Thursday, July 16, 2009

Grocery Free Challenge: We Made It A Month Without Grocery Shopping!

On Sunday, I did something I haven't done in a month.

I went grocery shopping, ending our family's Grocery Free Challenge. We made it 30 days without going to the grocery store (except for a limited amount of produce and perishables) and instead cooked from our ample pantry and freezer stockpile.

As you can see from my stockpile spreadsheet, we still had enough food to go grocery free for a little bit longer.

But after a month, I think we'd learned our lessons about using what we have on hand rather than dashing out to eat, grabbing takeout or stopping at the store for something convenient. And we'd run out of some essentials: luncheon meat, cheese for sandwiches, butter for baking, breakfast fixings and snacks. Although, I guess since my husband and my readers deemed Doritos and other snacks as outside the challenge, I could have bought those and still technically remained grocery free.

It was time to go back to the grocery store.

After our month-long hiatus from grocery shopping, I spent $90 for $150 worth of groceries on Sunday, thanks to smart planning and coupon clipping. Included in that was 6 pounds of shrimp for $25. I didn't intend to stockpile, but shrimp was on the week's menu plan. And that price was too good to pass up.

I'll be hitting the farmer's market this week because I can't resist summer produce, but I think what I bought on Sunday will last us for a couple of weeks.

Going Grocery Free was easier than I thought it would be in the beginning, which I guess is a testament to how big our stockpile had grown. We had a few slipups, specficially the Doritos my husband bought on Day 10 and a few unplanned dinners out. We were tempted to shop, and there were some unexpected challenges, namely a visit from my husband's parents.

Full disclosure on that visit: the inlaws brought produce from their garden and a box of burgers from Sam's Club. And on Day 27, we all went to Target together. At their insistence, they bought snacks for everyone and Pop-Tarts and cereal. They paid, but we each picked out a treat. So maybe the Grocery Free Challenge officially ended then. Forced to do it again, I'd still choose Chex Mix rather than holding out for another three days!

While a Grocery Free Challenge isn't for everyone, it worked for our family and it taught us some important lessons. In fact, I think it will change how we approach food shopping, cooking and eating in the future.


We have become better planners. Each weekend I spend a little time planning out the week's menus, considering not only what we have on hand and what we're craving but also how busy we'll be on each day. That allows me to slot in easy meals on days when I'm likely to be too tired to cook or when I delegate those task to my husband, who isn't as skilled or as fast in the kitchen as I am. Generally, we save elaborate meals for the weekends, when we all have more time and we can cook together as a family.

We appreciate dining out more. Because we plan for it, we look forward to our restaurant meals. And we get to think about where we'd like to eat and what we'd like to have, instead of deciding on the fly. Case in point, last weekend, we lunched at Five Guys Burgers and Fries, a place we've been dying to try based on buzz and recommendations we've heard from friends. In our opinion, it lived up to the hype.

We'll spend less at the grocery store. Henceforth, I'm resolving to never go grocery shopping without looking inside my fridge and pantry first. That's for two reasons: To prevent myself from buying something we already have and to reinforce the notion that we should use what we have. That mentality means that I won't need to do a full shop every week, but rather I'll be dropping in to supplement what we already have. I hope that means we'll throw away less food and make better use of our leftovers.

We'll save time. The above strategy will result in shorter trips to the grocery store, I believe. Also, while I love trying new recipes, I shouldn't be trying them every night. That's expensive, stressful and time consuming. I'm going to focus on tested, favorite recipes and limit my recipe experimentation to one or two meals a week.

We'll resist stockpiling things we don't need. In the past, I've gone a little crazy when I could get food for free or for pennies. Which explains why I have still have more than a dozen bottles of salad dressing, condiments, marinades, soy sauce and worcestershire sauce. I'm stating publicly that we have enough of those things. While I still like the idea of stockpiling and shopping from your stash as a money-saving method, I've developed a wiser outlook. Just because something is on sale -- or even free -- doesn't mean I have to buy it. If I already have enough, I can pass up a great deal. During the Grocery Free Challenge, one of our local stores had a Super Doubles coupon promotion. I was seriously tempted to shop then. But I realized that most of what I'd be buying we didn't really need. And besides, I know that good deals and even better will come around again.

We'll discover new favorites. I love to experiment in the kitchen. In the past, that has meant finding new recipes and buying the ingredients to try them. Lately, I've adopted another mindset. I'm whipping up creative concoctions from the food we already have and being more clever about substitutions. I'm also reading recipes differently, keying on ones that make use of some ingredient that's already in my pantry. We're still enjoying dinnertime variety, but spending less money for that privilege. And some of these "use what you have" recipes have been huge hits. My family is already asking me to repeat two recipes from the Grocery Free challenge: summer squash orzo salad and this super-easy lemon pie.


  1. you did a great job! You should be proud!

  2. Very impressive---super organized, practical and so useful for all. Lesson in the fact that though the economy has hit everyone hard...we have all sorts of stockpiles from the era of excess that can help us weather the tough economy. Nice job!

  3. Thanks for all the praise. And being called super organized by Julie Morgenstern, that really makes my day. I'm in a constant state of organizing and purging and I'm slowing learning that less is more.

    You know, I think I started this challenge around the same time I started reading SHED. I'm realizing that I don't need to get organized, I need to get unstuck and shed habits, things and obligations that keep me from moving forward. It's a work in progress, for sure, but also incredibly freeing for someone who has felt pulled in so many different directions for so long.

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