Kitchen Confidence

Building a Smarter Grocery List

By • March 20, 2012 • 58 Comments

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Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today, we're talking about the weekly grocery list.

Behind every great home cook is a well stocked pantry and a smartly packed fridge. Everything sitting in the fridge has a purpose, or ideally many. A novice sees a fridge full of disparate elements, while a great home cook sees a myriad of options -- a web of culinary possibility.

Consider the Lemon.

Lemons + olive oil = salad dressing. Lemons are great for stuffing into roast chicken. You can sprinkle the zest on pasta, on crostini, on just about anything that could use a little bright bitterness. Squeeze lemons in fizzy water. A spritz of lemon juice keeps cut avocados green. Thus, lemons deserve a place on your grocery list every single time. 

Comparing Our Lists

When we first began, we thought this list would be straightforward: here's what you should buy every time you go to the grocery store. End of story. But after we all drew up our weekly 'must-buy' lists and put them side by side to compare, we realized it wasn't that simple. We buy what we buy every week for a variety of reasons -- most of them deeply connected to our history as home cooks, with a modicum of practicality thrown in for good measure. What did our mother always have in the fridge? What are our various dietary quirks? A favorite midnight nibble? 

The Definitive Grocery List

So, we can't actually give you one simple master list. However, we can help you think about what your always-buy list might look like by giving you a slightly annotated glimpse of ours.

Across the board, there were a few items that everyone at Food52 HQ included in their list:

Onions
Butter and/or olive oil 
Garlic
Salad greens, kale
Lemons
Bread
Eggs
Fresh herbs (parsley especially came up a lot)
Cheese (from parmesan to soft cheeses)

Here are things that appeared on more than one list, but not all:

Dried pasta
Canned tomatoes
Nuts/nut butters 
Milk (soy or regular)
Fruit in season
Dried legumes and cereals
Avocados

So, we've shown ours. What's on your list? What do you buy every week?

Photos by Nicole Franzen

Tags: how-to & diy

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Comments (58)

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almost 2 years ago Stacey G

No Soy! Strictly almond or rice milk household.

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almost 3 years ago SarahJoyPease

Tortilla's
beef
and CHOCOLATE!

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about 3 years ago POAndrea

Onions
Lettuce and/or spinach
Whatever "tender" herb looks the freshest
Whatever fruit is on sale/in season
Some kind of root
Bacon or ham, whichever is on sale
Eggs
Champagne

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about 3 years ago SuzieCastello

I really like the list, and the stunning Zubaran inspired photography. My list would include roots: carrots, beets, paranips, taro, sweet potato and potatoes. I feel like a spoke is missing from my wheel without the roots.

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about 3 years ago clintonhillbilly

Should've added hot peppers! Serrano or jalapeño usually, and salad greens, generally a mix of softer and crunchier, such as arugula and radicchio. We certainly use lots of onions and garlic but do not buy them every week.

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about 3 years ago clintonhillbilly

Here's mine--
Protein (could be fish, chicken, tempeh, tofu, or vegetarian or regular sausages)
Almond milk
Fresh herbs--usually at least 2, parsley, cilantro, basil or mint
Easy veggies-- something on season that cooks fast--such as zucchini, broccoli, snap pease, or green beans
Eggs
Some kind of bread-- tortillas, pita, a loaf, whatever
Hummus
Greek yogurt
Cheese (usually 2 kinds)
Lemons
Limes
Fruit
One meals worth of relatively healthy frozen food

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about 3 years ago Foodiewithalife

My grocery list looks VERY similar! I'd add...

Theo's dark chocolate bar
dried dates or figs
cucumber
club soda
jarred roasted red peppers
low sodium turkey
Essential Baking raisin pecan bread (this makes life worth living!)

Love to see real and quality foods in my fridge and on the counter.

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about 3 years ago ziba's table

Chocolate !

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about 3 years ago ziba's table

Chocolate !

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about 3 years ago pschissel

We always have endive on our list to add to salads. That is considered a staple along with limes ( less expensive and a little zingier than lemons) for my 1-2-3 salad dressing of limes, olive oil and kosher salt.

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about 3 years ago coachdonna

I keep a full pantry and freezer, and replenish as I run out. I always have canned tomatoes, pastas and grains, as well as both organic beef and organic chicken stock on hand.

Weekly, I buy milk, eggs, shredded cheese (generally swiss, mozzarella or cheddar), avocado, asparagus, onions, lemons, garlic, bananas, oranges, sweet potatoes, fresh parsley and one other "herb of the week". I buy fresh fish and meat twice during the week.

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about 3 years ago linengirl

I start most days with a green smoothie so my list probably looks weirdly vegetably.
arugula or spinach or both, and often romaine hearts as well
whatever green I'm trying to find a way to like this week: lately it's been tuscan kale or dandelion or chinese greens
bananas
milled flax seed
lemons
apples
bananas
clementines or grapes
berries, often: blueberries or raspberries, as a rule
almond milk
greek yoghurt
eggs
good butter
double smoked bacon
fish or seafood of some sort (just 1 day's worth, even though I'm trying to eat fish twice weekly now)
vegetables: some permutation of zucchini, red or yellow peppers, grape tomatoes, cucumbers and often vegetables for making soup as well. That's usually either celery root or mushrooms.
herbs: generally italian parsley, thyme, green onions. Some times tarragon or basil.
carrots
celery
onions (I make a lot of soup. It's shocking what that does to one's onion usage!)
shallots
nuts: pistachios or cashews, mostly
chorizo or italian sausage
ground beef or some kind of poultry
dark (german) bread. Sweet & sour rye and such.


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about 3 years ago gailllc

So much difference between weekly needs and restocking the pantry! I always check before sending my hubby (who does the physical labor of shopping for groceries, (although with little imagination!) for canned beans -- garbanzo, light red kidney, white, black, refried for chip dip; various canned tomatoes, Kitchen Basics stocks, a couple of our fave bottled salad dressings, condiments, baking supplies... but usually get caught out when the stuff I assume is in the freezer isn't, like bacon end cuts, edamame, and some stuff that I probably shouldn't admit we buy/store frozen :D.

Weekly (but not every week) fresh, we get Greek yogurt, salad makings of all varieties, fresh veg of all varieties, apples, oranges, pears, tortillas, really good whole grain breads and sourdoughs... along with milk, eggs, poultry.

During the warm months of the year, we swear by naturally cured brats, flank steaks, and melons, along with copious limes and green onions... why do I use so many more green onions in the summer?
This was fun!

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about 3 years ago jwlucas

Your list s pretty much my list - funny that it also starts with onions. No matter the season I think I always buys carrots, apples, bananas and peanut butter. With springs vegs on the way, we'll get enjoying strawberries, sweet onions, tender greens, etc.

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about 3 years ago Cucinista

My grocery list is more than likely plural lists. Having learned to cook over 40 years ago in Firenze, I still shop more than once a week, even though I live in a rural university town. Otherwise, how can one find, even at the supermarket, what's in season, fresh, unexpected. Assuming the cupboard has its stocked items -- flours, sugars, baking powders and sodas -- and the fridge has enough milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs -- there is the produce, the needed spice replenishment, the Meyers lemons, that were unanticipated at week's end. I've hardly ever planned in advance what's on the menu more than 24 hours in advance (unless guests were expected). Returning for my third trip this week, I tossed the Meyers lemons, the Greek-strained yogurt cheese, the organic boned chicken thighs (buy one get one free) into the cart with Italian parsley, a red pepper, eggs (only three left in the fridge), green beans and canned black beans. Last night there was duck breast with shallot/port sauce, asparagus and a few lentils, already cooked. I still haven't figured out what's for dinner tonight! I'll just look in the fridge! The best thing I never learned was to buy processed foods (except if you consider canned tomatoes, beans, and chicken broth). And when it is dinner time, I may well check out FOOD52 to see how I might put some of this together. Always a great inspiration.

Bdfac04c-5a06-4c69-af0f-d08eb0924d92

about 3 years ago Cucinista

My grocery list is more than likely plural lists. Having learned to cook over 40 years ago in Firenze, I still shop more than once a week, even though I live in a rural university town. Otherwise, how can one find, even at the supermarket, what's in season, fresh, unexpected. Assuming the cupboard has its stocked items -- flours, sugars, baking powders and sodas -- and the fridge has enough milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs -- there is the produce, the needed spice replenishment, the Meyers lemons, that were unanticipated at week's end. I've hardly ever planned in advance what's on the menu more than 24 hours in advance (unless guests were expected). Returning for my third trip this week, I tossed the Meyers lemons, the Greek-strained yogurt cheese, the organic boned chicken thighs (buy one get one free) into the cart with Italian parsley, a red pepper, eggs (only three left in the fridge), green beans and canned black beans. Last night there was duck breast with shallot/port sauce, asparagus and a few lentils, already cooked. I still haven't figured out what's for dinner tonight! I'll just look in the fridge! The best thing I never learned was to buy processed foods (except if you consider canned tomatoes, beans, and chicken broth). And when it is dinner time, I may well check out FOOD52 to see how I might put some of this together. Always a great inspiration.

Eb515e78-7387-4e72-b91d-acfa26b55b99.default-full

about 3 years ago WFDoran

In addition to what is on your list We always have berries of some sort , bananas, apples , some sort of vegatable, greek yougurt, grains like bulgar,quinoa etc and of course wine

Eb515e78-7387-4e72-b91d-acfa26b55b99.default-full

about 3 years ago WFDoran

In addition to what is on your list We always have berries of some sort , bananas, apples , some sort of vegatable, greek yougurt, grains like bulgar,quinoa etc and of course wine

Eb515e78-7387-4e72-b91d-acfa26b55b99.default-full

about 3 years ago WFDoran

In addition to what is on your list We always have berries of some sort , bananas, apples , some sort of vegatable, greek yougurt, grains like bulgar,quinoa etc and of course wine

Eb515e78-7387-4e72-b91d-acfa26b55b99.default-full

about 3 years ago WFDoran

In addition to what is on your list We always have berries of some sort , bananas, apples , some sort of vegatable, greek yougurt, grains like bulgar,quinoa etc and of course wine