Over the past few years, our family has made an effort to include significantly more fresh produce into our daily meals and snacks.
This new way of eating presented a “problem” for me because I dislike grocery shopping… but in order to keep our fridge stocked with fresh produce, I felt like I needed to head to the store every other day.
Thankfully, after a few months of way too much grocery shopping (with 4 children in tow) I came up with a new system for buying, storing, prepping, and consuming a huge amount of fresh produce (and other perishable groceries) to reduce the number of shopping trips I made each month.
Now, I often get groceries every 2 to 3 weeks… for our family of 6!
So how do I stretch our produce and other perishable items for 2 or 3 weeks?
During this time when we’re asked to stay home as much as possible, my 5 tips to stretch your groceries should help you avoid the grocery store for weeks at a time (while still enjoying a variety of fresh produce!)
1. I make weekly meal plans.
I can’t stress meal planning enough!
Even if you DON’T want to shop in bulk, meal planning is still so beneficial for your week.
However, if you DO want to reduce your grocery shopping frequency by shopping in bulk every 2 to 3 weeks, meal planning is an absolute ESSENTIAL!
I don’t go crazy planning months of meals at a time, but I do always make a general meal plan for each week (including side dishes I plan to serve). This helps to assure all the foods I need are on my grocery list (or in the freezer/pantry/fridge) and avoid lots of last-minute trips to the store throughout the week.
As the weeks go on, I try to use up leftovers, eat from the freezer, utilize pantry staples (dried pasta, beans, rice, etc.) and get a little more creative with whatever food we have in the house. I’ve honestly found some of our most favorite meals this way!
RELATED READING: Meal Planning For Beginners
2. We have an extra refrigerator.
An extra refrigerator is not 100% necessary to stretch your grocery shopping. However, I’m honestly not sure how I would make it work for our family without one.
Thankfully, we’ve had an extra refrigerator ever since we finished our kitchen renovation back in 2012!
Our fridge is getting old, and I’m sure it’s not the most efficient, but it comes in handy for hosting parties, prepping for holiday gatherings, storing extra garden surplus, and stock-piling 2 to 3 weeks worth of produce, dairy, eggs, etc. when I get back from my huge grocery haul!
RELATED READING: How I Store, Prep, and Serve all our Fresh Produce
The extra refrigerator allows plenty of space in our kitchen refrigerator for the fruits and veggies we’ll use in the next 36-48 hours — along with various leftovers, meats, cheese, snacks, beverages, condiments, and foods I have already prepared for upcoming meals.
Both refrigerators are STUFFED full after unpacking the groceries, and they are both VERY empty by the time I’m ready to head back to the store again.
3. We have an extra freezer.
We have a medium-size deep freezer in our basement, which I use daily for storing frozen veggies, frozen fruit, pre-cooked (and uncooked) meats, extra cheese, etc.
I put almost anything and everything in the freezer — making shopping in bulk SOOOO much easier.
RELATED READING: 50+ Freezable Foods that Will Save You Time and Money.
We also have “cold storage” in our basement. This is where we store potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, squash, apples, etc. It’s especially cold in the winter months.
4. We eat the most perishable foods first.
Along with having an extra refrigerator and freezer, I make a point to prepare and serve our fresh produce in order from “most perishable” to “least perishable”.
This assures we eat a large variety of produce AND that our produce doesn’t go bad before we have a chance to eat it.
For example, we’ll start by eating berries, kiwi, grapes, bananas, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, sliced mushrooms, spinach, arugula, etc.
Then we’ll add in pineapple, oranges, melons, pomegranates, avocados, peas, peppers, zucchini, whole mushrooms, head lettuce, etc.
As our stockpile starts to dwindle, we’ll rely more on apples, oranges, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, squash, kale, etc.
Foods like onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, squash, apples, pineapple, melons, and even fresh herbs will keep for WEEKS if properly stored and kept cold. We eat these throughout the 3 weeks with no issues at all.
And if we really run stuck, I always have my home-canned tomatoes as well as frozen corn, broccoli, and peas!
IF the fresh produce looks like it’s starting to go bad, I immediately wash it, chop it up, and put it in the freezer. This does not happen all that often, but I have several zip-top bags in the freezer for bits of peppers, celery, zucchini, berries, bananas, apples, grapes, spinach, etc.
We use these bits and pieces for quick breads, muffins, soups, quiche, and smoothies.
Produce is rarely ever wasted in our house and we end up eating a huge variety of different fruits, veggies, and greens!
RELATE READING: How to Reduce or Even Eliminate Wasted Produce
5. I do “quick pickups” in between my major shopping trips.
Although my goal is always to stay OUT of the grocery stores, I do occasionally do “quick pickups” when we run low on staples like milk, eggs, bananas, etc.
We have a small, more-expensive grocery store within walking distance of our house, and ironically, they often have really good prices on eggs and bananas, so when the weather is nice, the kids and I often walk or ride bikes to that store just for something to do.
We pick up bananas, a couple dozen eggs, and usually a fun snack. We eat the snack at the little fountain courtyard outside the store, and then ride home again!
What I buy to feed our family for roughly 2 to 3 weeks.
I’ve been asked countless times to share exactly what I buy from the grocery store on my big grocery runs.
I’m not sure I can answer this with total accuracy since my grocery cart looks slightly different every trip.
However, this is a fairly accurate picture of what I buy and what we eat every couple of weeks.
- strawberries — 3-5 pounds (depending on price)
- blackberries, raspberries, and/or blueberries — 2-6 pints of each (depending on price)
- green and red grapes — several pounds of each
- bananas — 15-20 (I sometimes purchase more throughout the 2-3 week period)
- clementine oranges — two 5 pound bags
- avocados — 6-10
- kiwi — 1 box of 6
- pomegranates — 3-4 (when in season)
- pineapple — 3
- muskmelon — 3
- apples 6-10 pounds**
**We buy apples by the bushel from our local orchard from August through March.
I also use these apples to can our applesauce on a yearly basis. From March through July, I buy 6-10 pounds of store-bought apples in addition to everything listed below.
- mushrooms — 4-6 containers
- green beans — several pounds**
- snap peas — a large bag
- Roma tomatoes — 1 box of 6**
- cherry tomatoes — 2 pounds**
- green peppers — 3
- red peppers — 3
- orange peppers — 3
- yellow peppers — 3
- zucchini (green) — 6**
- zucchini (yellow) — 3**
- mini cucumbers — 3 pounds (I purchase more after a week or so)
- large cucumbers — 3
- Brussels Sprouts — 2-3 pounds
- beets (with greens) — 3 bunches (9 good-size beets)
- radishes — 2 bags
- cabbage — 3 heads
- broccoli — 4 packages
- cauliflower — 4 heads
- celery — 2 bunches
- carrots — 6 pounds
- baby carrots — 3 pounds
- green onions — a lot!
- yellow onions — 3 pounds
- red onions — 3 pounds
- sweet onions — 3 pounds
- sweet potatoes — 10 pounds
- russet potatoes — 10 – 20 pounds
- spaghetti squash — 2**
- butternut squash — 3**
- corn and peas (a couple of bags, frozen)
**In the summer/fall, we grow tons of zucchini, squash, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, beans, herbs, etc. so that helps to cut costs on produce from June/July through October!
During the rest of the year, these are the veggies I buy almost every time I hit the grocery store.
- spinach — 2 large bags
- arugula — 1 bag
- romaine lettuce — 6 heads
- kale — 2 bags
- beet greens (from the beets listed above)
- cilantro — 1 large bunch
- parsley — 1 large bunch
As I mentioned above, this is still an estimation.
It all depends on what items are on sale, what items are in season, what items the store has stocked, what the produce looks like in the store, etc. etc.
However, this is a pretty accurate picture of what my Aldi shopping cart looks like every 2 to 3 weeks (the cashier often asks if I’m a vegetarian!)
My Aldi bill is usually around $125 every 2-3 weeks for ALL that fresh produce — and produce is definitely the main thing I buy at Aldi.
DAIRY + EGGS:
We buy a TON of dairy and eggs every month as well — you’d be surprised how long these items last.
Eggs, milk, and cheese easily have long refrigerator life, so there is usually no need to head back to the store for more of any of these items.
We’ve actually started buying a few dozen eggs each week from friends at church who now have more chickens and enough eggs to sell. However, I still need to supplement with store-bought eggs as we often go through 6-12 eggs a day.
I get almost all our dairy and eggs from Costco.
- eggs — 5-7 dozen (I divide them into single dozen containers at home)
- plain Greek yogurt — 3 tubs (3 pounds each)
- plain yogurt — one 4 pound tub
- cottage cheese — 2 large tubs (3 pounds each)
- Cheddar cheese — 2 blocks (2 pounds each)
- Colby jack cheese — 2 blocks (2 pounds each)
- Feta cheese — 2 large containers (I divide them into smaller containers at home)
- heavy cream — 2 pints
- butter — 4 pounds
- hummus — 1 large container
- milk — 3 gallons (we buy this from Meijer)
I spend right around $200 at Costco every month — I try to go to Costco on a different week than I go to Aldi and I’ll pick up more tomatoes, cucumbers, and bananas if we need more.
I also buy peanut butter, maple syrup, salsa, vitamins, toilet paper, and paper towels from Costco.
RELATED READING: What I Buy At Costco
Beef: Dave’s parents gift us a quarter of a cow every other year, This is usually enough beef to cover our needs for 2 years.
Pork, bacon, sausage, chicken, fish: I buy most of this from Aldi these days (I previously purchased from Zaycon Fresh before they went out of business). I buy in bulk and stock our freezer.
Lunchmeat: We don’t eat a ton of lunch meat, but this is one thing I still go to Meijer for — they have a great deli!
Summer sausage, pepperoni, hot dogs, and other “processed meats”: This is also factored into my Meijer and Costco budgets below — I just buy them as-needed or when they go on sale.
To be perfectly honest, there isn’t much else I buy from the grocery store these days as I make most of my own bread and we get meat in bulk from the butcher.
If I need something special, I just add it to my list and pick it up the next time I’m at a grocery store — but this is rare.
I buy my household cleaning products, soaps, lotions, toiletries, diapers, wipes, etc. from Grove.co. They deliver to my house every month — it’s fantastic!
I also place a large order with Country Life Natural Foods every 6 months or so. This is where I buy all my wheat berries, oats, beans, rice, legumes, seeds, dried fruit, spices, honey, etc. They have excellent bulk pricing and free delivery on large orders.
Rough Cost Breakdown:
Aldi = $125 every 2-3 weeks ($2166 – $3250 per year)
Costco = $200 every month ($2400 per year)
Meijer = $20-$100 every 2-3 weeks, or as needed for items Aldi doesn’t sell…and Meijer milk! ($350-$2600 per year)
Grove = free with affiliate credit
Eggs from church friends = $10-$15 per month ($120 – $180 per year)
Apples and other produce from local growers = ($200-$300 per year)
Bulk Food = $200-$250 every 6 months ($400 – $500 per year)
If I did the various calculations correctly, this breaks down to ROUGHLY $110 – $175 per week on groceries.
Of course, I don’t actually shop “weekly”. Some weeks I literally spend nothing on groceries and other weeks I’ll spend $350 or more — it just depends on the week, what stores I go to, and how long it’s been since I shopped last!
Either way, I’m satisfied with that weekly estimate — especially considering the enormous amount of fresh produce I’m buying, and the fact that we regularly invite people over for dinner and make food to bring to others.
As I mentioned above, this is not an exact science by any means. If there is a great sale on some type of produce, I’ll definitely buy more and we’ll eat that instead of other fruits and veggies (or I’ll put a bunch of it in the freezer for later).
We also don’t need to buy as much produce in the summer and fall due to our garden — so our numbers are lower in the summer and higher in the winter.
The point of this post is not to hem and haw over what a grocery budget should be for a family of 6 — it’s to show that it’s possible to eat lots of fresh produce without grocery shopping every other day!
Over the last 2 to 3 years, I’ve learned that as long as I’m organized, plan ahead, and keep up with cooking and prepping foods at home, it is VERY POSSIBLE to eat fresh foods without spending huge amounts of time shopping every other day (and without wasting food).
Believe me, I would not be able to stay on top of serving my family fresh fruits and veggies at every meal if it required multiple weekly grocery trips!
You know how much I hate grocery shopping — and this is just one more way I’ve managed to stretch out our trips to the store!
Want to read more about my grocery shopping over the years?
Here are a few previous Grocery Shopping posts:
August 2019 what I buy at Costco
May 2018 my Aldi shopping experiment