We didn't really need a pandemic to remind us that shopping is a punish, but we got one anyway.
Food shopping is rarely on anyone's list of favourite activities, but it doesn't have to mean hours of wandering the shops with your glasses fogging from your face mask, desperately trying to physically distance from strangers in an aisle that is barely 1.5 metres wide.
Efficient shopping can take a lot of hassle out of the idea of cooking. A 10-minute weekly shop might sound too good to be true, but it's possible. Here are some tips to making your shopping faster, easier and smarter.
Audit your pantry
The easiest way to avoid spending too much time shopping is to have what you need in your cupboard already. That might sound straightforward, but I'd wager good money there are quite a few things in your pantry right now that you have no idea are in there. You might be surprised what you can strike off your shopping list.
Even the most well-organised kitchens will have a few secret pockets that hide a third jar of Vegemite, or a bag of icing sugar from 12 months ago, so if you haven't done so already, spend an hour going through what you have in your pantry, freezer and in the half-used jar graveyard you call the two top shelves of your fridge.
You might loosely plan for a roast chicken, something salady, a roast vegetable thing, or all three, such as this roast chicken and vegetable salad (recipe here). Photo: William Meppem
Plan your menu
Planning is key to efficient shopping and it all starts with your menu. It doesn't even have to be overly specific, but if you think you're going to have pasta on Monday, chicken on Tuesday, pumpkin on Wednesday and so forth, then that will give you a plan of attack when you're shopping.
Nothing sucks time like wandering around the shops trying to come up with recipes on the fly or Googling them on your phone while you're standing in the fresh vegetable section. I often won't have specific recipes in mind when I plan a week of eating. Just a top-line idea is fine.
It's OK to plan on having a salady thing, a roast vegetable thing, a whole chicken thing … and then shop accordingly. It all helps to work out what goes in your trolley and that will save you time and stress.
Simplify your cooking
It stands to reason that if you want to spend less time shopping, you just buy fewer things. It also, therefore, makes sense that if you cook more simply, you won't have as many things to buy.
I'm not going to spend any more time explaining this because it's pretty straightforward – simple cooking makes for simple shopping. If you want some tips on how to simplify your cooking, take a look here.
Make a smart list
You probably know where you're going to be buying each item on your list, so make sure you organise your list to reflect that, rather than just keeping it in the order of whenever the idea popped into your head.
If you're using a list app on your phone it's easy enough to drag the entries to group together things you'll get from the butcher, greengrocer or supermarket. Even within the supermarket you probably already know where most things are, so you can plan your route around the store so that you won't need to double back.
Not sure where everything is? The big supermarket chains have apps which show you the aisle and location of products in your local store. Some even have a function to organise your shopping list by aisle.
Keep extra mince on standby for this easy mince with oyster sauce, a bottle of which might be lurking in your pantry (recipe here). Photo: William Meppem
Buy just a little more
Panic buying and hoarding should (hopefully) be a thing of the past, but since the beginning of the pandemic the advice of picking up just a little extra than what you need is still good advice. If you can afford it, an extra can of peaches, packet of pasta or some mince for the freezer is a few seconds smartly spent to save you a lot of time down the track.
Whether you're a fastidious packer or a chuck-it-all-in kind of person when it comes to bagging your purchases, it pays to have a bit of strategy with your trolley.
Purpose-made trolley organisers are a bit of overkill, but arranging all your cold stuff together, separating cleaning and toiletries and keeping heavy stuff at the front of the trolley and fresh veg towards the back will save you time at the checkout when you're trying get out of there quickly.
Time your run
If you're habitually doing your shopping on a Sunday afternoon, firstly, why? And secondly, stop. On Sunday afternoons supermarkets turn into a writhing mass of bodies, wailing and clambering over each other for the last roast chicken.
First thing in the morning is also relatively busy, as are lunchtimes. It will depend on where you are but the best way to find out when your local supermarket is quietest is easy – just ask someone. Next time you're in there tell a staff member you'd prefer to shop when it's quiet and they'll tell you exactly when the best time is to come.