My Local Weekly Shop
There are days when I wonder why I am fighting such a lonely campaign to persuade people to eat local, cook from scratch and stop buying processed foods. I took a mother of a school-friend of my son’s to the farmers market the other week and I could see she thought the prices were staggeringly expensive (AND they didn’t sell mangoes or sweet potatoes). I left her to her budget supermarket shop and fridge full of the sugary yoghurts her son likes so much, a bit of me wondering if I was the senseless one; after all we are (trying) to economise too.
But then I re-joined the Soil Association (after a shameful lapse in membership) and in the post came my copy of Stuffed, a book with a forward by the inspirational Michael Pollan and full of essays and practical advice on how to tackle the global food crisis, take care of the environment and improve our health, I felt a new surge of optimism about my determination to shop locally, appreciate sustainability, buy organic when I can and always seasonally. For now I am continuing to shop at the farmers market, although I am unusual in this, even amongst my foodie friends who see a market as a nice ‘extra’ but not a place to do the weekly household shop.
The reasons I prefer to shop at a local fresh food market rather than the supermarket, which if you’ve ever travelled to France or Italy really isn’t that unusual in other countries with a stronger food culture, are multitude. Read my Shopping Beyond the Barcode post for proper explanation; in this post I am attempting to present a practical example of how it can work, as most people simply don’t think it is POSSIBLE to do the majority of the week’s food shopping outside a supermarket.
But first a few caveats. I am assuming, rightly or wrongly, that if you are interested enough in seasonal, local food to have found this site you can cook, or are prepared to learn basic cooking techniques; also that you have a degree of interest, imagination and creativity regarding the challenges of cooking a family meal day-in-day-out and appreciate the rewards this brings. Lastly I am assuming too that you have or can find, a certain amount of time to create meals from scratch and stock the freezer with basics like chicken stock, batches of soup and sauce to make busy weekdays easier.
I won’t pretend eating this way is as quick as unwrapping a ready-meal and shoving it in the oven and, in all honesty, it MAY not be as cheap. I emphasise the ‘may’ because once you cut out buying the processed stuff you will have more money for the good stuff. But if you’re used to a chicken for under a fiver, you may balk at paying double that at the market. This is why you need to make sure you use it well. For more explanation read What to Eat and Why. And remember Michael Pollan’s advice when it comes to choosing what to eat ‘Pay more, eat less’.
So here is a guide to how a week of shopping local and seasonal might run, based on my shopping over the last few weeks. Main shop at the farmer’s market at the weekend, top-up groceries from an organic box delivery and local butcher/fishmonger mid-week. (Some sources can be found in Where to Buy Good Food). You will need dry goods too, and these most likely will come from the supermarket, but not necessarily, investigate deils and small independent stockists, particularly of things like olive oil and pasta. If you get organised you should be able to manage a monthly dry goods run: here are essential store-cupboard lists in Stocking a Green Pantry.
Saturday (market shopping list – I get all this from my local London Farmer’s Market)
Fish for Saturday supper
Chicken/Beef/Lamb/Pork/Game for Sunday plus sliced ham/beef/tongue for weekday lunches and sometimes sausages or bacon.
Eggs (from chicken man)
Milk, Cheese, Butter, Yoghurt
Bread (if you don’t bake your own)
Extra Treats: home-made cakes, artisan pasta, freshly-made spice mixes, local honey, home-made ice-cream etc.
Fish for Saturday supper: fish is best super-fresh so buy a seasonal variety and treat yourself to a good weekend supper: e.g. sea trout/wild salmon for summer, bream is a beautiful white fish, mackerel and sardines are healthy and economical, dived scallops, crab or lobster are all wonderful weekend dishes. It’s not cheap to buy good, sustainable fish, which is why I get it at the weekend and open a bottle of wine! I might also get smoked fish for a kedgeree, chowder or risotto or crab-meat for an easy sauce, sandwich filling or salad.
Meat: Choose one large joint for Sunday lunch, our default option is chicken, roasted or poached, hot with roast potatoes and veg in winter, with baby new season’s spring vegetables or in summer as a salad; cold roast chicken is invaluable both for making Stock and for using for a multitude of leftover meals. Otherwise, roast beef, brisket of beef or leg of lamb or lamb shanks, or game: guinea fowl, wild rabbit, venison; you choose. Really the list of options for a Sunday family meal are endless. See what takes your fancy according to season, weather and appetite. Whatever you choose buy big for leftovers.
I also pick up a pack of cold meat for packed lunches: nitrate-free ham or sliced beef, and sometimes something for a mid-week meal like sausages, lamb shanks, diced beef etc. but for lots of reasons (cost, environment, health) I am super-picky about the meat my family eat, and we don’t eat a lot. For more information read Why Eat Grass Fed Meat.
Dairy: I get eggs, milk, cheese (cheddar, goats and buffalo mozzarella) and butter at the market. Milk is unpasteurised at the markets I use. I often get cream as I love it and thick, jersey cream is the ultimate decadence!
Fruit and Vegetables: The most seasonal choices are in fruit and vegetables as farmers’ markets are limited to what can be grown locally. In practice this means roots and greens in autumn and winter, baby vegetables and asparagus in spring, courgettes, broad beans, peas and plenty of salad in summer. For a more comprehensive guide to seasonal food check this website: Eat the Seasons
My standard list includes potatoes, onions, carrots, fennel, garlic, greens, salad leaves but it is hard to write one as it varies so wildly according to the time of year and what is looking good. I buy plenty as any surplus will get used in soups (for inspiration see Soups: delicious, economical, good for you.
Bread: there is loads of amazing artisan bread at markets these days. I always go for sourdough because I like that vinegary tang and open texture, but you will find loaves of every sort, baked without preservatives and often organic. Bread is, however, one of the comparatively most expensive things to buy at the market: a loaf is usually at least £2.50 and can be as much as £5. This is one reason to learn to make your own. If you fancy having a go, click starter for your sourdough starter and loaf for how to bake the bread.
Treats: In Michael Pollan’s small but invaluable little book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual rule number 16 reads ‘Buy your snacks at the farmers’ market’. This is good advice. Even if you get a sweet treat it will be baked from simple ingredients: flour, sugar, butter, fruit. Other ‘ready’ foods you might find at the market include sauces made simply from local vegetables or jams made from local fruit. Ideally this is as processed as you want your food to be.
So that’s my main weekly shopping list. Presuming you’ve got your cupboard stocked you should be able to last at least till Tuesday before needing fresh supplies; that’s when I get top up organic vegetables from Riverford Farm (as I explained to a reader, part of my reason for choosing Riverford is that they deliver on a Tuesday). I always forget, of course, that Riverford do deliver meat, fish and dairy, so in theory I could get all my second wave of groceries from them.
So here’s a sample weekly menu from the shopping above. Breakfasts are always eggs and toast, porridge, yoghurt, fruit, tea, coffee, the usual suspects. Not cereal generally, too much sugar, too much processing. Oh, and I try and cook once for the whole family so the kids eat what we do only earlier. (See How to get Kids to Eat Well).
If you’re feeling uninspired read a cookbook, not to follow a recipe verbatim but for inspiration. Log on here or find another food blog you like. But most of us have a basic repertoire of simple meals that we like, that we can cook in our sleep. That’s what home cooks do. So this is what we do in our family, pretty much week in, week out with seasonal fluctuations in types of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. If it sounds boring, believe me our diet is far more varied, simply as a result of restricting it to seasonality than anyone who unthinkingly picks up carrots, broccoli, frozen peas, apples, bananas every week at the supermarket.
Saturday lunch: vegetable minestrone using up any of the less than perfect vegetables now a new lot have arrived. Bread, ham, cheese, salad, fruit, dark chocolate, mint tea, double espresso . . .you get the picture.
Saturday supper: market fish, vegetables, wine (kids usually eat a fillet of fish earlier with, this time of year, simple vegetables like samphire, peas etc that take almost no cooking).
Saturday cooking: I tend to make a big batch of soup at the weekend. Old and new vegetables join stock in a big soup for fridge and freezer to last the week.
Sunday lunch: roast whatever, vegetables, pudding made with fruit or a cake if we’re lucky. (We either eat lunch or early supper so the kids can join in, you might switch around according to your family).
Sunday supper: something simple: vegetable soup, omelette, scrambled eggs.
Sunday cooking: apart from the big roast and maybe a pudding or cake, I strip the meat from the joint and put a stock on, sometimes this waits till Monday morning. I bake bread as and when I need to but usually need to on a Sunday for weekday packed lunches.
Monday-Friday lunches: my son takes a packed lunch to school see What’s in your child’s lunchbox? My small daughter and I eat soup/salad/cheese etc at home. I admit my husband buys a sandwich out if he’s working, or eats location catering. I’m not super-human.
Monday meal: leftover chicken/beef etc. Often a risotto (rice, barley, spelt, farro on rotation!) sometimes a ragu, sometimes a meaty minestrone if lots of vegetables left.
Tuesday meal: Vegetable box arrives so fresh vegetables and sausages/lamb shanks etc if I bought them on Saturday or something with dried beans/lentils or a vegetable risotto or pasta creation. Plenty of salads for lunch this time of year.
Wednesday meal: now I am struggling so maybe I’ll go to butcher for something like mince and make a batch of Bolognese sauce freezing some for the next lack-of-inspiration time. Otherwise, if I don’t feel like more meat I’ll get some smoked haddock (maybe I had the foresight to freeze some from a market shop) for a kedgeree or chowder, or good fillets (if I am near a fishmonger) with vegetables. This is a day the kids might just get pasta and tomato sauce. A good forage in the fridge can often turn up enough for a meal like these bacon and beans. If it is ever only me for supper I’ll often defrost a soup from the freezer; light and almost no washing up.
Thursday meal: by now I am leafing through cookbooks for inspiration; a curry maybe, particularly in autumn/winter when there is squash around for a vegetable version. Eggs are a cheap and nutritious standby: frittata in spring and summer, omelettes, decadent eggs Benedict or a goats cheese soufflé, lots of eggy possibilities (eggy bread is a perfectly good children’s meal with some frozen peas in desperation).
Friday meal: end of the week, I feel like celebrating. Friday is traditionally fish night so if you pass a fishmonger you might not do fish on Saturday like I do, or do both! Go for a fish curry or fish pie. Otherwise, if trying to be frugal, I make a store-cupboard/fridge meal. Farro pasta with olive oil, garlic and herbs from the garden, liberal use of parmesan and everything tastes better with a glass of wine. Any leftover vegetables will go into a spicy, saucy stew or lighter broth thickened with a few grains. In winter roasted root vegetables are cheap and comforting or sausages and lentils with some dark green kale or cabbage stirred in at the end. Or I make pizza, beloved by all and if you’re making bread dough anyway it’s no problem to save some for pizza bases.
Look at that, here we are back at Saturday!
If you’re used to stopping at the supermarket on your way back from work/school every day all might seem like an impossible effort but actually this kind of shopping, eating and cooking has a lovely rhythm to it; just like the rhythm of eating with the seasons. I look forward to the weekend because there will be a glut of delicious food to gorge ourselves on. It makes up for another lentil supper on a Friday night. Looking back I see our sample menu doesn’t vary wildly each week but there is enough seasonal variation to satisfy both body and mind.
PS of course I can’t post this up without admitting to the things we ALWAYS run out of and I HAVE to go to the supermarket or greengrocer or corner shop for: lemons, semi-skimmed milk for people who gag on full-fat, more fruit, especially bananas (obviously not local) occasionally bread if not organised enough to bake, dark chocolate, most important of course.
This post is taking part in Two for Tuesdays at Girlichef