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Going to the grocery store isn’t as convenient when you live in a remote area. You can’t just hop in the car and make a quick trip to pick up a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread when the closest store is miles away.
So how do you save time, money, and gas when your off grid home doesn’t produce all the food your family needs, and you still need to make shopping trips?
Try grocery shopping once a month!
In this post, we’ll talk about how you can plan ahead, meal prep, and take the stress out of meal planning.
Why should you plan ahead for grocery shopping?
Not everything your family needs can be produced on your off grid homestead—at least, not for most people, anyway.
If you live in an off grid community, you might be able to barter or trade for items you can’t produce, but there are still likely to be other things you’ll need to order or go into town for.
Grains such as wheat, oats, and corn, and legumes like soy and lentils, are usually produced on a large farm—not small homesteads (although yours could be an exception). You might raise chickens to produce eggs but prefer to purchase milk instead of raising a cow.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you might make your own oat milk, but do you grow oats or purchase and store them for later use? What if you enjoy soy products? Do you make your own tofu, or would you rather buy it ready-made?
Part of living a sustainable life means preserving resources and reducing waste. By making fewer grocery shopping trips, you can reduce your dependence on fossil fuels by using less gas.
You’ll also save time (driving time and meal prepping) and be prepared with plenty of food during adverse weather conditions—when you’d rather stay at home in front of your cozy woodstove than make a trip to the store.
What should you consider when planning a month of meals?
What is your current grocery budget? Does that include eating out at restaurants once in a while or having guests over for dinner?
By shopping ahead of time, you can take advantage of sales, coupons, and the savings that come with buying items in bulk. Your grocery bill will thank you.
Getting started with once-a-month shopping costs a little more at first because you’re buying more items at one time—but the cost decreases over time as you build up your pantry. Try budgeting your shopping trip a different week than when your mortgage or other bills are due.
Shop your kitchen first
Before you start your shopping list, see what you already have in your kitchen. What’s in the fridge? Did you have a lot of leftovers this week? Is there anything that you can use up or that you’ll need to replace this month?
What’s in your pantry right now? What about your root cellar (if you’re lucky enough to have one)? Do you have a month’s supply of staple items, like flour, pasta, cereal, and canned goods?
Take inventory of what you already have on hand, and work those items into your monthly meal plan.
When you use up an item or remove it from the pantry into your meal rotation (like a can of tuna or box of elbow macaroni), add it to your next shopping list so you can replace it and not run completely out of stock.
What’s in your garden?
If you have a garden, what is it producing right now? What will be ready for harvest over the next month, and how much of it will you be able to preserve or store for future use?
If your garden is abundantly producing tomatoes, you won’t need to buy them at the store. But you may need to purchase the ingredients you’ll need to preserve them. Will you be canning spaghetti sauce, making fermented salsa, or dehydrating them and packing them in oil like sun-dried tomatoes?
Ensure you have herbs for seasoning sauces, salt for fermenting veggies, and sugar or pectin for making jams and jellies when fruit is in season. And don’t forget canning jars, freezer bags, or other non-food items you might need for storage and preservation.
What does your family eat?
Does your family have certain meals the same night every week? Think taco Tuesday or Friday fish day.
Does anyone in your household have special dietary needs (gluten-free or vegan)?
What about picky eaters? You don’t want to buy an ingredient in bulk just to save money if no one will eat it.
Do you need to buy fresh fruit, or do you have a favorite veggie that you can only get at the store?
Holidays and special occasions
Planning a month of meals will look different if a holiday, birthday, or other special occasion is coming up. Likewise, you may want to purchase more if you are having guests or less if you plan to go out of town for several days.
Plan ahead for your pets, too! Buy dog food and cat litter in bulk to save money—and save yourself an emergency trip to the store.
Meals and snacks
Remember to plan for all your daily meals and beverages, plus snacks. Who wants to wake up with a middle-of-the-night cookie craving just to find out that you forgot to restock your supply?
If you include homemade desserts in your meal plan, make sure you have the ingredients you’ll need to make them, too. You’ll need peanut butter for peanut butter cookies, cinnamon for apple pie … you get the idea.
After you take stock of what you have on hand, you’ll need to make a list of the meals you plan to make.
If your family eats the same basic meals every week with little variation, your job just got easier. Simply write down what you usually eat in a week and multiply it times four.
If your family craves variety, can you apply a theme to each week so you can use similar ingredients within the same time frame? Perhaps one week has an Italian theme (think pasta, pizza, and bruschetta), and the next week’s dinners are based on Mexican food ideas (like a taco bar, enchiladas, and smothered burritos).
You’ll also want to consider which meals use perishable ingredients and which recipes can be made with shelf-stable or frozen foods. Fragile produce—like lettuce and cucumbers—should be used up within the first few days, while longer-lasting items—like winter squash and apples—can be saved for recipes in week two or three.
As you’re planning your meals, think of ways to cook in bulk and use up leftovers. For example, my mom always used leftovers from meatloaf night to make meatloaf sandwiches the next day.
And since she usually made a pot of pinto beans on Monday nights, Tuesday was a great day to have refried beans or burritos.
Depending on how your off grid kitchen is set up, this method can save you time and fuel resources.
Once you’ve created a meal list, write down the ingredients (including amounts) you’ll need for each recipe. Then take your ingredient list and cross off the items that you already have enough of.
The items that remain become your grocery list for your next shopping trip!
Make sure your recipe has the number of servings you’ll need for your family and for prepping meals in advance if that’s your plan. If you’re buying a specialty ingredient (like a special cheese or perishable item), can you use it for more than one meal?
If you have an off grid freezer, can any of your ingredients or meals be frozen and used later in the month? Some meals, like soups and stews, are just as tasty after being frozen and take less time (and fuel) to reheat than they do to make them from scratch.
Sample meal plan for one week
Let’s look at a sample meal plan for one week and how you can use leftovers or cook double batches to save time.
First, create a breakfast and lunch menu. I suggest repeating breakfasts and lunches each week so that you only need to change up your dinner menu.
7 breakfast ideas
Sunday: Pancakes (make a double batch and freeze half for another meal)
Tuesday: Eggs and toast
Wednesday: Breakfast burritos (make a double batch and freeze half)
Thursday: Yogurt and fresh fruit
Friday: French toast and fruit
Saturday: Breakfast smoothies.
Swap out my ideas for your favorite breakfasts and the things you know your family will eat. Then do the same thing for lunches—come up with seven ideas and assign them to days of the week.
Southwest-themed dinner meal plan (add in your favorite side dishes!)
Sunday: Taco salad (remember, we’re using perishables, like lettuce, early in the week). Cook a double batch of beans and meat (you’ll use half as salad toppings), and save the extras for later this week. Add in other veggies, like fresh tomatoes and avocado, canned or frozen corn, etc.
Monday: Burrito bowls. Cook a double batch of rice and save half. Use leftover lettuce as the base for your burrito bowl and top with rice, leftover beans, fajita peppers (make a double batch of peppers!), black olives, guacamole, and your favorite Southwestern toppings.
Tuesday: Fajitas. Use up the leftover fajita peppers and add in some cooked chicken. Cook enough chicken to have leftovers to use in enchiladas.
Wednesday: Enchiladas. Use up the leftover chicken and enchilada night will be an easy cooking night! Make extra enchilada sauce and save it for tomorrow.
Thursday: Smothered burritos. Did you remember to make extra enchilada sauce? Wrap up refried beans, leftover meat, and cheese in a large tortilla and smother it with your leftover sauce for a quick dinner.
Friday: Seven-layer dip. This Friday night meal can use up leftover ingredients from most of the other weeknights. Layer refried beans, cheese, meat, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, and olives in a baking dish or square glass pan, and serve with tortilla chips.
Saturday: Tacos. Crunchy or soft taco shells can be used along with seasoned ground or shredded meat. If you’re having company, plan a taco bar and let everyone build their own tacos out of a selection of ingredients.
Store foods properly for the longest shelf life
When you cook ahead to make double batches and freeze or can the extras, you need to make sure you are storing your food items properly to maintain nutrient value and keep them safe to eat.
Use bags and containers designed for freezer use to prevent freezer burn and maintain the quality of frozen food items. You’ll want your frozen fruit and frozen veggies to still taste fresh, even though you might not need to use them until later in the month.
If you’re canning some of your recipes for later use (like sauces and soups), make sure you follow proper canning protocols to prevent spoilage.
Shelf-stable items can usually be stored in the container they come in as long as your pantry is protected from pests. You can also transfer boxed foods (like pasta or cereal) into plastic, metal, or glass storage containers to keep critters out.
Remember: Each time you use up something from the pantry, add it to next month’s shopping list so you don’t forget to restock!
Are you up to the challenge?
Once a month shopping doesn’t have to be difficult, but it can take some time to get used to planning a monthly shopping trip.
If monthly grocery shopping seems intimidating, try going every two weeks until you get used to planning your menu in advance. You’ll still save time and money, and you’ll gain the confidence you need to stretch out the time between shopping trips.
And who knows what you can do with all the time and money you’ll be saving? You might just be able to indulge in some extra leisure activities or splurge a little for the holidays.