I’ve wanted to write this post for so long, but I wasn’t sure how helpful it would be for others. However, last week I had an experience that made it clear just how important creating a meal plan and grocery shopping routine that works for us (and sticking to it) has been.
Last Saturday, after yoga, I stopped by Whole Foods to pick up a few ingredients for a recipe. While there, I decided to do our shopping for the week to save some time on Sunday, which is when I normally do it. Without a list, I winged it—I bought a bunch of fruit, veggies, fish, chicken, yogurt, etc. Sounds great, right? It wasn’t. Each day, I was totally distracted by what I was going to make with these ingredients since I didn’t have a plan ahead of time. And because they were kind of random (um…shrimp and sweet potatoes is not the best combination in my mind), every meal this week was kind of a dud. What’s more, I had to run to a little store near us twice to fill in some gaps, which ended up costing us more than we normally spend on weekly groceries. Finally, we were left with a lot of random items I didn’t use – a bunch of parsley, an extra beet, some turnips, greens, and I never did touch that shrimp (luckily it’s frozen).
For us, a successful meal plan and grocery shopping list means by the end of the week our refrigerator is close to bare. I love that sight on Sunday morning just as much as I love the sight of a freshly stocked fridge by Sunday afternoon. This recent experience reinforced just how well our routine has been working for us.
I should also mention that I love grocery shopping—as long as I prepare ahead of time— and that’s why I’m often the one who does it in our household.
I love learning what works for others so if you find yourself in a meal rut, overspending on groceries, or creating dinners that don’t make you do a happy dance in the kitchen each night maybe what works for us can help you too.
1. Check the calendar. Robert and I share a Google Calendar so I can easily see whether he has anything scheduled in the evenings. This helps me determine how many dinners we need. I can also identify particularly busy days and plan quick meals or slow cooker recipes for those nights.
2. Plan meals. My favorite, but also the most challenging and time-consuming part. Every Sunday morning, I head downstairs to the couch with my iPad and a few of my favorite cookbooks. I get about 90% of our meals from my Pinterest boards. I recently tweaked them so now I have specific boards for poultry, fish, meat, slow cooker, soup, vegetarian, and more. I update them daily with new items from blogs I follow, recipes I find online, and meals other people pin. I choose about one meal from any combination of those boards for a well-rounded week. In the summer I check out my grilling and salad boards, too. Then I flip through my cookbooks and see if anything catches my eye. Finally, I write down what we’re having each day to make sure we have a good balance. On average, I plan for about five dinners at home per week.
3. Make a grocery list. Next, I go through each recipe and identify ingredients we’ll need. I used to make my list on paper, but lately I’ve been using the Grocery iQ App and really enjoy it. My favorite part is that the items we always buy–staples such as milk, yogurt, apples, bananas, etc.–are already there and i just need to click to add them to the list.
4. Hit the cheaper store first. I almost always go to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. By stopping at the cheaper store first (TJ’s) I pick up the majority of the items on my list and fill in any remaining holes at Whole Foods.
5. Clean out the fridge. Once I return home and before unpacking my (reusable) bags filled with fresh goodies, I make sure the fridge is completely clear of any foods we’ll no longer eat. This includes any remaining leftovers, fruits or veggies past their prime, etc. Of course we do our best to minimize this waste and it helps that Robert loves leftovers more than anyone I know, but there still seem to be some stragglers from time to time.
Of course every person and every household is different. Over time, this is what we’ve found works best for us in order to have delicious weeknight meals (and lunches since we both usually eat leftovers for lunch), maximize our food dollars, and still have plenty of time to relax together in the evenings. I hope you find it helpful!