Meal planning/ grocery shopping is one of my most favorite things to do. I find it very relaxing. I know this is not the case for most other people and if I had kids or people with more specific dietary restrictions, it might be a little more difficult. I can’t promise that my technique will work for you but it works for me because I love lists. I love lists, you guys. I love making them. I love reading them. I love writing and re-writing them.
That being said, I’ve got a four-part process to grocery shopping. I do one big grocery shopping trip every week (or so–maybe not quite that often) and then there will probably be a supplemental, much smaller trip in the middle of the week as well—usually to refill on fresh produce and other randoms that I forgot the first go ‘round.
First off, because I want this to be an activity that I find pleasure in, I’m going to admit to getting really luxurious about it. I don’t write lists on the backs of receipts. I have a grid-lined Moleskein notebook that I use for my grocery shopping. And Sharpie pens in various colors. Multiple colors are crucial for me for reasons that I’m not exactly sure about but I’m 32 years old and by now I know what works for me. I need a nice situation. I’m working on making things as full of pleasure as possible because how else are we going to make it through the day?
- I take that notebook and I turn it to landscape because I’m going to make three lists, first of all. Because I want to save as much money as possible, I’m going to not ignore the stuff that is already in the house. So I’m going to make a list of the ingredients that already exist in the house that I could use for meals.
In this situation I have a few boxes of mac and cheese as well as a big bag of quinoa that I got on discount. I know there are some frozen veggies and a pan of enchiladas in the freezer as well as a few other things. So I’ll write them down and maybe we’ll get them used up! So long as they’re non-perishables or in the freezer, I won’t work too hard to make something fit if I can’t. There’s always next week.
- Write down meals that you feel like having. I usually only brain storm 3-4 meals because some nights I don’t feel like cooking or we have leftovers and I want to make room for that. Because of my pre-existing bag of quinoa, I went to one of my favorite recipe blogs and found this recipe for a Sundried Tomato and Spinach Quinoa salad which I’ll eat for at least a couple of lunches this week. Since I already have a pan of frozen enchiladas in the freezer, boom! That is a whole meal that we don’t have to buy anything for! But St. Patrick’s day is coming up and in Ryan’s family, they ate corned beef and cabbage on that day. That’s a tradition that we’re going to keep moving along in our family so it’s happening. I have to buy all of the components of that recipe. I know that we’re going to have plenty of leftovers, so I already plan on turning them into a corned beef hash breakfast on Saturday which I’m already looking forward to! So even though we’re going to spend a good chunk of change on that particular meal, if we actually use the leftovers in another meal or two, then it totally pays off!
- So go through and list all the ingredients that you’re going to actually need to purchase for all of these meals. In this step I write everything out as it comes to me. But then, because, like I said, I am a lover of lists, and I re-write everything else in a much more organized manner. I like to separate my list into a series of sub-lists so that I’m not constantly re-reading everything. Produce goes under the produce header. Frozen stuff goes under the freezer section. This way, if I’m in the freezer section, I just have to look in my freezer section of my list! I won’t miss anything at all. If I’m in the dairy case? Look at that. They’re all in one little group. I won’t forget the milk this time like I always do—or even worse in my mind, I won’t remember the milk when I’m on the exact opposite side of the grocery store. Yeah, that feels worse to me.
- And finally, when I get home I write, yes, yet another list. This is a list that I hang on the fridge (in our old apartment I had a big, white board that I wrote all this out on and I loved it so much but we don’t have room for it here). There’s a list of every meal that we have the ingredients to make, and then I write another sub-list of things that are available for me to eat for lunch. This way, when I’m hungry or figuring out what to have for dinner, all I have to do is look at the list to see what’s available. It keeps me from walking down the street for a burger and keeps me from just eating all of the potato chips. There’s none of that daily, “Ohhhh… what should we have for dinner???”
A lot of people suggest writing down what you’re going to have on which specific day (and the meal planner from my Day Designer has it separated as such) but that doesn’t work for me. I like having a plan but not that specific. What if I want to have grilled chicken salads but I have already arbitrarily designated it as sausage and sauerkraut day?? I’m not gonna stick to that.
This method works for us for a few different reasons. Obviously it appeals to the obsessive list maker in me. Writing things out by hand relaxes me and so does grocery shopping, actually (if I can get there during a slow-time anyhow). Like I said, I know this isn’t the case for everyone. But also, taking the guess work out of what to have for dinner takes so much pressure off and we end up eating fast food or going out to eat so much less often. It’s healthier for our bodies as well as our checking account!
Tell me about your meal planning and grocery shopping technique? Do you follow your whims and go shopping every day? Do you plan everything out to a T? Do you have something that works well for you that is different from this? I want to hear about it, please!
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