A few months ago I posted about my system for meal planning and grocery shopping. I only started taking over the cooking around New Years’ and since my post in January I’ve made a few tweaks. For one, the structured meal plan was not really sustainable. We needed more flexibility and so now I just have maybe a dozen meals that we rotate through depending on what we’re in the mood for. They all use the same basic ingredients so it’s easy to shop without knowing exactly what I’ll be cooking that week. Here are our favorites:
- Real Life Chicken Dinners–I shared three of our go-to meals in this post
- Pasta with meat sauce–season and brown a pound of ground beef, add a jar of pasta sauce (Albertson’s has a tasty one in the dollar aisle), and serve over whole wheat pasta
- Beans and rice–I’ll cook a pound of dry kidney or lima beans with some onion, garlic, and sausage and serve over rice
- Grilled cheese with tomato soup–this is easy to keep on hand as a quick backup meal
- Breakfast for dinner–french toast, pancakes, or scrambled eggs
- Shrimp–I buy bags of frozen Gulf shrimp when it’s on sale. We’ve been really happy with both this recipe (served with rice) and this one (using fresh tomatoes and basil from our yard)
- Steak–I buy inexpensive steaks on sale and keep a few in the freezer at all times. I cook them up on the stovetop and serve them with in-season veggies
My cooking is not revolutionary. Where the magic actually happens is the grocery store. I usually spend between $50-$70 a week for our family of three (Jack eats as much as a big kid). I occasionally use coupons when I find one for something I actually need, but the biggest thing that helps me save is the simple step of planning my trip.
- I only make groceries on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. This is because sale ads come out on Wednesday. Friday is actually the best day at my grocery store because that’s when they restock the shelves, plus they often have 3-day sales that start on Friday and run through the weekend.
- I check the sale ad online before I go. If you only take one piece of advice from this post, let it be this one. The best sale items are often not marked in my store, and sometimes they even hide stuff! I often have to go to employees to ask about items that were advertised at a deep discount. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they just happen to not have any out on the shelves. Maybe they’re worried about their sales numbers or maybe the employees just want to stock up for themselves, I don’t know, but if you advertise extra large Gulf shrimp for $3/pound you can bet your britches I’m going to ask about it.
- I only buy produce on sale. The sale ad makes this easy–it’s basically a visual guide to what produce is in season and available at your store. It doesn’t get any easier than that! The only exception to this rule are bananas and carrots, which are cheap all year and a favorite of Jack’s. Every week I buy bananas, maybe one or two other types of fruit and maybe one or two types of vegetables, just depending on what’s on sale, then work them into our meals throughout the week.
- I freeze milk in small portions. If I can get milk on sale I buy extra and freeze it, but even If I can’t I usually pour half the gallon into a couple of glass jars and put them in the freezer. This saves us from having to buy a fresh gallon every week and from having milk go to waste because we don’t use it fast enough. I only buy milk maybe once or twice a month now but we always have it on hand for cereal and cooking.
- I make a list before I go. I have a saved note on my phone of all the stuff I need to keep on hand. Every week I copy and paste it into a new note and stand in my kitchen deleting whatever we don’t need. Then I check the sale ad and type in anything that I want to buy on sale, including the advertised price so that if there’s a problem I know how much it’s supposed to cost without having to truck to the front of the store for a paper ad.
Here’s my comprehensive list:
Every week I buy:
Fruits and veggies on sale
This is what I keep on hand and check before leaving:
Garbanzo beans (to make hummus)
Frozen spinach (in a bag, not a box, so I can pull out a handful at a time to add to meals)
Check list on fridge (the dry erase board where I jot down anything I notice we’re out of)
Trash bags, laundry and dishwasher detergent
That’s it! Notice that distinctly lacking from that list is junk food. It’s expensive and bad for you so we just don’t keep it around. Instead we find ourselves reaching for string cheese, fruit, or oatmeal if we’re craving a snack. Also, we pretty much only drink water at home. We only get cokes when we eat out.
Speaking of eating out, Nick and I have tried time and again to cut back with limited success. We always try to go cold turkey and fall off the wagon within a week. What we’ve finally found that works for us is telling ourselves we can only eat out once a week and to save it for the weekend. It’s easier to stick to this plan because we can look forward to where we’ll go on Saturday instead of lamenting that we’ll never eat out again! We’ll even start planning where to eat as early as Wednesday, even if it’s just our favorite taco shop. This is great for both our wallets and our waistlines.
So there you have it, the grocery shopping technique that’s been serving me well for the last few months! I shop at Albertson’s, so your mileage may vary depending on where you shop (Walmart may be less, Whole Foods may be more). We’re getting a Trader Joe’s later this year and maybe I’ll make the switch! I definitely like having a regular grocery store where I do all my shopping–I’m familiar with everything from what store brand items are the best to which cashiers are the nicest. Do you have any tips for saving money on groceries without veering into extreme couponing territory?
Original image from here