How to Clean Up Your Shopping Routine

How to Green Your Shopping Routine | Big Girls Small Kitchen

Thanks for your thoughtful comments! This giveaway is now closed. -Cara, 5/6/16

Waste in the kitchen is a big topic these days, a fact that’s reflected in certain trends I’ve been seeing. Like: Perfect vegetables are out, restaurant pop-ups repurposing food that would have gone to waste are in. Ubiquitous plastic baggies and wrap are out; beeswax-coated cloth to hold cheeses, halved grapefruits, and bread loaves are in. Throwing out your food scraps: out; saving them for stock or compost: in.

Depending on your mindset, some of those of-the-moment ways of staying green in the kitchen might sound so onerous that your inner voice is screaming “compost?!?!” in disbelief. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t make a few small changes. For example, while I’ll never give up paper towels for messy tasks, like wiping out the oily wok in between batches of fried rice, I make the effort to grab clean kitchen towels for most other undertakings, from blotting tofu to wiping down shelves.

I especially try to make these kinds of little changes when I go grocery shopping. The tweaks I make while stocking the pantry and running out for milk are tweaks that don’t inconvenience me at all but do help cut down on some of the less sustainable parts of being a consumer these days.

In a monthlong celebration of Earth Day, Whole Foods Market has started a conversation about just these types of changes, and I’m happy to have the chance today to share those parts of my routine that aim to keep things green.

Read all the way to the bottom for the chance to win a $100 gift card to Whole Foods.

How to Green Your Shopping Routine | Big Girls Small Kitchen

How to Clean Up Your Shopping Routine

    1. Go grocery shopping. With so many options for ordering groceries online, making the effort to shop in person most of the time ensures that you have the ability to make real choices for yourself about packaging and ingredients. In person, you can also deviate from a set meal plan if organic strawberries are on sale or if the broccoli turns out to look subpar and therefore likely to go to waste. You feel more connected, I think, to the products you buy when you pick them out yourself.
    2. Tote Totes. Re-usable bags prevent you from stowing stuff in one-time-use bags! I should admit here that I just cleaned out my tote collection. There were dozens. Even with a more edited selection, I find I always have the right bag for the job. That’s the second part of this tip. While I wouldn’t advise amassing quite as many as I used to own, don’t be overly minimalist here. If you like carrying groceries home in a few smaller bags, stock those. If you have transportation and want enormous canvas sacks that can hold your whole grocery load, treat yourself to a few of those. If you buy a lot of pies, then find a tote with a wide base. I’ve often found that a big backpack can be an essential part of grocery shopping, and of course tons of city dwellers swear by their fold-up shopping carts.
    3. Don’t Bag Your Produce. There’s no requirement to use those plastic baggies around the produce department, so I tend to pile my veggies unprotected in my shopping cart and then my tote bags. (I make exception for teeny tiny veggies, like Thai chilies, which might get lost without a bag, though you could invest in some light drawstring pouches if you’re serious about being plastic free). I wash all veggies before I eat them, so I don’t really worry about them getting dirty. I do keep raw meat in another part of the cart, though. Occasionally, my heads of lettuce have left puddles on the cashier’s belt, but no one ever seems to mind.
    4. TYOC (Tare Your Own Containers). Take bulk buying one step further by bringing along your own bags or jars. Check in with a sales associate to be sure this is okay, then measure and mark the weight of the empty containers before you fill them with oats and seeds. That way, you’ll only pay for the contents of your jar, not the jar itself.
    5. Read Labels – Seriously. The only real way to find out if products comply with your personal green ethos is to read labels carefully. This is as true for packaged foods as it is for produce. When the USDA has certified a fruit, grain, or vegetable as organic, for example, it means that toxic and persistent pesticides haven’t been used during growing; you’ll be spared pesticide intake, as will the land and water used to grow the food. If you’re not sure what “natural” or “local” really mean, read up and ask until you understand.
    6. Find Second Life for Scraps. First, make the most of all the foods you pay for by using them while they’re fresh. Then, see what you can do to salvage ends, stems, and leaves that would otherwise go to waste. Some ideas: put a squeezed lemon half in the dishwasher for extra freshness. Freeze extra bits of organic veggies for eventual use in stock. Make endless batches of green sauce and pesto with herbs, radish or turnip or beet greens, and even excess kale. Experiment with odds and ends in any way you dream up!
    7. Look for Deals. This one is a little roundabout. But by saving your own money when you can, you’ll be able to spend on the right products when you’d like to. In particular, look for discounts when fruit and veggies are in season and therefore abundant. I’ve been using the Whole Foods Market app, which offers really relevant coupons – recently, there was one that included a $5 savings on any $20 worth of produce!

how TO WIN a whole foods gift cardHow to Clean Up Your Shopping Routine

Leave a comment below to share the ways you stay green in the kitchen. (Browse here and here for some starter ideas.) I’ll randomly select a winner next Friday, May 6, so please be available at the email address you input.

This post was sponsored by Whole Foods Market. All opinions, as usual, are my own. Follow along in the Earth Month conversation at #1greenthing. Thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep Big Girls, Small Kitchen delicious!

Posted in: Food Shopping
  • Jane D.

    Great topic! I have been trying to be more flexible with recipes to use what I have available. I try to experiment with substituting ingredients and regularly make a “kitchen sink” lentil or quinoa salad with whatever veggies/cheese/fruits are on hand.

  • Vanillamanda

    I’ve started making a lot of my own condiments- ketchup, mayo, hot sauce, etc., which not only tastes great, but I know exactly what the ingredients are and I’m using fewer plastic/glass containers.

  • Sean Llewellyn

    I make my own yogurt, bread, pickles, and so much more! It is so much cheaper and allows me to stay away from plastics. Also, I always carry around a very large backpack to carry my groceries and totes.

  • Katharine

    I enjoyed reading this! I do a clean sweep of the fridge every week and throw all the odds and ends into a fritatta or veg-heavy marinara sauce.

  • Rebecca

    I keep a compost bucket in my kitchen, and have a compost bin in my backyard! I make at least one whatever’s-in-the-fridge frittata or stir fry a week. In the warm months, I buy 85%+ of my produce from the farmer’s market, and always try to always use as much of the vegetable as possible – like using the beet greens or radish greens, for example.

  • TinaReads

    The best thing I’ve found is to create a weekly menu! There’s always less waste when you go to the store with a list of exactly what to need for the week.

    Now I need to weed out my collection of bags.

  • Tierney

    I really try to use up every.little.bit of what I buy–food waste is a huge problem, so I try to mindful and only buy the quantities I really need. Also, I love the discounted “ugly” produce; it tastes just as good and it’s a great deal!

  • Sarah Snyder

    I do a weekly menu. Plus I keep a list of the produce that I’ve got on the fridge. I bought one of those peel and stick dry erase boards and put it right over the freezer door. That way I always know whats in there and things don’t get forgotten/wasted.

    The Midwest Darling

  • Stephanie Lai

    I compost as well as keep veggie scraps for stock!

  • Sara

    I freeze everything that’s about to go bad so I can use it later: fruit, cheese, bread, eggs. I make my own yogurt.

    • Cara

      Brilliant use of the freezer. Do you have a yogurt recipe/formula you love?

  • Daniella

    I make a weekly menu to avoid waste.

    • Cara

      That’s a good one – definitely helps (and I should do it more often).

  • meliakim

    We are all about the composting!

  • Elizabeth Guy

    I always use repurposed plastic containers in lieu of ziploc baggies, and I only go through a few rolls of paper towel each year. Kitchen towels are the way to go!

    • Cara

      Oh man, I aspire to a few rolls!

  • Kelsey

    Great post! Shopping on the outside aisles is always my go-to for grocery shopping! And of course bringing my own bags!

    • Cara

      Thanks! Yes to the outside aisles!

  • Sam Williams

    I make sure to keep my totes in my car at all times to ensure they aren’t forgotten on the way to store, or are there when I need them last minute!

    • Cara


  • Cassidy

    I take reusable tote bags and buy grains/nuts in bulk.

  • Kavita Goyal

    Very informative article. It is very much necessary to reduce the purchase of groceries in order to minimize the wastage. Please post articles on how to use left overs to make healthy and delicious recipes.

  • Katie

    I switched from paper napkins to cloth. I also keep a bag in my freezer with vegetables that are looking sad, vegetable trimmings, parmesan rinds, etc., and make stock with them. I’ve tried to use reusable grocery bags more often, but every other time I’m at the store I use the plastic ones because we use them to pick up after the dog on walks. I’d love to do away with the plastic grocery bags altogether, but without a yard I’m not sure it’s possible!

  • cezovski

    I use canvas bags for one thing. I also use fresh vegetables which is not only healthier but avoids the plastic bags frozen ones come in

  • caitlin

    I get all my produce from my csa (and in the off season the farmers market) and get all my other essentials from thrive.

  • j_u

    when I’m firing the oven up for a meal or snack, I can usually quickly prep another simple recipe I have on hand for a comparable temperature and cook it consecutively. saves energy from heating the oven up again a different day.

  • Lisa

    I always take my own bags and shop the perimeter of the store only

    • Cara

      Hi Lisa! Thanks for entering – you’re the winner. Please email me at to claim your card.

      • Lisa

        What a blessing, thank you so much! – email on the way!

  • Amelia Shannon

    I recently read Zero Waste home by Bea Johnson and that really challenged me to rethink my shopping habits. Like you, I try not to use the plastic produce bags and I carry a few green mesh bags for veggies that really need them. I try to reuse the plastic bags provided in the bulk section. For example if I buy bulk rolled oats I pour the oats into a large mason jar when I get home and save the plastic bag to reuse at the store. I feel a little conspicuous doing this but so far no one has bothered me. I keep all the different types of bags neatly organized in the trunk of my car and grab what I need based on my shopping list. My next goal is to get in the habit of buying bulk liquids like olive oil, maple syrup, and dish soap and using my own containers. This will take making trips to different stores but if I buy large quantities I won’t have to make frequent trips. In Austin we are lucky to have stores that encourage this and don’t look at you funny when you ask them to get your tare weight! Lastly, I save produce scraps for an outside compost pile which is really just a big hill of dirt :)

  • Laura Pugh

    This is great! As a vegetarian, I eat a lot of beans. I like to buy them in larger quantities, dried. Not only is it crazy cheap, it saves a bunch of tin cans (a lot of which contain BPA).

  • Kate

    I try to reuse glass jars when I can!

  • Ping Teresa Yeh

    Wonderful topic – and very in line with things I’ve been thinking about recently about how I as a consumer can reduce food-associated waste! Repurposing leftovers and food scraps is a favorite – especially bread crusts for strata, or veggie tops/peels into “chips” or stock.

  • Kim B

    We take the bottom of our lettuce plant it and regrow it, we also plant out garlic that has started to sprout.

    • Cara

      So cool.

  • Hotsy Malone

    We try to plan our meals out for the week, shop accordingly and compost any thing we can! I tend to be the random shopper and come home with crazy condiments and such so I’m trying to only buy when I know we are out or running low on something.

  • Diane Hennan

    I walk to the Whole Foods by my office during lunch to squeeze in grocery shopping a couple times a week. Going to the store more often ( and having to carry my items home) reduces the food waste I used to have!

  • Elle

    I use reusable storage options and keep canvas totes in my car so I don’t need to use plastic bags at stores if I can help it.
    prettyinhotpink6 at gmail dot com

  • Michelle E

    I put onion, garlic and celery trimmings in a plastic bag with my chicken bones which are then stored in the freezer. When I have enough, I pop the whole thing in my slow cooker with water to make great chicken stock.

  • magazinegirl37

    I think about this often now that my neighborhood is composting. To minimize waste, I’ve educated myself on how best certain foods freeze — so i can use them again instead of watching them rot on my counter.

    • Cara

      That’s a great one. Any surprising tidbits you’ve learned about freezing?

      • magazinegirl37

        Honestly, learning that the better way to make bread last longer is to freeze it is probably one of the best things I’ve learned lately!

  • Martha N.

    I love being able to compost my peelings, coffee grounds, etc. I also take totes with me where ever I shop.

  • Sarah Stephenson

    Love this article! I never use the little plastic bags for my produce, honestly I feel like it makes them spoil faster by keeping the moisture locked in. I do need to put a bigger effort into bringing re-usable grocery bags to the store, I just need to remember to put them in the car!

  • HS kraftmaking

    I menu plan before going out shopping with my own tote bags and containers.

  • Jaime @ laviejaime

    I do a weekly menu, like many others that commented, that helps stay on track with my budget for the week and not buying things that will go to waste!

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