When I tell people I don’t have a car and rely mostly on my bike to get around, one of the first things they ask me is: “How do you go food shopping?”
The answer is simple: with a little bit of restraint, planning and common sense! I don’t have an Xtracycle or even a basket or satchels on my bike (although a nice rear-mounted metal basket would be amazing!).
It also helps that I am accompanied by my boyfriend John and that we’re only shopping for the two of us. But going to the supermarket with two bikes and two backpacks usually nets us about 3-5 days worth of food.
If you want to try riding your bicycle more, but don’t know how to tackle trips to the grocery store, check out these tips for shopping on a bike.
1. Get a basket or panniers
Adding a rear-mounted metal basket or panniers (saddlebags) to your bike is a quick and inexpensive way to increase the amount of groceries you can manage. The word pannier actually derives from Old French and means “bread basket.” For toting frozen items in the hot weather there are even insulated panniers and bags that fit on the back rack. Add a regular old backpack to the mix and you can carry home a good amount of food.
2. Make healthier choices
When you food shop on a bike you have limited space for what you can carry home and this forces you to (hopefully) make healthier purchases. I think about the value of what I am going to consume and try to stick with whole foods that will give me the most energy and nutrients. Auxiliary items like potato chips, cookies, sweets, cans of soup, beer, wine and sugar-packed juice or soft drinks usually get cut from the list when compared to healthier items like bread, fruit, rice, vegetables and meat for entrees.
3. Plan recipes ahead of time
The groceries really start to pile up when you go to the store hungry and with no idea what meals you are going to prepare. With a little bit of preparation you can shop by recipe. I find that when I food shop by bike, I have enough room in one trip to buy ingredients for three complex or between four and five simple meals. Although broths can be heavy to tote, soups are great meals to purchase by bicycle because they require mostly vegetables, seasoning and dried beans or lentils.
4. Beat the time crunch
Sometimes it feels like there’s not enough time in the day to get everything done. People tend to rely on their cars for local in-town errands like grocery shopping because the car makes these errands go faster. However, if you ride your bike to the grocery store you are in essence multi-tasking by combining a little exercise and a refreshing mental health break (riding is fun!) with the errand of food shopping. Yes it’s tough to bike one or two miles to the store and ride home with a full load of food, but it’s also very good exercise and when I get home I feel refreshed. You will also save money on gas by cutting down on driving.
5. Purchase items with less packaging
When I am shopping on a bicycle and have to decide between two items, I usually opt for the one with less packaging. A product with less packaging will fit more easily into a backpack or basket. Most of the time, products with less cardboard and plastic will also have a smaller carbon footprint as well. So saving on space in your bike basket or backpack forces you to look for more environmentally friendly packaging.
6. Stock up on heavier items by car
It would be extremely difficult to navigate a car-centric city by bike alone. Living a car-light lifestyle means driving less and biking more, but also using a car occasionally for tough chores. About once a month I will accept a kind offer for a ride from a friend or use a Hertz Connect Car to go on a larger shopping trip. During shopping trips by car, I will stock up on heavy staple items like broth, bulk yogurt, olive oil, milk, canned tomatoes and frozen foods. By knocking some of those heavier purchases out with a car trip every month or so, I find it much easier to make smaller weekly trips to the store by bike to get lighter items like fresh produce and meats for meals.
Grocery shopping by bike can be challenging but it is also a rewarding way to eat healthier, get exercise and make less of an impact on the environment.
Have you shopped by bike recently? What kind of bike or equipment do you use? What challenges have you faced? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below and I will be happy to respond.