Meal Planning Monday has been a regular thing around here for a couple of years now, so I figured it was time to do a quick post on how I plan, organize, and shop for our meals as a family of 6. This is, in no way, rocket science. Nor do I believe that this is the best/easiest/most efficient way to plan. But! It’s my way. And it works. For us. For now.
A couple things to note before I get started.
- I suck at using coupons. I’ve tried. MANY times, but I always end up forgetting to give them to the cashier OR coming home with stuff we don’t need or won’t use. Granted, if there’s a great coupon that presents itself and it’s for something I’d buy anyway, heck yes, I’ll use it. But? Those are few and far between. So, for the most part, I don’t stress about the coupons. Now, please don’t interpret my non-coupon use as me not caring about what I spend or as indifference towards getting a good deal. Because I do care and LOVE good deals. A LOT. In fact, around here, ALL of our meals are extremely simple and don’t require many ingredients at all, keeping our grocery budget relatively reasonable ($110 - $140/week).
(PS If YOU do DO coupons, I want so badly to be you.)
- A couple of these pics were taken after I went to the grocery store. Under normal circumstances, our fridge and pantry are pretty bare bones by the time grocery day rolls around.
- Speaking of grocery day…I shop (for the most part) once a week. Usually at the beginning of the week. This works for us. I’ve tried to plan a 2-week or monthly meal plan, but always feel like I end up spending more because I forget things, we run out of them, or the produce goes bad. Besides, I find it easier to plan for the upcoming week when I know what we have going on and how busy our week is going to be. Those are things I don’t always know or can’t predict weeks in advance. Of course, we find ourselves making the impromptu stop for preschool snacks, forgotten meat, diapers, or the must-have milk on occasion. Ok, fairly frequently.
- Generally, I only plan “main course” dishes and lunches, then rely on our go-to, almost always stocked fruits, veggies, and breads as sides. Nothing too fancy around here!
Anyway, back to the meal-planning, grocery-shopping process. Here’s how it all goes down.
1. I start by taking a mental inventory of things that we already have. For instance, in our pantry I still had about 5 non-cooked potatoes left over from when we had baked potatoes last week, so I made a quick note that we should use those up and incorporate something potato-based in the meal plan. Same goes for the unused head of lettuce that would be going bad before long.
3. Using the resources listed above, I begin my list of 5-7 meals. The list is made in no particular order (meaning by week day) and to the top of the list go those meals that I know (from my inventory) we have some/all of the ingredients that we want/need to use to make them. Like potato soup to use the left over potatoes and lettuce wraps to use up the quickly-browning head of lettuce. After those “no-brainer” meals are filled in, I begin writing in others from the above resources.
4. With each recipe chosen, I look over the list of ingredients and, on the back of my meal list, I jot down the ingredients that we don’t have and I will need to purchase. I do this for each meal chosen. This is also the step in which I try to minimize the total ingredients by comparing what each recipe requires. For example, I notice that the Slow Cooker Chicken and Wild Rice Soup only requires a couple frozen chicken breast, while the Cilantro Lime Chicken takes 5 or so. Together, both recipes use the equivalent of one whole bag of frozen chicken breasts. Perfect. On my master list you may notice the occasional ? behind an ingredient. I use this to remind myself to check when I’m not sure if or how much of an ingredient we already have on hand.
5. Next, I begin adding the things that I know we need, but aren’t necessarily ingredients for recipes: snack crackers, string cheese, lunch meat, bread, milk, cereal, body wash, contact solution, toothpaste, etc.
6. Then I open up my GroceryIQ app on my phone and begin by going to my “favorites” list and adding the things we need off of that list to the master list on the app.
For those of you who don’t have this app, it is fabulous and my saving grace! Seriously, it has simplified the grocery-getting process a ridiculous amount. Not only does it let you create a “favorites” list, in which you build a database of items that you regularly get, but it also sorts each store by aisle. Talk about a timesaver! In addition, you can scan items to add AND you can “set-up” multiple stores if you’re not a one-store-snob (I have Hy-Vee & Target both set-up on my app). Oh, AND you’re able to have more than one person add to the list. So, when J’s at work, eating the last of the apples, he can just open up the app on his phone or iPad and add them himself!
7. After the “favorites” are added, I just go down my list from the back of my meal planning paper and add them into the app.
8. Finally, it’s off to the store I go – without my list, but with my iPhone!
9. When I get home it’s all hands on deck for putting away! J does the refrigerated/frozen foods. I stock the pantry. The kids empty the snacks from their boxes and pick up the sacks.
And there you have it! The Starr Circus guide to grocery shopping!
So, tell me…how do YOU do it?