Okay, friends. Confession time. I’m a type-A planner. Going to the grocery store without a detailed list of what I need organized in order of the store’s layout makes me break out in hives. I just can’t take it.
Needless to say, I’m a meal planner and grocery list maker. Yes, my personality is a big reason why I make a meal plan, but it’s not the main reason.
Our budget is the biggest reason we meal plan.
We literally save hundreds of dollars every month by making a meal plan and grocery list before heading to the store. It’s our biggest money saving strategy for food.
I think there is this perception that in order to meal plan, you need a complicated system with awesome printables and a large stash of recipes. Let me be the first to tell you that’s not the case. My system is simple, I use basic recipes from my childhood and ones found online, and I don’t use printables. I use the Google Keep App on my phone.
I can count on one hand how many times in almost 4 years of marriage that I have gone to the the grocery store without a meal plan or list. It was stressful. I forgot a ton of things, spent way too much money, and ended up returning to the store for the forgotten items several times throughout the week to try to come up with complete recipes. This is why I always try to meal plan.
We do a big grocery shopping trip once every two weeks. On the off week, we run into the store for an extra gallon of milk or two, some fruit, eggs, and usually a few other small items that we have run out of.
Using the following 7 step process, I can usually meal plan and create my grocery list in about 30 minutes. I figure this 30 minutes of planning every 2 weeks saves our family approximately $200 over the course of the month! Not too bad for an hours worth of time! Once you have a system in place, it begins to run like clockwork. Here is how we do it.
1. Keep a "We Are Out" List
I use the Google Keep App on my phone and keep a pinned note titled 'Things To Buy.' As we run out of staple foods and household items, they get added to the list. Down to 3 rolls of toilet paper? Add it to the list. Run out of eggs? Add it to the list. Use up the last stick of butter? Add it to the list.
I also try to get in the habit of writing it down RIGHT AWAY. Even if I am in the middle of something when I realize we are close to running out, I stop what I am doing, pull out of my phone, and add the item to the list. I can't tell you how many times I would say to myself, "Oh, i'll just write it on the list as soon as I am done doing the dishes, or after I am finished sending this email, or after right after this show is over." Only to realize later that I completely forgot to buy it when it comes time to needing it. UGH! Worst feeling ever.
Don't fall for this trap. Write it down right away which ensures that you don't forget anything when you have your grocery list.
2. Create a “Staples” List
Since I use the “We’re Out” method, I don’t use one of those pre-made checklists of everything I may purchase in the store. When I look at those lists, I just feel overwhelmed! I prefer to just write them down as we run out, including household items like dish washer soap, toiletries, paper towels, and even contact solution!
However, I do keep a short “staples” list of items we buy every single time we visit the grocery store. Currently our staples list includes:
If you plan to follow this method, you could type out your “Staples” list and add it to your Google Keep App for quick reference when meal planning.
3. Shop Your Pantry, Fridge, & Freezer FIRST
Before I even start to plan my meals, I check to see what I have in my pantry, fridge, or freezer that needs to be used up. What I’m mainly looking for is fresh produce and meat. I jot down the few ingredients I have on hand that haven’t been used (and I know aren’t meant for another meal I already have planned.) I will then base my first meals on my meal plan off of these ingredients. For example:
I also check the meal plan for the last two weeks to see if any meals weren’t used. Inevitably, I have at least a meal or two to roll over to the next meal plan. Sometimes we have unexpected dinner with friends or family. Other times one meal made enough for leftovers the following night so we didn’t use up a meal. Whatever the case may be, we roll the unused meals over so that the ingredients we have on hand don’t go to waste!
4. Gather Your Supplies
I will sit down with the following items to plan my meals:
Now put your thinking cap on and lets start planning!
5. Plan for Everything
Before you start making your list, plan for everything. Plan for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks and things I call “specials.” Specials are things that are not in a normal week to week meal plan, but things you need to remember. This is where your planner comes in handy!
My husband is an avid soup lover! If he could have a hot bowl of soup every single day of the week he would be in paradise. So as the lovely wife that I am *hehe* I try to keep this in mind when planning my dinners. Our main staple of carbohydrate would either be rice or potatoes. I think about what type of soup I will make about 3 times a week and create sides that would go nicely with the soups. We usually eat leftovers for lunch the next day, but I include a few extra lunch options in case the meal didn’t make enough for us to eat it a second time.
My husband and I are not breakfast eaters. We normally just grab a cup of coffee before we head out the door for work that that holds us down until lunch.
And as for dessert, my husband doesn't really like sweets so I end up not baking as much as I used to. When we first got married, I would bake a cake (or two) once a week only to find myself eating the ENTIRE cake by myself during the week. UGH! Not good for the waistline ladies and gentlemen. So now our go to dessert would be ice cream! I try to add that to our list whenever we run out.
6. Make Your List
Don’t get me wrong, I think all of the cute meal planning printables are awesome, I just haven’t found one that works for me. Plus, I really didn’t want to waste ink to print out a new copy every week or two. So I just use my phone and I like it because it gets the job done!
I set up my meal plan by numbering from 1-14 at the top of the list. I go ahead and fill in any roll over meals from the previous two weeks. Then I start adding any meals from stuff I have on hand. These first two things will usually give me 4-6 meals. That’s always a great start.
I will note any meals we plan to eat out, eat at a friend or family’s house, or anything else I know we have planned. By noting this, I remind myself that I don’t need to plan a meal for that night.
Then I start thinking of recipes that I either haven't made in a while, feel a craving for, or pull out my trusty Pinterest app to look for delicious new recipes I can try.
I will separate my list into the 3 stores I shop at most often then I first add everything from my “We’re Out” and “Staples” list to the correct store.
I then go down my meal plan and note everything I will need for each meal. Once I have everything on my grocery list from a certain meal, I place a checkmark beside it.
Finally, because I’m OCD and I don’t like to waste time in the store I go back through my list and put everything in order of the store’s layout. This is not completely necessary, but I’ve found that when I don’t take the 5 extra minutes to do this, I end up wasting at least 30-45 in the store going back and forth from one side to the other.
7. Go Shopping!
I will finally grab my phone with the lists and any coupons I may have for items I already have on my list, and head to the store. This may seem a little complicated, but I promise it doesn’t take that long. Once I put a good system into place, things started to work easily and quickly and we started saving a ton of money at the grocery store!
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