Shopping & Meal Planning Tips to Build Your Pantry

Emily Richards, Canadian Professional Home Economist, Author and Celebrity Chef

According to a 2018 study conducted by Dalhousie University, Canadians shop at grocery stores an average of 1.29 times each week, and are somewhat fickle in our patronage, visiting 2.3 grocery stores regularly. Regardless of where we shop, the biggest change we can make is how we shop. If we think of our shopping list as a pantry builder and take the time to plan meals and shopping lists ahead, we save time and money. It also provides a creative opportunity to crack open recipe books and explore new meal ideas and foods we tend not to consider when we shop unprepared. 

Plan for inspiration. Sit down with paper and a pen or build your list on your mobile phone for repeated use. Ask family members to contribute ideas, consult online, magazine or cookbook recipes for inspiration, building a few new foods into your core diet.

Have favourites on hand and repeat if necessary. Take a look at what foods you and your family enjoy and be sure to have those ingredients available in your pantry. To break routine, look for new recipe ideas that incorporate those flavours to expand your mealtime repertoire.

Build a tactical grocery list. Plan your list according to the way your favourite grocery store is laid out. This will cut down your time and save you doubling-back for items you overlooked. 

Make shopping and meal planning an activity. Cooking and food preparation are perennial tasks that can get old if the same person is always on the hook. If you’re cooking for a couple or family, consider building meal plans that engage more household members. Choose a weekly ‘kids night to cook’, or swap meal responsibilities. If your children are old enough, take them shopping with you to teach food selection and household economics. Working together in the kitchen enhances family and couple time.

If you live alone, choose one or two nights a week to make something you’ve never tried before or get ahead by cooking sauces and meals in larger volumes to portion and freeze for later. 

Think ‘pantry’, not cupboard, fridge and freezer. Approach your grocery list as an opportunity to reduce time and money by stocking foundational foods that you use frequently or are common cooking ingredients. Shop for staples, not frozen entrees, to improve the quality and nutrition of your meals. Get in the kitchen to chop, slice and dice to create delicious and wholesome meals.