Shopping Small

Bike Panniers for Groceries

This little bike -- mine since New Jersey, 1998 -- took me more than 100 miles last month.

This little bike — mine since New Jersey, 1998 — took me more than 100 miles last month.

No recipe this week, kids. Instead, we’re going to talk about food logistics. Namely, how do I get everything home if I’m riding my bike all the time?

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been walking and riding my bike a lot more since The Assistant implemented the 1km and 2km rule. In the past month, I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve gone carless every Tuesday and Thursday, alternating Mondays and most weekends. I could add Fridays to the list, if not for groceries.

My bike is equipped with a rack and a trunk bag with zip-down panniers. And 90% of the time, this is more than enough. It’s that other 10% that’s problematic.

When I first got the trunk bag a few years ago, I assumed that I was going to be using it for storing an extra jacket, maybe a bike lock or the occasional book. And the panniers are fine for that. What they’re not fine for is grocery shopping. There can be no impulse watermelon purchase with the panniers; a gallon of milk or a large cauliflower were too wide for the opening of the bag. Heck, even a half gallon was pushing it.

28 lbs of groceries, ready to ride.

28 lbs of groceries, ready to ride.

I then discovered that there are better, more grocery-friendly panniers out there, and after some debate, I ordered a set instead of buying a new bike, the cruiser with the wooden crate that my friend, Luke, suggested. (Ok, I may still buy it, but until then….)

So now I have these lovely bags with a bigger, wider opening. I can take them with me into the supermarket, bag my groceries directly into them, and then return to the bike to clamp them on and go.

But even with the bigger bags, space is still limited. I’m looking for suggestions for small scale grocery shopping. Assuming that you need to start with at least a half gallon of milk each week, what else would you purchase that would fit into something that’s the rough size equivalent of two plastic grocery bags, plus maybe a backpack for extra storage? Let’s presume that there are two primary trips: one supermarket run, and one farmer’s market run.

I had been worried about the eggs, but they made it home safely.

I had been worried about the eggs, but they made it home safely.

I made it home with two half gallons of milk; one large and four small containers of yogurt; eggs; tofu; carrots; celery; peppers; lemons; kiwis; red onion; a whole chicken… and I forget what else. Everything is obsessively sealed in plastic because of my fear of chicken juice leaking into my lovely panniers.

What would be your must-have items to get through the week?

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4 Responses

  1. Lori says:

    I tend to shop small only because I don’t plan more than one meal at a time. I’m always buying cans of coconut milk these days for Raj’s overnight oats since the regular was too much dairy for him. (Also it’s delicious, but too many calories for the one of us who isn’t eating her oats after swimming off more calories than it contains.) I try to buy one or two cans every time I go since they’re heavy and I stubbornly refuse to use a cart, despite always struggling to lug the hand basket around by the end. They finally got a shipment of almond milk, so we’re trying that out this week. The interesting part here is never knowing what they might have and adjusting accordingly. Like the Mexican tzatziki I made when there was cilantro and limes, but no lemons, dill, or cucumbers. And I’m having fun scanning for things that might make fun new oats additions, both to keep it interesting and for when our preferred ingredients aren’t available. My lack of planning (and also of other things to do) lands me in the commissary every couple of days, so I may as well try to find a way to enjoy it.

  2. Alisa says:

    Lori, I know the commissary is on base, but is it entirely American packaged goods, or do you also have the chance to try unique and bizarre local products as well?

    We spent some time with our friends in London, and she shops with a little granny cart and hauls the food home on the Tube, up the stairs at the station and over the cobblestone streets to their flat. But there’s clearly an art to it: not too much weight, nothing too easily squished, nothing that will explode in transit. (She learned that last bit the hard way.) But I’m definitely thinking about shopping in a different light now that size and weight are an issue.

    What I don’t have to give up: my weekly Ritter Sport chocolate bar with hazelnuts. I buy one every week and try to make it last until my next shopping excursion.

    What I can’t buy on an as-needed basis: 12-packs of seltzer. I’ve been saving that for my every-few-weeks Big Item Shopping Trip.

  3. Lori says:

    We do have a lot of fun stuff in the Asian aisle at the commissary, but mostly it’s American products. We’ve been venturing more to the Japanese grocery (mostly we go for the sushi and then look around at other stuff while we’re there) and have found some fun stuff.
    When I lived in NY, everything had to go down three flights into the subway, up three flights out, over four blocks, and up four flights to our apartment. Every single thing I bought had to be evaluated for weight vs importance. Also price for lo, I was broke. It actually ended up making me eat healthier food since I had a hard time justifying lugging something that wasn’t going to do anything good for my body.
    Also Ritter Sport dark chocolate with hazelnuts was my favorite find in Europe. We spent the end of our Czech currency on a buffet of chocolate at the train station in Prague and that was the clear winner for me.

  4. Alisa says:

    I would be equally fascinated and terrified by the Japanese products. I know this to be true because we have an uber-Asian supermarket chain here, and I occasionally wander the aisles in awe and horror.

    My Ritter Sport is actually milk chocolate (*gasp!* how unhealthy!) but it’s only because the entire household chocolate stash is dark, dark, dark to accommodate the Assistant’s taste preferences. When I want chocolate, 80% dark isn’t going to cut it.

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