Grocery list on a table with a pen

How to Write an Effective Grocery List

I kind of covered this in my post Tips to Reduce Food Waste and Save Money on Groceries, but I wanted to get right to the nitty-gritty of making a grocery list. Yes, to some, that may seem basic.

You write down what you think you need so you remember why you went to the store. But how many times have you gone there and got home only to realize you forgot something important?

So, more or less, this is how to write an effective grocery list that will help prevent that from happening. Plus, you’ll:

  • Save money on groceries
  • Prevent food waste
  • Spend less time going to the store
  • Avoid getting takeout

First and foremost, to make a grocery list, you need to know what meals you’re shopping for.

Decide What You Want to Eat

When you ask someone what they want to eat, you could get various answers from I don’t know to I don’t care, and possibly whatever, followed by not that. By deciding what you want to eat for the week ahead of time, you’re not only reducing the amount of decision fatigue you might face, but you’ll also have an idea of what ingredients you’ll need to make that happen.

First and foremost, check your fridge, cupboards, pantry, and so on for food you already have. Also, check the flyer to see what’s on sale. Doing this will help with inspiration when creating a menu for the week. You can also keep a list of your favourites—similar to browsing a restaurant menu.

You can do this for every meal or dinner only if you find breakfast and lunch are pretty routine (but don't forget you need ingredients to make these too).

Write Out Your Grocery List

Now that you’ve looked at the ingredients you already have, checked the flyer, and made your menu, make a list of any the items you’ll need to cook your meals. Make sure you include the quantity and any specifics like flavours, colours, textures, etc. if there are several options.

You’ll also want to keep a running list in your kitchen to write down food and ingredients you run out of—and write them down as you think of them. An important thing to note here is you want to avoid keeping multiple lists. If you have more than one, it’s easy to think that’s everything when it’s not.

If you live with someone else, you’ll want them to have access to the same list you do. If you need to write it elsewhere in the meantime, remember to put it on the main list when you can.

Using the Bring! app on your phone is helpful. It’s free, and you can share lists with others. All you do is click icons to make your list and click to remove them. I have no affiliation with the app, I just like it, and you might too.

Go Shopping

At first, planning meals to write a shopping list might seem like a lot, especially if you’re new to grocery shopping. But as you go, it’s something that will get easier.

Photo of a cook book with kale

The Basics of Reading a Recipe—Plus Some Tips and Tricks

It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 35, everyone has to learn to cook at some point. Not every meal you make is going to require a recipe. However, they’re helpful guides in ensuring you get things right—even if you’re reading how to scramble an egg.

With that said, if you haven’t spent much time with recipes, trying to follow one can seem intimidating. It’s something you’re likely to find easier as you go, but it’s okay if you find yourself feeling a little stuck right now.

In this post, you’ll find some tips on reading recipes and information to help you understand them.

Before You Get Started with a Recipe

Recipe best practices begin before you touch an ingredient or utensil.

First and foremost, you’ll want to ensure you read the entire thing from start to finish. Many online recipes provide a story or extra information for context, but focus on the ingredients, instructions, and notes. You can save the rest for later.

Right now, you’re ensuring you have everything you need—ingredients, equipment, and the time (and patience) to cook it. Plus, sometimes there’s information hidden in the instructions that may make or break the process for you. For example, the chef mentions covering the food with foil, but you’re fresh out.

It’s best to find these things out ahead of time instead of when you get to that step.

Additionally, reading it beforehand will help you plan if you need to take something out of the freezer or bring an ingredient to room temperature.

How to Read a Recipe

Chefs often list their ingredients in order of appearance, kind of like movie credits. Someone will throw you a curveball now and then—which is another reason to read ahead.

When they place a comma after the ingredient, with a descriptor like diced or sliced, you complete the action of dicing or slicing after measuring the ingredients.

Listing the ingredient without a comma means you use that much of it, already prepared. So, you’d use a cup of chopped nuts instead of measuring a cup of them and then chopping them up.

Speaking of which, it’s best to do all your prepping before you start cooking. That way, you avoid rushing to get ingredients ready in the step you need them.

Prepared food on a cutting board

You may be able to multi-task later once you get the hang of cooking. Right now, you want to focus on learning.

As for following the instructions, you can get creative with a recipe once you master it, but the first time you follow it, you’ll want to do so step by step unless you’re sure you’re skilled enough to go rogue.

Other Tips for Reading Recipes

  • Check your source—when learning the basics, stick to reputable sources so you know you’re not following amateur advice. Everyone has their favourites, but some excellent sources are The Spruce EatsRecipeTin Eats, and Simply Recipes.
  • You may not always need the exact tool the chef lists in the recipe—for example, you might not have a pastry cutter, but two butter knives could do the trick. When in doubt, ask your favourite search engine for alternatives
  • Often overlooked, recipe notes are a goldmine of information when it comes to substitutions, troubleshooting, and other recipe enhancements or alternatives
  • Make your own notes on recipes as well so you know what you liked about them and what you’d change when making them again
  • Since ovens, stoves, and appliances vary, a recipe will often give you an idea of when your meal is ready. This can be describing the colour or texture of the food, letting you know what temperature it should be, or other methods to test—you’ll get more confident about this as you go, but going by the cooking time alone could result in eating uncooked food
  • If your meal doesn’t turn out looking exactly like the picture or it's not Instagram-worthy, no sweat. As long as it’s safe to eat and it tastes okay, your efforts were a success—remember you’re learning
  • Keeping a hard copy of your recipe is helpful so that you’re not scrolling through to find your place on your phone or tablet—some webpages also refresh and bring you to the top, or popup ads get in the way. Print the ones you know you will make, write them on a cue card, or pick up a cookbook with some of the basics. You could even copy and paste it into a new document in your notes app to keep things less distracting

Keep it Simple—Master the Basics

If you’re new to cooking, mastering the basics first will help you build the skills you need to take on more challenging recipes.

The Spruce Eats explains this well in its article 12 Cooking Basics Everyone Should Know. In that article, you’ll not only find a list of the skills, but exercises to help you learn them.

Hopefully, you found this information helpful. Check in soon for more posts on everyday cooking, cleaning, and chores.

Compost pile in metal bin

5 Common Myths About Backyard Composting Explained

If I told you backyard composting is glamorous, I’d be lying. While it certainly isn’t attractive, it is beneficial to your household, your plants, and the environment. It’s also not overly complicated.

It’s easy to see how a beginner may be discouraged from getting started with some of the myths floating around about the subject. Some of them make it seem like backyard composting isn't worth it. 

In this post, I’ll take you through some of these misconceptions and explain how they’re not always true.

1. Backyard Composting Stinks—So Does the Indoor Collection Bin

Of course, composting isn’t odourless. Your outdoor bin will likely smell like nothing more than a little sweet dirt, but it's actually kind of pleasant—if its contents are balanced. This just means keeping a healthy mixture of greens and browns to ensure you maintain the correct moisture levels. If it’s too wet, add more browns. Too dry, add more greens.

For the bin you use to collect compost inside, you just want to make sure you empty it regularly and give it a quick rinse afterward. It’s also helpful to clean it with soap every so often.

Personally, I use a small pail from the hardware store. I line it with a bit of waste paper and empty it about once a week when it’s full—without any offensive odours. 

You also want to avoid putting meat, bones, fats, and oils into a regular compost bin. This could create a nasty smell and attract bears or other critters.

2. Composting is Annoying or Difficult

Although it does seem a bit intimidating, composting doesn’t need to be complicated.

You’ll likely spend a bit of time researching the right type of bin and take some time setting it up. However, once you do, you're good to go. From there it's just a matter of collecting your compostables into a pail, dumping them in the outdoor bin as needed, and covering it with dry leaves or other browns. Every couple of weeks, stir your pile, and in time you’ll have some nutrient-rich compost to help your plants grow.

Another point to note is that composting also makes garbage day a cinch as you’ll have less waste to take to the curb. 

3. Food Breaks Down in the Landfill Anyway

It’s common to think food waste, plants, and even paper products break down in the landfill because they do. However, as organic materials break down in the landfill, they receive no oxygen under all that trash. This causes it to break down slower and produce methane as it does.

Really, it’s better if we can avoid food waste altogether, but think about your vegetable peels and fruit cores—as well as those moments when you slip and just forget to eat a bit of produce. If you place them in your compost instead of sending them to the landfill, they receive the oxygen they need to break down quicker.

4. You Need to Buy Stuff

Backyard composting is as much of an investment as you want to make it. If you want to avoid buying a bin, there are plenty of DIY options, some of which involve nothing more than a simple tote. You may even have what you need to make one already.

Personally, I bought an outdoor bin two years ago because it was the best choice for me, but I use a simple pail lined with waste paper to collect my compostables. There's no need for special indoor bins, bags, filters, etc. 

5. You Need a Big Yard

You don’t need a big yard to compost. In fact, you likely want your bin close anyhow to avoid a long trip—especially if you get ice and snow. 

You do need a little space when working with your bin, so size is something to consider when researching the type of bin you’d like to use, but you don't need an acre for that to happen.

My yard is limited so I understand. I tucked mine behind the house where it’s accessible, yet out of sight to passersby and away from neighbours.

You Won’t Know Until You Try

Composting is an excellent way to deal with unavoidable food waste. While it may seem daunting to someone who’s never tried it, it’s not overly challenging—nor stinky or expensive.

First things first, you’re going to want to research bins and make a plan.

If you’d like to read about the backyard composting process more in-depth, I wrote an article about it that you can find here.

Groceries in green bags

7 Tips to Reduce Food Waste and Save Money on Groceries

Annually, Canadians toss out 2.94 metic tonnes of food. It goes to the landfill, where organic matter breaks down to become methane, a gas that’s far more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide. Not to mention all the packaging we toss out with it.

While we can stand behind the “just one person” rhetoric and take no action to make change, keep in mind, these issues come to be because of the collective action of individuals. On average one Canadian household wastes 79 kilograms of food per year and whether that’s you or me, it doesn’t matter.

The point is, if as individuals we can collectively produce that much food waste, we can also change our habits as individuals to collectively get that number down—whether see others doing it, or not.

In this article, I’ll share some tips on how you can reduce food waste and save some money in your grocery budget.

1. Make a Weekly Menu Plan

While it may sound monotonous, creating a menu plan doesn’t mean you’ll fall into the rhythm of Taco Tuesday and Pasta Thursdays—unless you want to of course. With a menu plan, you’re not assigning meals to a specific day. You’re essentially creating a list of meals you’d like to eat in a week and picking what to cook the day of.

It’s organized, yet random, so you still have spontaneity, but you’re not just cooking whatever willy nilly. You can also decide what to cook based on how you’re feeling instead of going by what day of the week it is, or a meal choice you decided on when you may have been feeling more ambitious.

To create your plan, look at the ingredients already in your kitchen, what’s in the flyer, and what’s in your budget to make a list of seven dinners. If you find you get stuck on this, it's helpful to keep a master list of your household favourites and go-to meals for inspiration.

2. Make a Grocery List

Hand-written grocery list

I know this may seem obvious to some, but wandering up and down the aisles of the grocery store looking for inspiration isn’t a good tactic. In fact, you’re likely to end up over buying what you don’t need and leaving without things you do. The whole experience is a recipe for having to go right back.

To make the most of your trip, you’ll want to walk in with a thorough list. This means, before you go, keep your list handy throughout the week so you can jot items down as you think of them and as you run out of household staples. You’ll also want to write anything down that you need to make the meals on your menu plan.

It doesn’t matter if you write it on a whiteboard in your kitchen, a piece of scrap paper, or into an app on your phone, keeping it all one place is ideal so you can avoid missing anything.

Once you go on your shopping trip, do your best to stick with it, and avoid needless volume purchasing sales—like buy two and get one free—unless you have a plan.

Also, if you haven’t already, try Bring!, it’s amazing, it’s free, and you can share a list with others in your household. All you need to do is click icons to add food to your list. I’m not affiliated, I just like it and you might too.

3. Prioritize Fresh Ingredients

Tomatoes on a countertopOkay, so I know I said there’s really no specific order in which you need to go through your menu plan. However, prioritizing fresh items like meat and vegetables that spoil quickly is ideal. Pay close attention to best before dates when shopping and deciding what to eat.

4. Freeze Your Ingredients While Fresh

If your menu plan requires a lot of fresh ingredients, or you know you want to save a meal for later in the week, freeze what you can. This is also helpful if you find an excellent sale or bulk deal on meat or another freezable item. Just portion it out and use it when you need it.

If you don’t already, you may want to consider buying frozen ingredients as well.

5. Be Mindful of Your Servings

From a cooking standpoint, consider the size of the helpings you and your household typically eat and do your best to cook exactly that—if you don’t like leftovers. A lot of recipes make more servings than there are people in the average Canadian family, so it's helpful to do the math and write measurements out ahead of time when dividing ingredients.

6. Get Creative with Leftovers

Soup with chunky ingredientsYou may have griped when your grandparents served chicken one night and pot pie the next, but they were onto something. When planning your menu, you may want to account for meals you can do this with. For example, at my house we barbecue chicken breast one evening and make chicken fried rice or chicken fajitas the next.

While sometimes it’s nice to enjoy leftovers as they are, getting creative with them will help prevent you from getting bored and cooking something else or ordering takeout.

7. Freeze Your Leftovers

It's surprising what you can put in the freezer. If you have some leftover ingredients or servings and you know you won’t eat them right away, put them in the freezer.

You’ll likely find the answer to what you can freeze and how long it will keep by popping the question into a search engine if you’re uncertain.

Getting Started

With a little planning, you can work to reduce food waste which is not only helpful for the environment, but also your budget—and you’ll save time as well. While some tips may sound intimidating, changing your habits around mealtime will get easier as you go.

If you’re looking to make more efficient meals, why not get started with creating a meal plan? Take a look at the foods you have in your kitchen to see what inspires you, or browse your local flyer.

Plants sprouting in soil

Everything You Didn't Think You Need to Know About Backyard Composting

If you’re curious about backyard composting, but you’re worried the setup and process are daunting—I can tell you firsthand it’s not. 

This post is for those who’d like to learn more about backyard composting and what it’s like before getting a bin. You’ll also find some information on how to get started if you’ve purchased one already.

Keep in mind, I touch on some of the other types of bins, but mainly discuss stationary which is the most common.

Before we get started, I’ll take you through the benefits of keeping a backyard compost. 

Benefits of Composting

First and foremost I want to point out that my husband and I have noticed a significant reduction in the amount of garbage we take to the curb weekly since we added composting to our routine. This means in a two-person (and two-cat) household, we typically only need to deal with one garbage bag a week.

Dealing with the compost itself doesn’t take much effort either. It’s not as convenient in the winter, but really the ice and snow only add an extra five minutes to the process if you maintain a path. Just remember to keep it sanded and wear proper boots to avoid slipping.

As a result of this simple process, the finished compost you take from the bin adds nutrients and other qualities to soil, helping your plants thrive. You can even use it to replace chemical products and fertilizers. Additionally, it keeps organic waste out of the landfill where it contributes to greenhouse gasses. 

While it’s common to think your food waste, lawn clippings, and even paper products will break down naturally in landfills, they will, but because it receives no oxygen under all that trash, it produces methane as it does.

How to Get Started

Decide on the type of bin

The first thing you’ll need to do is decide whether you want to purchase a bin or if you’d prefer to DIY. Personally, I purchased one as it sits close to my house. If that’s the way you want to go I recommend looking into the FreeGarden Earth by Enviro World (I’m not affiliated with it, I just like it).

Compost bin on asphalt
Not an award winning photo, but this is what it looks like minus the harvest door in front.

This compost bin is stationary meaning it stays in one spot and it’s placed on soil. Stationary bins are the most common and the least amount of work. 

You can also get batch or tumbler receptacles that sit on a stand. You spin these daily for faster composting. Additionally, if you dare, worm composts offer a quicker turn-around thanks to the bitty creatures inside.

I’ve also seen folks make some pretty nifty compost bins out of storage totes, that I can only imagine are a happy medium between a stationary and tumbler if you’re looking for something like that.

Choose a location

You’ll likely want your bin in a convenient location to avoid a long trek each time you need access. You also want to ensure you have space to work when adding, stirring, or emptying the bin.

Considering it’s not a glamorous item, keep it away from a neighbour’s fence and avoid putting it too close to your entrance. While maintaining your compost should prevent the bin from stinking, there are times when things may get off balance and the smell does linger a bit after correcting.

Stationary bins are best placed where there’s loose soil underneath.

Create a base

Once you have your bin installed, you can create a base by rounding up some twigs and sticks and filling the bottom of your compost about five inches. This is what worked for me, however, there are many ways people recommend building up the bottom layer of your bin, or not. 

The manufacturer of your bin may have a different method in its manual.

Adding to Your Bin

Putting items in

When you add to your bin, you want to layer green and brown materials. First, the greens go in and then you cover them with a layer of browns. Ideally, you want to ensure the pile is slightly moist, but not soaking. If it’s dry, add a bit of water or even some old coffee or tea. If it’s too wet, add more browns.

Every couple of weeks, stir the contents with a shovel. It may take a couple of months before the compost is ready to use in your garden.

Collecting items inside

Part of composting is collecting your food waste and dumping it into the bin rather than your garbage can. This means you’ll want to keep a pail handy indoors. While you can buy specific indoor containers, I use a cheap pail from the hardware store and it does the trick.

It’s also worth noting you can skip using compost bags as these break down quickly and may end up making a mess if you don’t take them out frequently. If you want to line your pail, use recycled paper and give it a rinse after emptying.

Collecting items from the yard

It’s helpful to collect a bag or two of dry yard waste like leaves, plant clippings, or weeds (if they’re not seeding). That way you have browns when you need them. Keeping extra browns may also come in handy if you find your compost pile smelling ripe. Add more in to see if it does the trick.

What Are Greens and Browns?

Greens from your kitchen are things like peels and other fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags, and rice. You can also find them outside as fresh flowers and plant clippings.

Browns from your home come from paper waste like napkins and coffee filters or bread, and can also be found in your yard as dries leaves, straw, and plant clippings.

An easy way to remember is that greens are slightly fresh and moist, while browns are typically dry and absorbent materials.

Should I Put Meat in My Compost?

The manual for my bin indicates you shouldn’t put any types of meat, including bones and fat into your pile. It also has another reminder right on the lid of the receptacle itself. Even if it didn’t, I personally wouldn’t as I’d be worried about the smells it would introduce and the potential for bears and racoons to try and rip my bin open.

Additionally, I avoid putting dairy products or oils in. Others may say something different, but I thought I would share my take on it. Eggshells are an exception.

Get Composting

Although it may seem intimidating at first, your backyard compost bin is surprisingly easy to maintain once you have it set up. Plus, it offers many benefits to your household, garden, and the environment.

If you have the space in your backyard, why not set one up? You can also check if your municipality offers a composting program if you do your research and decide a backyard bin just isn’t for you.