...to save time and money.
In an ideal world, I would shop locally every day, and visit farmers markets and artisan bakery's and such like. However, I work full time and I have neither the time, money or energy to do all of those things all of the time. So I have found a way of shopping that works for me.
At the start of the month, I visit the supermarket to do my Big Shop. This is when I stock up on a months worth of staples. Store cupboard basics like big bags of pasta and rice. Tinned tomatoes. Tea bags, sugar, flour, coffee, butter/margarine. I usually pick up a few jars of pesto to keep in the cupboards for a quick and easy meal. Long lasting fruit and veg like potatoes, onions, root vegetables, apples etc. I'll get enough fresh milk to last the week, and a carton or two of long life milk for emergencies (I don't like the taste in milk or on cereal, but its fine to use in cooking). I will often get some packets of upstart powder - my husband would eat cardboard if I covered it in custard. Dried fruit, cereal, porridge oats, digestive biscuits, cheap chocolate for cooking, eggs, and some packets of cheap instant mashed potato. Noodles. I might get some bread, if its reduced and I have room in the freezer. I often pick up pitta breads, as they don't take up much freezer space, and wraps are useful as they usually have a long date on them and won't take up much cupboard space. If they are on special offer, I will stock up on LOTS. Tinned tuna, tinned anchovies, baked beans and tinned sweetcorn are also staples, also stock cubes and sauces, like brown sauce and salad cream. Loo roll, sanitary products, toiletries, washing liquid etc. Dog food. Meat for the freezer.
There are probably more things, but I can't think of them right now.
And that is probably my only trip to the supermarket that month. I have enough basics to last me a month. In some cases, I might have more than a months worth, but that just means that I can build up a bit of a stockpile. I have four tubes of toothpaste in my bathroom cupboard right now, that might come in handy in a really tight month when I have to cut back the shopping budget!
Each week, I will top up with what I need from local shops. I'm really fortunate, in that I work close to an Aldi, so can pop in on my way home to take advantage of their offers, particularly on fruit and veg. Also, the town were I live has some great local shops within walking distance, so on Saturday mornings I often take my 'granny trolley' and shop. I can also visit the local library - this weekend I borrowed two novels, two cook books, Greg Wallace's autobiography and a River Cottage DVD.
My aim is to keep my shopping trips limited to just one per week. I haven't quite managed it, but I am getting better!
I know that many people meal plan and shop accordingly. I tend not to do this. Instead, I prefer to know that I have plenty of staples at home in the cupboard and freezer, and then take advantage of any special offers I see. I'm a confident cook, and very happy to be creative in the kitchen, so for me this is as much a hobby as a chore. Before my daughter was born I worked in an emergency access night shelter for the homeless. We relied more or less entirely on donations from the public to produce breakfast, lunch and a simple supper for the service users, and sometimes the donations were pretty random! Making decent mels from what we had was actually my favourite part of the job, it was a bit like bing on Ready, Steady, Cook ;-)