Folks, you know you’re getting old and boring when you start writing about grocery shopping…no, when you get EXCITED to write about grocery shopping! I honestly can’t believe my blogging has come to this. Sigh. My bar-top-dancing 20-year-old self would be so sad.
Do you ever really perfect the art of grocery shopping and meal planning? I’m not sure you do. I posted a question on my facebook page to see how much people spend and what their biggest complaints were. According to this very non-scientific survey, my average friend spends about $115 per person per month on grocery items (not including non-grocery household items). The complaints were all over the place! Many people struggled with how to afford healthy, organic food on a budget. Others didn’t know how to feed picky eaters or were getting bored with their menus.
Over the past few months, we’ve gotten to a pretty good place with grocery shopping and menu planning. We arrived here out of necessity, after people stopped bringing us meals when Wiggles was born and after we got tired of eating frozen pizzas four times a week. I also got tired of running to five different stores to get the best deals, or of saying forget it and just paying more to avoid extra trips. What we do now works so well for us that I wanted to share- but I can’t promise it will work for you too. Different seasons of life present different challenges, and perhaps our method won’t work for us down the road. But it’s pretty great for now.
Two disclaimers before I go into the details:
1. This won’t work if you don’t have a decent amount of storage space- ideally a second freezer
2. If you like this idea, you need to be able to set aside one afternoon to get things organized. After you do that, your weekly shopping becomes a breeze, and monthly shopping isn’t that bad either. But that one time planning session is key.
Got it? Okay. Here goes…
It’s nothing groundbreaking, but what we do now is stock our pantry/fridge/freezer monthly, and then cook whatever we have on hand. I make a once-a-month big shopping trip, then only pick up produce, dairy, and any ‘odd’ items week to week.
So how does that look? Two steps:
1. The monthly shopping list
2. An index of all your menus/recipes
The monthly list
I started by thinking about every single grocery item we buy on a semi-regular basis, and where I like to buy it from. I made this list, which I use every month. It’s organized by the way I walk through the store so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time scanning the list while I’m there.
Once a month I print the list and take inventory of what we have on hand, crossing off any items we still have- which is most of them; I maybe buy about a third of them each month. Then I take the list and run my errands. The down side is that I do visit several different stores, which is a bit of a pain. But I am only doing that once a month. I like doing things this way because it allows me to buy things where I like to buy them, without making multiple trips each week. I also like that it forces me to take an inventory once a month so I am not wasting as much.
Index of Recipes
Before we started doing this, my recipes were not organized AT ALL. I hated meal planning. It was such a chore and I felt like we were always eating the same things. When we finally got our act together, I went through every recipe I had. I put the printed ones into one notebook and alphabetized them. Then I made an index of all my recipes on the computer, linking in the online ones. In parenthesis after the recipe I put any ingredients I would need to buy that were not part of the monthly list. It looks like this:
So, for example, if I wanted to cook tacos the only thing I would need to add to my weekly list is avocados. I included things that we don’t need a recipe for, like breakfast or hamburgers, so that I will consider those things when doing meal planning.
Once a week, I think about our schedule. Which nights are we going to be home? If time is an issue, maybe I’ll make a casserole on the weekend and just heat it up during the week. Or maybe a crockpot meal will work. If we’re gone, can I make a sandwich or salad to bring with us so we don’t have to eat out? With these things in mind, I make a weekly meal plan by looking at the index. I like seeing all my options- and I like that anyone in the family can look at it and pick what they want. I love that the things I need to buy are right there, so I don’t have to spend a bunch of time figuring out what I need. And since I have all those options in front of me, I don’t tend to make the same things again and again and again.
I write the meal plan on a whiteboard so everyone can see what we’re having. But if we don’t want something on the board? Not a big deal…there are a bunch of other things I could make just from what we have on hand.
Another thing that this helps with is maximizing what I purchase. For example, if I needed 3 carrots in one recipe I’d buy a whole bag…and in the past, I was very likely throw the rest away. Using this method I can just search for “carrot” and find another recipe that uses them.
My weekly shopping is super easy and quick- I just take those few items we need for the recipes, plus any staples like milk or bananas, and make a quick trip. It usually takes me about 30 minutes from the time I leave the house until the time I return. Here’s all I got on a recent weekly trip:
This has been working really well for us for several months now. We are cooking more, wasting less, and spending less time planning. What works for you?
I do have a few things to say about affording healthy, organic food but will save that for another post!
Oh, and grandma…just kidding about the bar-top dancing. I never did that.