I get asked quite frequently about my meal planning. In the beginning of budgeting our groceries, I started by laying out each day of the week and would write down what we’d be eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. From there, I’d scour the ads of my favorite stores and look for the items that fit into my plan.
HALT! Today things have changed.
Now, instead of thinking "What ingredients do I need for this recipe?", I think "What recipe will fit my ingredients?".
I’ve discovered that in order to save money on groceries, I’ve needed to learn how to be flexible. When I had a strict meal plan, I would skip right over the unadvertised broccoli sale of $.85/lb without even noticing because it wasn’t meant for any of my dinners that week.
Essentially, I’ve quit meal planning. This has not only helped me save money by teaching me to adapt my grocery agenda according to the sales, it has also made me more adventurous in the kitchen. I now keep my eyes peeled for the best deals, not just what’s on my list. (Who knew I loved beets?! If it wasn’t for that $.50/lb sale I never would have tried them.)
Of course, I do still have some sort of plan.
After two years of budgeting, I have a pretty keen idea of how much we eat. For instance, I know that we typically go through 2 dozen eggs a week, a 1/2 gallon of milk every two weeks, and 1 pound of almonds every month.
I’ve learned this through observation, and also through tracking. I used to keep a weekly spreadsheet of our groceries and would break down the cost per unit of each item I bought. This is what helped me create my budget grocery price list. Now, I don’t need to do this because it’s become second nature to me, but it definitely took time to become so intuitive.
So what you really want to know is how my grocery process works. Well here you go.
Related: How to Eat Healthy on a Budget
My Grocery Shopping Game Plan
Before grocery shopping, I always quickly jot down a list of three things in my grocery notebook.
- Have. What items do I currently have on hand? I don’t bother with staples like spices and oils, but focus mostly on the perishables. I don’t want anything to go to waste!
- Deals. Next I check over the online ads of my two frequented grocery stores, Mariano’s and Jewel-Osco. I write down any deals that stand out. I often find both stores will have the same items on sale, but the prices will vary. It’s good to know which deal is really the best!
- Need. There are certain items we always want in the house, like eggs and olive oil. I make a list of the things I absolutely need and don’t want to forget.
Update: I’ve created an awesome Grocery List & Meal Plan Printable! Download it here.
While grocery shopping, I have the same routine. Here’s the route I take in the store.
- Produce. I always start in the produce because this is the most important section to me. I grab the deals I wrote down and look out for ones that weren’t listed. I typically buy about 10.5 pounds of vegetables a week and 3.5 pounds of fruit. (Check out this post where I break down my food consumption.)
- Meat. Next comes the meat. I look for chicken that’s under $1.49/lb, pork that’s less than $1.99/lb, and seafood for around $5.99/lb. Typically we go through 8 pounds of meat per week. (Here’s my page with my full price list.)
- Dairy. First I grab 2 dozen eggs, then grab a pack of chicken sausage next to them. Then, if needed, I pick up a 1/2 gallon of milk and maybe some yogurt. Both of these items are optional for us, so if my budget is getting tight, I’ll pass on these.
- Pantry. We could basically live off of just produce and meat, so most pantry items are optional to me depending on our budget. Sure, we love ketchup, but if I’m almost over that $70, I’ll spend that extra $1.69 next week.
After getting home, I snap a quick photo of my haul to share with you all, then put everything away. Since I go shopping on Sundays, I like to meal prep for the week. Roasting a big batch of sweet potatoes, beats, carrots, and onions is great for lunch. If I’ve picked up a whole chicken or pork shoulder, I like to slow cook those to have on hand.
But how do I know what I’m making with everything?
I know that we typically each eat 2 chicken legs for dinner. We’ll go through a pound of asparagus in one meal. With burgers, I’ll have one and Ty will have two which we’ll pair with 1 sweet potato cut into fries and an entire bunch of kale split between us. I keep things simple and use roasting as my go-to cooking method.
If you’ve still got questions about how I plan, please ask below! Or if you’ve got some more grocery shopping tips, feel free to share!
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