A mission of mine with Man With A Menu has always been to make cooking fun, easier, and more accessible (change if needed). Being able to do that for y’all requires that I know why cooking can be stressful, difficult, and something we try to avoid. I think a lot of it comes from just being overwhelmed and not knowing where to start. Too many ingredients, too many words we don’t know, too many unknowns.
What is a good shopping list?
To me, a good shopping list is one that’s manageable. Ever searched for a grocery shopping list? They are daunting with a gazillion checkmarks. I believe that for grocery shopping and cooking to be fun, easy, and accessible, it all starts with the right recipes. The recipes that I use concentrate on several core, key ingredients. The recipes are actually developed specifically to use just these ingredients, and avoid all kinds of extra, specialty, one-time-only ingredients that just take up space. When it comes to this blog, gone are the days of needing a whole new pantry worth of ingredients for each new dish. Simple and straightforward, without any compromises.
When I’m talking about a small, regular set of ingredients, we’re mainly referring to things used in high quantity that we’re having to get more of all the time, as well as perishables, things that we buy in lower quantity because they have a finite shelf life and go bad if we don’t use them quickly enough.
Don’t get me wrong, I go wild with spices and seasonings (because that’s what really gives so many dishes their unique flavor, plus, they’re cheap, you don’t need much, and they have a long shelf life), and I’ll occasionally request some specialty stuff here and there, but when it comes to perishables and items with shorter shelf lives, I like to keep it a little more pared down and basic. It cuts down on waste, it makes your shopping trips quicker and easier, it takes up less space in the cupboard / pantry / fridge, and also enables you to buy in bulk and save quite a bit.
How often should I shop for groceries?
As often as you like, but ideally, once every 1-2 months for staples (listed below), and then once every 1-2 weeks just for your fresh produce and protein. I enjoy shopping just as much as the next person, but grocery shopping doesn’t fall in the same category as going to the mall for fun. Having a system, and a list of essentials like this will really help you with making cooking more enjoyable by always having what you need, and making shopping more enjoyable by streamlining your trips.
My goal in all of this isn’t to pare it down so small that there are compromises in what I can cook, I just want there to be a really efficient link between my pantry, fridge, and my recipes, between what I buy and what I need; between what the recipes I collect and use call for, and just how many ways those ingredients can be used / and how versatile those ingredients are in cooking. And just how versatile the ingredients that are called for that I keep are in cooking.
What can I cook with what I have?
Quite a bit! With this standard setup of ingredients, you’ll have everything that you need to prepare quite a few of my recipes, including the majority of all baked-good recipes. Really all that’s up to you is to decide what types of protein and produce you want to eat during the week, as this list of staples will provide for almost any and every recipe I have listed on here with no missing ingredients or substitions needed. Most proteins and produce should be planned for and bought fresh. If you cook anything like I do, these ingredients will last forever and / or be regularly used up, so you won’t have to worry about these going bad or out of date.
Once-A-Month Grocery Shopping
Note: While this list may seem LONG, remember that this is your whole pantry / refrigerator, and some of these ingredients only get purchased once or twice a year, most once a month if even that.
Condiments / Oils
Oils and condiments are second in line to spices in terms of essential, in my kitchen. Without them, your dishes lack flavor and complexity. While oils tend to have a decent shelf life, most condiments must be refrigerated and tend to have a shorter shelf life, so I’ve kept it to a bare minimum here.
- Avocado Oil
- Olive Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Toasted Sesame Oil (not used to fry things, but as a flavoring for asian / oriental cuisine)
- Sriracha Sauce
- Mustard (dijon or whole grain)
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Vinegar (red wine or apple cider)
These are the stars of quite a few baking recipes, and it pays to get good quality stuff. Most of these are extractives of certain ingredients and are diluted in alcohol, and as a result are very strong, and a little goes a long way. If you can’t find an extract but they have flavoring, it will work, but may be a little weaker, and taste slightly different. Unless you’re a manic baker (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that) you won’t need to replenish more than once or twice a year.
- Vanilla Extract
- Orange Extract
- Butter Extract
- Coconut Extract
- Maple Extract
- Strawberry Flavoring
Herbs / Spices / Seasonings
While this list seems quite extensive, in most cases these are going to run about $4-6 a piece, and be purchased once every year or two. All of the spices marked with an asterisk (*) are used in less than 50% of my recipes, and you could leave them out and purchase as needed. That being said, the chance of you having everything but the spice you need for a recipe is higher if you go without them.
- Sage *
- Rosemary *
- Thyme *
- Black Pepper (white is also useful to have)
- Cayenne Pepper
- Chili Pepper
- Onion Powder
- Garlic Powder
- Fennel Seed *
- Allspice *
- Cinnamon *
- Ginger *
- Nutmeg *
- Curry Paste (Indian and Thai are both good to have)
- Liquid Smoke
- Kitchen Bouquet or Gravy Master
- Better than Bouillon Paste (chicken, seafood, and beef enable you to add tremendous flavor to any sauce with no work)
Most produce – fruits and vegetables – are best bought fresh. This list is designed to make it so that your trips to pick up fresh produce and protein are quick and efficient, since you have all of the rest of the stuff you need at home already.
- None – buy only as needed
Canned goods are a lifesaver. As boring as they may seem, they can be dressed up tremendously for the perfect side. Typically coming to you already fully cooked, they are a heat and eat affair that are open to enhancement. During the cooler months, they are the perfect add-in for soups and stews as well. When it comes to canned goods, their long shelf life usually means that I’ll keep 4-6 of each at any given time – it’s never fun to run out right when you need them!
- Green Beans
- Black Beans
- Mild Chili Beans
- Roasted Tomatoes
- Tomato Paste
- Pimentos Peppers
- Green Chili Peppers
- Roasted Red Peppers
- Coconut Milk (just one or two cans, not needed as often)
- Soup (cream of chicken or cream of mushroom)
Obviously, the majority of my recipes are low-carb, gluten-free, and keto-friendly, so there are not many grains. That being said, I believe in the value of moderation, and so in an effort to keep things safe for gluten-free, and give people who follow a GF diet but are not low carb some options, I do occasionally use rice, quinoa, and other gluten-free grains. While high in carbs, they are nutritious, and a good part of a balanced diet if you are not restricting carbs.
- Rice (basmati and wild rice)
The majority of my baked-good recipes are gluten-free, low carb, and keto-friendly, and as a result of that use a lot of alternative flours – the primary ones being almond, followed by coconut, and some oat fiber here and there.
- Raisins (or Craisins)
- Baking Powder
- Baking Soda
- Almond Flour
- Coconut Flour
- Oat Fiber (fiber – oat flour is not the same thing and will not work)
- Cocoa Powder
- Chopped Nuts (walnuts or pecans)
- Unflavored Protein Powder
- Sweetener(s) of Choice (I use Swerve Confectioners, primarily)
Some foods freeze poorly, while others come out of the icy depths fantastic. For the ones that resurrect well, they are an amazingly convenient option to have on hand at all times, and their long shelf life while frozen means that you can buy them and have them ready and waiting for months at a time for whenever the moment strikes perfect to bring them out for a recipe at just the right time.
- French Green Beans (haricot vert)
Generally speaking, protein is best procured fresh. While its never a bad idea to keep some provisions for a rainy day, most of us don’t have an abundance of extra freezer space.
- Canned Chicken
- Canned Salmon
For those who bake on a regular basis, all of these ingredients will come in handy and will be used up pretty quickly. Some of these items may need to be purchased on a more frequent cadence than monthly, depending on how long they are dated fresh for.
- Heavy Cream
- Cream Cheese
- Sour Cream
- Shredded Cheese (mozzarella, and cheddar)
- Parmesan Cheese
It’s five o clock somewhere, twice a day, every day. I don’t know anyone who drinks at 5AM, but when the evening rolls around, it’s always nice to have a fully stocked bar, to enable us to mix up and experience whatever the evening may call for. Some people are snobs, but not I; I have no problem with good-quality box wine, and keep it on tap at all times. For certain occasions I’m wanting something a little more specific than what is offered in box, and so I keep special bottles available. For spirits, these six will cover a wide variety of drinks with the right mixers and fruit juices. Remember, unless you’re drinking them straight, there’s no point in going for the fancy expensive stuff – the middle of the road will work just fine.
- Good Box Wine (red, white, rose, or whatever you prefer)
- Red Wine (two good bottles – zinfandel and cabernet)
- White Wine (two good bottles – chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, or pinot grigio)
- Vodka (regular, citrus, or both)
- Triple Sec
- Club Soda
- Tonic Water