The ‘No Grocery’ Challenge

Photo by nrd on Unsplash (with red lines added by the author)

With extra time on my hands lately, I’ve found myself doing on-line challenges including planking, posting past travel pics, and various martial arts challenges.

One challenge I hadn’t done relates to grocery savings & food waste reduction like the ’30 Day No Grocery Challenge’, ‘No Spend Grocery Challenge’ and ‘Grocery Budget Challenge’.

What’s leading people to do these ones?

It might have something to do with the fact that the average Canadian household spends $8527 on food annually1, and that same household throws out over 100 kilograms of food per year4.

I still have lots of groceries left over from my Pandemic bulk buys, and I like to think I’m good at saving myself money.

Therefore, it’s probably a good time for me to do a grocery challenge or something similar, before my food (and money) goes to waste.

As the Covid-19 Pandemic started, many of us bulked up on groceries. Aside from a reasonable supply of extra toilet paper, I loaded up on normal grocery items, and many others with longer shelf lives like canned and frozen goods.

My Pantry

The depth of my pantry and freezer tells me there is still a lot left.

So many canned vegetables, yuck! Canned chicken?! What was I thinking…?

I suspect both will be worked into sauces.

Editor’s note: The day of my last edit on this post, I made myself a decent lunch using a can of chicken. I made the chicken seem like pulled chicken by warming it in a frying pan, adding a little BBQ sauce, then put it in warm tortilla wraps with a little melted cheese and tomatoes. It was actually decent!

My Canned-Chicken Lunch

I really don’t want to do another on-line challenge, but I need to so something so I don’t end up throwing out this food, wasting money doing it.

So let’s talk about how much we spend on food.

Of the $8527 that Canadian households spend annually on food (according to Statistics Canada for 2017), $5934 was spent on food purchased from stores (i.e. groceries), and $2593 from restaurants.1

That works out to $3553 total spent per person annually, as Stats Canada also reported there are an average of 2.4 people per household.2

That’s a lot of money spent on food.

Now let’s talk about how much food we waste.

According to the Zero Waste Food Council, “In Canada, $31 billion worth of food ends up in the landfills or as compost each year.”3

That’s a big number!

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time conceptualizing billions.

To give us better perspective, food waste is “costing the average Canadian household more than $1,100 per year”4

Food Spending & Waste

That’s $92+ a month, and I’ve actually seen higher numbers reported than that!

Shall we just take a couple of fifties and light them on fire each month!?

That’s basically what we’re doing.

Yet another image of money being burned…well, seemingly about to be burned. I’m not burning my own cash!

Imagine if we were able to bring that waste down to zero, or at least dramatically reduce it?

That’s a lot more money in our pockets and a lot less food going to waste!

So how do we do it?

Sure, we can do a ‘No Grocery’ challenge, but frankly that won’t do much of anything unless we change our mindsets and/or habits.

Like a friend who also did the ‘5-minute Plank Challenge’, instead of just finishing and moving on, she’s incorporated planking into her daily exercise routine.

A perfect example of a challenge leading to a change in habits.

Some of the grocery challenges are very specific about what you can and can’t do. Like the challenge author Sarah Li Cain wrote about here. Her ‘no grocery challenge’ consisted of “people cooking only from ingredients they already have at home for at least two weeks. The premise is simple: No eating out allowed, and everything I prepared had to come from what I already had.”5

It’s pretty straight forward. Try that or find a similar challenge.  Take whatever approach or challenge you think is best, just do something.

For me, I’m kind of done with challenges right now, so here’s what I’m doing with my excess food:

  • Identify – Exactly what I have, what I know I won’t eat (to donate) and what’s past expiration (for disposal).
  • Separate & Prioritize – The food I need to work through
    • In the freezer, I’m moving all the older stuff to the right-hand side, with the newer food on the left.
    • I’ve used a sharpie to write an estimate of the freeze date and will use it with new items from now on.
    • Similar approach for the pantry, grouping all the older stuff to the right side of each cupboard.
      • You could move all the old stuff to one cupboard, but I prefer to still keep all the like items together.
  • Add to my calendar to do the whole thing again six months from now

All of this re-organizing is especially tricky for me, as I’ve got a very small kitchen with little storage space, but I’m making it work so far.

After you’ve finished your challenge, or process like I’m doing, you should have a lot less food on hand, which should make it easier to keep organized.

Just make sure not to just refill your shelves and freezer, no matter how convincing my May 24th blog post on Bulk Buying was!

Yes, I am still going to stock up during any sales for things I consume regularly, but not to the point where it gets difficult to see what I have and lose track of older items, resulting in waste.

If I save $10 bulking up on a sale, only to throw out $10 (or more) worth of something else that gets buried in the bottom of the freezer, that would be a bit silly.

Hopefully your version of the ‘No Grocery’ Challenge will give you a different perspective on grocery shopping and consumption, and maybe even change some habits. Mine certainly has so far.

I really like some of the learnings that Sarah Li Cain mentioned in her article5 that I’ve summarised with my own added at the end:

  • Only go food shopping if you really need to
    • It’s too easy to drop in for 1 item only to leave with 5
  • Stick to a list of items that are truly needed
  • Get creative in storing and using food (especially fresh food)
  • Manage your left-overs
    • Eat them as is, make them into something else, or reduce the amount you make in meals so there aren’t left-overs

A ‘no grocery’ challenge will definitely help us save money on our next grocery bill, reduce our grocery waste, and can even change our shopping and eating habits.

That, and it’s great for the environment and helps us in Doing More with Our Money.

Thanks for reading!






4 Replies to “The ‘No Grocery’ Challenge”

  1. I did a work volunteer day at a food bank and somehow got stuck with the job of reading the expiration dates off canned goods. It’s surprising how many people donating their canned food two seconds before they expire. That tells me they’d been holding onto them. Then here’s the question: why stock up on stuff you would never feel like eating? I think during the start of the pandemic people were acting like it was a nuclear crisis and many ended up buying stuff they normally would never eat. I encourage people to be honest with themselves about that, and donate sooner rather than later.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Louisa! I definitely stocked up on things I normally wouldn’t have prior to the pandemic, which was definitely unusual for me…I agree everyone needs to be honest with themselves about what they know they will eat and what they just won’t, ideally starting when they are doing their shopping!

  2. This article is great, I have recently done the same thing, i actually downloaded this great app called Pantry Check, where I scan my items and i can put in an expiry date /or or when I got it, and know what I have when I am in the store. Its really helpful.

    1. Thanks for the comment, and for reading, Heather! I will have to check out Pantry Check, that sounds interesting!

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