where I never learned to shop, having subsisted on cafeteria soft serve and midnight taquitos), I continued to fill grocery carts with a sprawling zeal, regularly spending a week’s salary in one swoop at Trader Joe’s to stuff my cupboards with every item I might possibly need. I wanted to be prepared for every eventuality, to be able to cook a chicken dinner at the drop of a hat. But mostly I ended up throwing away a lot of quinoa that grew mealy and stale in the cabinet. I couldn’t keep up with my mental appetite it was, after all, just me, throughout most of my twenties. I was stockpiling for a life I wasn’t living.

When I became a freelance writer in my late 20s, I realized that, despite the sacrifices I had to make to break even, one of the freedoms I had maneuvered for myself was the ability to shop differently. I started walking a lot, and recipes started growing out of my perambulations. Where I used to set off to the store in search of an ingredient, I realized that I never had to start a day knowing what I was going to make. The pathways I cut through the city—the fishmonger I passed, the vegetable cart with the gleaming golden beets—would determine that for me.

My dinners became a narrative of where my day had taken me.

My dinners became a narrative of where my day had taken me. I began going to local stores daily: one for cheese, another for bread, another for the indulgent fig-chocolate spread that I slathered over everything. When I moved in with someone, this behavior didn’t change I just had to grab two extra carrots, one more potato than before. Shopping for only the food I need today has become an invaluable practice for me, a moving meditation. It is a way to stay curious and hungry, to stay open to the world (or just a really beautiful looking box of blackberries).

I know that not everyone can do this—not everyone lives in a city where the farmer’s market is just a walk away, people have demanding lives, jobs, families, complications. But even if you can’t make a daily pilgrimage to buy just one zucchini and then experiment on it, try going into a store every now and then with no plan, and the goal to spend less than $10. Imagine that you’ve never been before, or that if you needed to, you could come back tomorrow. What would you buy if you knew you’d have another chance the next day? What risky ingredient might you try, knowing that you could do it all over in the morning?


12 Expert-Approved Tips to Make Meal Prep Easier

We asked four meal prep professionals for their secrets to successful meal planning.

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You've seen them those geometrically perfect bento boxes filled with balanced meals. They are colorful and eloquent and … silently taunting you. Meal prep always looks great on Instagram, but it doesn’t always shake out the same way in your kitchen. If you need to enhance your meal prep vibe, look to these tips from true meal prep gurus!

Meet the Experts

Meal prep experts come from all over. We hit up some of the best of the best to share their top tips.

  • Nick Quintero from Meal Prep on Fleek is a dad, Californian and super star meal prepper. He and his partner Sarah are championing all aspects of healthy meal prep and preaching their foodie goodness to a 430,000+ audience on Instagram.
  • Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND is an award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook and Smart Meal Prep for Beginners. You may recognize the name, she is also a long time contributor at FoodNetwork.com
  • Kelli Shallal, MPH, RD, CPT is the author of brand spanking new Meal Prep For Weight Loss. A book that teaches you how to cook today, eat for a week, and lose weight long term. You can get a sneak peek on her Instagram page @hungryhobbyrd.
  • Alyssa Gagarin embodies meal prep to the masses. She is owner and founder of Meal Prep Chef a weekly personal chef service in New York City specializing in meal prep. For a taste of her effervescent style, follow her on Instagram @meal.prep.chef.

Nick’s Tips

Nick’s journey to meal prep mastery is best described as slow and steady. His mindful steps help take the stress out of the entire process.

Plan Ahead: I know it sounds cliché, but believe it or not, meal prepping is also known as meal planning, with an emphasis on planning. Now, if you’re just getting started, this doesn’t mean spending tons of time researching and analyzing macros. It literally means spending 5-10 minutes thinking about dishes that you want to eat in the week ahead and asking yourself, “What sounds good to eat?” Once you answer that question, write it down on a piece of paper, in your notepad on your phone, or on a white board near your kitchen.

Have Patience: Meal prepping is the cornerstone to long term habits that produce results, so it’s going to take some time. For me, it took almost four months to figure out a lunch routine that worked and resulted in a 13% loss in body fat. Here’s what to do: Pick one meal that gives you the most trouble. Maybe you go out to lunch four times per week. Focus on that one meal and stick to making a plan for it!

Portion Control: Finally, one of the biggest problems I see is people assuming they're only eating one portion when, in fact, they might be eating two or three full portions for any given meal. In the interest of making this step as easy as possible, Meal Prep on Fleek teamed up with GoodCook to produce a Meal Prep Container line that has portion control built in.

Meal Prep Containers

Good Cook Meal Prep Red Containers + Lids - 10ct

Good Cook Meal Prep Green Containers + Lids - 10ct

Good Cook Meal Prep Dark Teal Containers + Lids - 10ct

Toby’s Tips

Toby echoes Nick’s need for proper containers plus reminds preppers to keep things sensible.

Pack Immediately: The best way to make sure you pack enough food for each meal is to pack your meal prep containers immediately after prepping and cooking. If you don't do it immediately, you can end up serving yourself too much at one meal and won't have enough food later on. This also means that you may also be consuming too many calories at one meal and leaving yourself short on calories for later meals.

Don't Overdo It: You may see Instagram meal prep geniuses prepping 10 or more dishes at once. That's just crazy! Don't overextend your meal prepping talents and start slow (with three or four recipes) and work your way up to the amount you feel comfortable prepping. If you have access to a healthy lunch at work, then there is no need to prep lunch. Meal prepping is individual, so do what is right for you.

Prep Over Two Days: You don't necessarily have to meal prep only on Sundays. My Sundays are usually filled with kids’ activities, so I can't prep for an entire week in one day. I like to divide my meal prepping into two days (Sundays and Wednesdays) because that works for me. Before you decide to meal prep, look at your schedule to determine if you should meal prep one or two days a week and which day or days that should be.

Kelli’s Tips

Kelli’s tips are focused on maximizing your time. Kelli reminds us meal prep can be a huge time saver if you work efficiently.

Long to Short: My number one meal prep secret to save time is to start with the recipe that will take the longest and work your way to the shortest recipe. For example, begin with the slow cooker, then a sheet pan recipe, then a quick skillet recipe. That way, you’re always making something while something else is cooking, which saves time!

Incorporate Convenience: I also recommend using convenience foods as much as possible. Just because you are meal prepping doesn't mean you have to make everything from scratch. Utilize pre-made sauces, dressings, marinades, etc. to speed up the process a bit. The goal of meal prep is to save you time during the week, not take up your whole weekend!

Alyssa’s Tips

This meal prep chef knows better than anyone that there is no right or wrong way to prep. You do you.

No One-Size-Fits-All: Meal prep might look different for everyone! It is a common belief that meal prep means cooking every meal for an entire week. However, meal prep could also mean prepping a large batch of breakfasts for the week. Or, assembling 5 lunches to take to work. You don't have to cook three meals a day, seven days a week to have a successful meal prep ritual.

Multitask: Multitasking is the key to a successful meal prep. Select recipes that utilize multiple cooking methods and equipment so that you can accomplish them simultaneously. You should always have items roasting or baking in the oven and cooking on the stove that don't require much hands-on maintenance. This will free up your hands for cutting, assembling and preparing some "non-cooked" items like salads. If you have an Instant Pot, slow cooker, countertop oven or other equipment, put them to work too! The more you have going at once, the more time you'll save!

Set A Theme: Tired of eating the same thing all week? Try setting a "theme" for your meal prep and making batches of items from similar flavor profiles that will all taste good together. Then, you can mix and match the items to create multiple various meals with different combinations! For a Mexican/Southwest themed meal prep, you could mix & match items to make a Taco Salad, Burrito Bowl over Rice, Lettuce Cups and Stuffed Southwest Sweet Potatoes.

Prep for Meal Prep: Do you find yourself buying lots of produce that you don't end up using, and it goes to waste? When you get home from the grocery store, before putting the produce in the fridge, do all of your peeling, cutting & chopping first! If your veggies are already prepped and ready to cook with, you are far more likely to use them. And when it comes time to do the cooking, your meal prep will go super smoothly.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.


About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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After you've done research on your own spending as well as research on average spending for a family of the same size, it's time to choose your budgetary limit. Do you want to spend less on groceries? If so, how much less? Or do you want to maintain your current budget? This will all depend on your financial goals and eating habits. What USDA column does your spending fit into? Are you in the "liberal" column and want to shrink your grocery bill to fit into the low-cost column?

Whether you're saving to pay off a loan, adding to your vacation fund, or just want to be smarter about the way you shop, setting a clear budget is key. Choose a realistic number that also helps you achieve your goals.


Aarón Sánchez makes pan-seared salmon with an herbed mole

Not only can it be fun to try cooking seafood at home, it's also good for your health. The FDA recommends people eat 2-3 servings a week from their "best choices" list, which includes everything from anchovies and sardines to haddock to and tilapia (fish tacos, anyone?). The FDA advises people to eat other types of fish less frequently (see their "good choices" and "choices to avoid" lists) due to increased mercury levels.

Mike Lata, chef and co-owner of FIG and The Ordinary in Charleston, South Carolina told TODAY Food in an email that he's seeing an increase in direct-to-consumer seafood sales.

"In Charleston, there are a few new seafood shops along with the old local standbys," he said. "That certainly helps. Some of the fisherfolk sell their haul dockside and have even started the seafood version of the CSAs, called community supported fisheries. You buy shares, like a CSA, and then meet the producer for a scheduled weekly or month pickup that you purchased in advance, quarterly or annually."


Shop Smarter: Savvy Grocery Shopping Tips from Mary Abbott Hess

Confused by all the choices at the supermarket? I had the chance to speak with dietitian Mary Abbott Hess, author of The Pocket Supermarket Guide. Her savvy supermarket shopping tips will have you reaching for healthier choices during your next trip to the market, and saving money too.

As a consumer, it is important to understand how to interpret a food label. First, look at the serving size. All nutrient values and calories are based on an amount of food which is frequently quite small. Next, look at key nutrients to see if it has good amounts of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Also, look for reasonable amounts of fat, sugar and sodium. Lastly, check the ingredient list for whole grains and limit foods with various forms of corn syrup, saturated fats (including partially hydrogenated oils) or sodium sources.

There are many tips throughout the Pocket Supermarket Guide but 3 that yield big savings are:

  • Check newspapers and flyers for sales and 2-for-1 specials and include those foods on your shopping list
  • Find bargains on the top and bottom shelves because name brands (at higher prices) often are at eye level
  • Clip coupons for foods you use and sign up for store discount shopping cards

Yes. Most stores have fresh produce, fresh meat, poultry, eggs and seafood, dairy products and baked goods including breads around the perimeter of the store. Processed, canned and packaged foods are typically located in the central aisles. Sure, you will need some items from the center of the store but shopping mostly at the perimeter generally keeps you in the territory of healthier food options.

Food marketers create a "halo of health" for many foods that are not particularly healthful. Some of these are organic candy and snacks, which usually have as much sugar, fat and salt as those without organic ingredients highly sweetened granola products fat-free salad dressings that contain lots of sodium and/or sweeteners wheat bread that does not have whole wheat as the first (main) ingredient beverages "made with real juice" that have only a small amounts of real juice and lots of sugared water.

It's hard to limit it to five since there are so many great healthful foods. The most basic foods in each of the food groups of MyPlate should be most of the shopping list. To start with, I’d recommend:

  1. Legumes
  2. Fresh or frozen (unbreaded) fish and seafood
  3. Fat free or low-fat milk or yogurt
  4. Whole grains including cereals and breads
  5. Plenty of deep green, orange and red fruits and vegetables

Avoid or limit soda and other highly sugared beverages, anything fried (like chips, fried chicken, doughnuts), high-fat sausages and other foods that are high in saturated fat. In addition, steer clear of prepared mixes and packaged products that have very high amounts of sodium per serving. Check the percent daily value (%DV) and if it is over 33% (1/3 of the days recommended amount), think twice.


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Grocery Shopping: How to Buy Ingredients That Serve One

A few months ago, my friend Lev asked me for a basic grocery list he could refer to when he made his weekly or biweekly trip to his neighborhood store. "How can I shop and cook for one, healthfully, cheaply and well?" he wanted to know.

As Lev had discovered, grocery shopping for one person is not as easy as shopping for, say, a family of four. You buy too much or your plans to cook change, and you end up with a lot of wasted food. According to the National Resources Defense Council, the average American throws away between $28 and $43 worth of uneaten food each month. That's a lot of money - enough for a meal out and a couple of glasses of wine. The solution? A little forethought, organization and smart shopping.

This list below is the one I refer to before my supermarket trips. I take inventory of my refrigerator and pantry, note what I need and make sure I hit each section of the list. When I get to the grocery store, I start my shopping on the perimeter aisles (typically produce, dairy/eggs, meat/fish). These fresh ingredients are the staples of healthy home cooking, and are the things I tend to run out of each week. The inside aisles (oils, pastas, breads, beans, grains, packaged goods) are the shelf-stable pantry goods I typically need to replenish less frequently.

Speaking of shelf-stable non-perishables, I buy them in the bulk section whenever I can. The extra 20 seconds spent looking for the product code and writing it on a twist-tie is well worth the money I save since I'm not paying for packaging. Flours, grains, pastas, coffee, tea, snack mix, even some cookies and candies can all be purchased in the bulk section. Not only is the bulk section good for when you want a lot of something (such as beans or grains), it's also great for when you only want a little of something (such as those dangerously delicious raspberry-fig bars at my local Whole Foods).

Okay, grab your reusable bags and let's get shopping.

Greens you can eat cooked or raw
Baby spinach or kale (go for dark green lacinato/dinosaur kale as opposed to the lighter green curly variety) are my picks. Use to make salads or saute in a bit of olive oil.

Baby carrots, mini Persian cucumbers, mini bell peppers, or any other crunchy, easy to eat raw vegetables
For healthy snacking, but can also be used in cooking.

1 or 2 medium onions
I usually buy yellow (which I find have the most flavor), but white or red are okay too. Look for what's on sale.

1 head of garlic
You'll use it in just about everything. The pre-peeled kind is okay, if you know you'll be using it quickly (otherwise it oxidizes and becomes rancid). Do not buy the chopped, jarred variety it doesn't taste as good, and it's more expensive than fresh.

Fresh herbs
Using fresh herbs is the quickest way to take your cooking from average to great with very little effort. My weekly buys are cilantro for Asian/Latin dishes and flat-leaf parsley for Italian/Mediterranean. Mint and basil are semi-regulars. Buy the full bunch as opposed to those small plastic containers with single servings of herbs - it's cheaper and there's less waste.

1 or 2 lemons
Good for flavoring water and squeezing over cooked vegetables or salads.

Apples, oranges, bananas, or another in-season, easy to eat fruit
If it's easy to eat and requires little to no prep beyond washing, you are more likely to eat it. Which is the idea.1 or 2 avocados
If you think you'll eat two in a week, buy one that is ripe and one that is still a little hard (it'll be ripe by the time you're ready to use it).

Grapes
Rinse and put them in the freezer so you have a healthy dessert option around when late-night cravings for sweets hit.

EGGS AND DAIRY

1 dozen eggs
Great for breakfast on a toasted English muffin, but also just an excellent source of high-quality protein. You can do so much with one carton of eggs. Hard or soft boil a few and keep them around as a nutritious snack, or chop them up and put them over salad greens.

Half-and-half
Half-and-half is for more than just coffee. You can use it to thicken creamy soups, sauces and curries, but it also can be diluted with water - use equal parts half-and-half and water - to make milk. (I know it seems weird, but it totally works.) I don't drink straight milk, so I keep half-and-half around for when I need it for cereal or a recipe calling for milk.

Cheese
Choose something with mild flavor that can be used for a variety of things, including snacking on. Low-moisture mozzarella, mild or medium cheddar, or jack are all good options. Use it in sandwiches, shredded over scrambled eggs, cubed in salad or stirred into pasta.

Butter
My favorite kind is Kerrygold. Good for spreading on toast and cooking, and the foil wrapper keeps it tasting fresh for a long time.

MEAT/FISH/TOFU

I alternate between sausages (which are usually cheapest if you get them at the deli counter as opposed to pre-packaged simply pan-fry or grill for a quick dinner), chicken thighs, tilapia (sustainable and easy to cook) and sprouted extra-firm tofu.

NON-PERISHABLESPantry basics
These are shelf-stable and last a long time. You'll need to replenish them less frequently than the rest of the things on this list: extra-virgin olive oil (for salads and sauteing), at least one vinegar (apple cider, balsamic and rice vinegars are my staples), salt (either sea salt in a grinder or kosher salt) and pepper (either whole peppercorns you put in a grinder, or a disposable grinder with peppercorns in it already).

Image credit: Istock Coffee or tea
If you drink coffee, buy beans in bulk and, if you don't have a grinder at home, use the in-store grinder to grind them yourself. That's much cheaper than buying pre-ground coffee in bags. Consider getting a reusable filter I like this one. If you prefer tea, look for basics like Earl Grey or English Breakfast in bulk (either bagged or loose-leaf). If you like mint tea, try brewing it with fresh mint leaves instead.

Pasta
I like to buy strand pasta that can be used in Italian or Asian dishes, depending on my mood. Fettuccine, linguine, and spaghetti are all good picks.Canned tomatoes (chopped or crushed)
Buy the fire-roasted variety from Muir Glen: The tomatoes are slightly sweet, a little bit smoky and so delicious. Make the best quick tomato sauce ever by sauteing half a can of tomatoes with a couple of cloves of garlic and a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil.

Canned beans
Pinto, black, or cannellini (Italian white) beans. Rinse them before using. Use pinto and black beans in tacos, quesadillas, and burritos. Toss the white beans with cooked pasta, olive oil, garlic and parsley. They're a great source of protein and fiber.