Ask LH: How Can I Eat Fresh When There Are No Stores Nearby?

Dear Lifehacker, I am a serving member in the military and live some 20 kilometres from the nearest supermarket, and to make matters worse I do not drive. I'm struggling to eat fresh and healthy and have a sustainable diet conducive to weight loss when supermarket access is a one-in-every-seven-day event. Can you make any recommendations? If I spend another week eating frozen chicken breast I'm going to go vegan. I have a fridge, freezer, the rest of a normal house and space for a small vegetable garden but no idea what grows fast enough to help me out now. Thanks, Long Way To The Shops

Picture by Ali Karimian

Dear LWTTS,

Wow, expectations change fast. When I was a child, we lived 10 kilometres out of town and so shopping was strictly a once-a-week affair. But even my comparatively urban school friends lived in households where the weekly shop was also the norm. It's easy to forget in a world where supermarkets are open 12 hours a day or more, seven days a week, that having the capacity to buy fresh items more or less whenever you want hasn't always been the norm. (And that's before we even get to considering that ubiquitous refrigeration in homes is a fairly modern innovation.)

In truth, if you have the chance to shop once a week and access to a fridge and freezer, there's no reason you can't eat a healthy and varied diet. The real secret here is not the particulars of what you buy, but having a detailed plan of what you're going to eat every week. It's not a glamorous or particularly exciting answer, but it's the truth.

We've run many posts in the past discussing how to plan your meals. If you find the process onerous, using a tablet recipe and planning app can definitely help. There are lots of useful recipe management tools out there as well. But even if you make a simple list in a spreadsheet (or on a piece of paper), nothing beats planning out a week's worth of meals and generating a shopping list. Wandering through a supermarket and grabbing what you fancy just won't produce the same results. (Planning your shopping this way is also a great way to save money.)

If your cooking time is limited, prepare large batches on the weekend and freeze them for future use. After a few weeks of this, you'll have a good supply of varied meals to hand.

Here are a few more specific tips for your situation:

  • Frozen and packaged doesn't automatically equate to processed. Frozen microwave meals are often laden with salt and fat, but a decent pack of frozen vegetables isn't any different nutritionally to the fresh equivalent. It's also often cheaper. Particularly good candidates in this area are beans, peas and mixed vegetables. Chips are also OK in small quantities; just don't eat a whole tray at a time.
  • Freeze fresh items. If you really want fresh items, buy them and freeze them for later use. We've got a detailed guide on what to freeze and for how long.
  • Preserve fridge space to keep fresh items fresh. Rather than filling your fridge with milk, purchase UHT and chill as you need it.
  • Buy meat from a butcher. Meat sold in supermarkets is often packaged in large quantities, which can easily lead to boredom (your chicken breast issue is a prime example). If you purchase from a butcher, you can match quantities to your meal plan and get more variety.
  • Buy a bread maker. The supplies last for ages, and with a timer-based model, you can have fresh bread any morning or evening you fancy.
  • Check our guide to eating better without breaking your budget.

Definitely open to more suggestions from readers on this one, especially on the question of fast-growing vegetables. (If you want a speedy response, planting herbs is definitely quicker than most vegetables.) Share your thoughts in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Skim milk powder tastes nicer than UHT if made up in bulk (say 1L) and left for a few hours if you're looking to save that space in the fridge. Buy a variety of meats in bulk and freeze them in individual serves.

    Or he could eat at the mess

      The mess isn't always a good option. If you aren't living on base the costs for meals are significantly higher than making your own meals.

        Cheryl is right, I live a 20min walk from the mess so the walk and cost are a bit painful. Definitely going to give Bok Choi a go.

        I guess I've been spoilt by living in the cities and not realising fresh can refrigerate for a week. Lettuce gets pretty manky and the tomatoes can too.

        It's just so damn easy to pig out at lunch or from the canteen and I'm still finding that balance of brought from home food to stop those 10am Easy Mac's!!

        thanks guys

    Agree that skim milk powder is good. It is also easier to carry and takes up less room in fridge than fresh. Make it weaker than the instructions to save money!
    Food dehydrator is good for excess fruit and veggies. Can buy cheap ones online for about $50.
    Garden - grow bok choi or similar for quick greens. Radishes are also quick but I'm not a fan. Zucchini, climbing beans and peas, cucumbers and broccoli are among the most worthwhile veggies to grow but not so quick.

    Buy a scooter - ride to shops each day - fun and healthy.

      Scooter? In the army?

    check out Stonesoup.com, Jules latest pdf cookbook is about planning for the week and has a section of what veg etc last longest and the best way to store them. Also I always have a bit of a herb garden and lettuce, cabbage, asian greens, they grow quick and are nice to throw into a stirfry etc.

    20km from the supermarket and you don't drive!!? Are you riding a bike or walking? If you are getting meat already, clearly you must be able to carry or transport something of weight home. If so, powdered milk blows because it ain't fresh and tastes like shit compared to the real deal. You didn't say you had lack of space in fridge issues - so I don't see why buying fresh milk every 7 days is a problem...?

    Seriously, make some 'universal' products that you can reuse for different things - like a meat sauce = spaghetti bolognese or taco sauce or chilli con carne. It's coming up to winter, so buy some heartier meats and do slow cooking if you have the time - like braised lamb shank on the weekend then use for pasta sauce during the week - or casseroles. Or even home made pizzas - fresh easy, fun and not full of preservatives when you pick fresh toppings.

    I only shop once a week. I find having things like salads etc earlier on in the week is the way to go as they don't last all that long. Veggies such as potato, onion, sweet potato etc always last a while. Stir fry veggies are great frozen - cuts away the time to chop everything and generally I don't find them to be that much more expensive than to buy fresh. Meat I always freeze - even pop a marinade in so that when it's defrosting you marinate the meat. Makes meat and veg a bit more interesting.

    Wrap lettuce in paper towel. Pop back in the bag you bought it in. Change paper towel when it's damp.
    My lettuce lasts ages.
    We live in the suburbs and shop once a fortnight with a top up for bread and milk only in the "off" shop week.

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