Wandering wide-eyed up and down every aisle at Fairway is not an efficient food shopping strategy; nor does it inspire healthy choices. But that’s what Melissa Lanz was doing before she realized it was time to overhaul her approach to making healthy, fresh meals for her family, starting with how she approached the grocery store.
“I was just so depleted and always stressed and always wondering what was for dinner,” Lanz says. “Dinner would be a science project every night, and I was still wasting food. When I didn’t have a plan, there was just always that stress.”
So Lanz created The Fresh 20, an online resource that provides you with meal plans for an entire week based on a shopping list that includes just 20 fresh, multitasking ingredients. The approach aims to reduce waste and make healthy meal prep both economical and efficient, and Lanz lays it all out in her first book, also called The Fresh 20: 20-Ingredient Meal Plans for Health and Happiness 5 Nights a Week, which debuted this week.
1. Have a plan. This one is obvious, but it’s the most common cause of crispers full of rotten spinach and consistently forgetting the olive oil. “There are a lot of products we get bombarded with, so not going with a list can be daunting,” Lanz explains. Write. It. Down.
2. Stick to the perimeter. Avoid the belly of the supermarket beast by moving along the perimeter of the store, where almost all grocers house the fresh-food departments, like produce and meats. Wandering center aisles will just lead you to shelves overflowing with processed foods. (Though you might legitimately find the olive oil and almond milk there.)
3. Don’t overbuy. “I see so many carts, and I think, ‘Do they have a family of eight?'” Lanz jokes. Go for quality over quantity, especially with meat. While grass-fed may cost more per pound, it will be more budget-friendly if you exercise portion control. Really think about how much you should realistically be finishing in a week.
4. Exercise pantry efficiency. This tip is key. Lanz’s Fresh 20 program includes just 20 pantry essentials that should pretty much cover you for a week. “It’s about having a small, select, curated list of things and from that you can really cook any flavor profile,” she says. For example, ditch the herb caddy that includes every spice from around the world, most of which have lost their flavor from years of sitting unused, and think about which are really necessary. Like cumin, which works in dishes from lots of different countries—from black-bean tacos to chana masala. “Choose six or so core spices so that you can always be using them and they’ll stay fresh. ” —Lisa Elaine Held