Grocery & Meal Planning

September 10, 2020


Shopping for groceries and making sure you use everything before it goes bad can be stressful. The trick to this is being organized and creating a system for yourself is easy to follow! I love grocery shopping and can get a little out of hand when buying them, so having a set list, budget, and plan keeps me on track. My typical grocery budget is around $60 per person and have it last for about 2 weeks with cooking about 4-6 lunches and dinners a week. Below is what I find to best work for me.

Utilize Online Grocery Shopping

Covid has brought on some positive with it; stores that did not offer online grocery shopping before are now finding ways to help customers shop online. This has been really helpful for me because as we start running out of necessities, I just pick which store I want to shop from and have a running list. This makes it really easy for me to see what all we have. Doing a grocery pickup or delivery also helps me avoid adding items I didn't originally plan to buy and keeps my payments A LOT lower.

Do You Really Need It?

Once I have my list all together, I like to go back through and see if there is anything I know I don't need. For example, I have a tendency of buying things simply because they are on sale. I never use fabric scent boosters, but Aldi had a coupon for $3 off. I had it in my cart and realized that's not something I would normally buy, so the savings is nonexistent since I'm spending an extra $7 to have the item. It is, of course, okay to try new things out and treat yourself, but be realistic! Snacks and candy won't nourish you or keep your meal plan full if you are trying to stick to a budget.

*Another helpful tip is to look at your pantry and refrigerator before you buy groceries. Knowing what you already have can save you from buying doubles.*

Know Your Food Shelf Life

Some fruits and veggies have about a 5-10 day time frame before they start going bad. Leafy greens, berries, herbs, and fresh meats (unless you decide to freeze) need to typically be eaten quickly. Foods that last longer are almost always potatoes, apples, carrots, cabbage, and onions.  

Buying in bulk can typically be the better deal, but I try to avoid buying a lot of these items. I know we won't eat 3 lbs of sweet potatoes, but we go through onions and lemons pretty quickly. Knowing your eating habits can be really helpful when determining whether or not to buy produce in bulk.

If you are inconsistent with your fruits and veggies consumption, buy them frozen! This way, they stay fresh and you don't have to worry about cooking something before they are rotten. I love buying pre-seasoned veggies or cauliflower mash for days I don't really feel like cooking- their convenience is superb!

Use Your List and Templates to Build Meals

Once I have an idea of what I am purchasing, I use a google doc to plan out every day we are eating at home. This doc is an example of an older plan and how I use the items I bought. The perk of using a google doc is you can delete and move things as you need to. I used to write everything down on a sheet of paper on our fridge, but our dinner plans would change and then I'm stuck with an antiquated plan. 

I love to look on Pinterest for meal inspiration because it changes up our meals from week to week. If I find something intriguing, I link it directly to my google doc. I can quickly find it when the time comes to cook. If a recipe is good, I have a board called "Tried it, Liked it," so I know to come back to it in the future. Once you find a recipe you like, don't be afraid to cook it again! You could make it a weekly thing if you want to keep your groceries and meal planning consistent.

*Looking on Pinterest before you purchase groceries can be a great option, too. This way, you can add the ingredients you need for the dish to your cart/list ahead of time and you know you'll use it.*
 To make sure everything has a purpose, I take the proteins from my list and assign them to a day. If they are bought fresh, I try to use those first according to their "sell or freeze by" dates. I typically prefer fresh meats and seafood, but this can get expensive. Something that helps me prolong my need for groceries is buying a few bulk frozen proteins. Costco is a great resource for this because they offer a lot of cooked but frozen options. If I don't have a ton of fresh protein, I mix in days where I use these frozen items. 

Next, I look at the produce we are buying or bought and try to match it up to the protein. I try to have my sides match the protein when planning meals out. This means if we are having vegetarian quesadillas one night, I love to make side dishes like refried beans, black bean soup, or roasted corn. Having assigned weeknights really helps in the planning process. For example, Sundays are usually easy nights like a frozen pizza or to-go. Tuesdays are always vegetarian nights, and I make Nick cook on Fridays. Having this slight structure keeps me from having to be completely creative every day.

*If you want to take planning days a step farther, you can plan every night out to have a specific idea in mind. For example you could make Mondays are Mexican night, Tuesdays are Italian night, Wednesdays are Asian, etc.*

If I have already ordered my groceries or still need to purchase some items from another store, I highlight them so I know what I need ahead of the meal. This is helpful for a week or so after I buy groceries. I'll see that I am running low on sides, so I'll go ahead and start adding them to the list. 

Places I shop:

Aldi - has online shopping w prices, limited availability of name brands, great prices, typically have to eat fresh produce quickly
Kroger - has online shopping w prices, can get just about anything here, get the Kroger card for best deals!
Local Farmer's Market - I like shopping here for produce because it's just about as fresh as it gets, and it supports a small business. 
Trader Joe's - Decent price for really good food, has a lot of pre-made foods
Costco - Great for frozen meals/proteins or great deals on fresh meat, better for more than 2 people

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