Shopping tips: Stay strategic when planning out meals

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Before the pandemic, I’ll admit I had some terrible grocery habits. Food would rot in my refrigerator as I hit the most disappointing drive-thrus. Or I’d spend hours perusing recipe websites, only to run out of energy to actually shop and/or cook. All in all, I ended up wasting time and money.

But after months of being locked at home, I’ve changed my ways. Through dedicated shopping and a willingness to just stay home, I’ve discovered that I can eat better while paying less. Here are some of my hard-earned grocery strategies.

Shop your own pantry first If you’re a typical American, there’s enough food in your kitchen that you can scrape together a meal, even if it feels like there’s “nothing to eat.”

Seek out high-quality vegetables If you think you hate veggies, it’s possible you just hate low-quality vegetables. Nothing’s sadder than wilted lettuce or blander than a strawberry that has traveled halfway across the country. Good veggies are more nutritious and a lot more delicious than the cheap stuff.

Grow your own While it might not be the cheapest way to get produce, gardening creates a connection with the food you eat. It’s fun, good exercise and a great education for kids. Don’t have space for your own? Rent a plot at Vegas Roots Community Garden (vegasroots.org), or buy their produce for a small fee.

Experience a farmers market In addition to providing quality produce and supporting small businesses, farmers markets offer a sense of community in this time of enforced isolation.

Look to alternate sources of food The big-box grocery store isn’t the only place to buy ingredients. You can often find high-quality food at cheap prices if you look beyond the most obvious places. For example, you can subscribe to a CSA (community supported agriculture) for a season of delivered groceries at a discount. Try Cluck It Farms (cluckitfarmlv.com), for example.

Splurge on delightful ingredients Tempted by some fresh kiwi, kumquats, avocados or figs but put off by their high prices? Go ahead and indulge. Eating should be joyful, and you’ll still spend less than if you ate out.

Fall back on frozen Keep frozen vegetables in your freezer for use as last-minute sides. Frozen produce is picked at the height of its ripeness, so it’s often healthier than what you’ll find in a traditional produce section.

Use potatoes A 5-pound bag is cheap, versatile and contains tons of nutrients. If you’re lazy, just poke some holes with a fork in a potato, wrap it in a wet paper towel and microwave for 5-10 minutes. Insta-baked potato!

Embrace (some) routine Try cooking up some cheap basics (like rice and beans) at the beginning of the week, then use them as a base for fast weekday lunches.

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