Friday, March 18, 2011

Groceries and such

I have no idea if this entry will interest people - but I'm throwing it out there! 

I am in charge of meal planning and everything food related for 12 people. (Though - I do have help picking menus for dinners!) I'm constantly trying to improve my grocery shopping efficiency - so I thought I'd list a few of my tips and tricks and see if you had any to add!

I do one big trip each week and typically one smaller one (it's a good week if I just do one though!)

I plan menus out a month in advance - 5 dinners a week plus standard fare for breakfast and lunches.(fruit, hot/cold cereal, sandwich and salad stuff, eggs, etc.) The other two dinners are leftovers or just whatever you find to make. :)

I make an effort to put dinners that really need fresh meat closest to the grocery shopping days and schedule dinners that can use frozen or preserved meat near the end of the week.

Examples of "end of the week" dinners - - Jambalaya with smoked sausage,  salmon croquettes made from canned salmon, a crock pot chicken meal, etc.  Things like sloppy joes, tacos, shepherds pie etc can also work with frozen ground meat. (Or frozen browned ground meat if you've been extra industrious!)

 I keep all the menus and recipes in a binder. We print a lot of recipes off the internet. If I got one from a cookbook I make a note of that as well.  When it's time to make the grocery list I can just open one binder.

I keep a Word document with my grocery list that has 5 sections.

Section 1: weekly purchases - - milk, eggs, bread, fresh fruit and veggies, etc.

Section 2: Pantry things - either what is needed for the meals that week or things we've run out of like sugar, flour, condiments, etc.

Section 3: Special requests.  These are the things everyone else adds to the grocery lists - special cereals, cookies, certain types of juice, etc.  No guarantee this list will get purchased. Each week a different person gets to choose one kind of sweet snack, salty snack, cereal, and juice flavor for the whole house to share. So - one week a kid may pick Cheerios - so I buy a ginormous box of Cheerios for the whole house and the next week the Lucky Charms kid gets her wish. It works really well at making sure everyone gets their favorite treat now and then, making sure I'm not spending a lot of money on these items, and that the house isn't overrun with sugary snacks and drinks.

Section 4: Monthly Budget. I keep a running track of how much of the budget I've spent that month and how much I have left.

Section 5: Menus for the upcoming week. I've found it very helpful to have the actual menu with me when shopping - so if I can't find a certain ingredient I know if I can substitute. Or, if the schedule only allows me a quick trip that morning - I know I can just get the bare minimum for meals the next day or so rather than the entire list.

Unless I'm 100% certain that I have a certain item I put it on the grocery list if I need it that week. Then, after the list is printed I do a quick "shopping trip" in my pantry and cross out things or adjust the quantity as necessary. I used to run back and forth to the pantry while writing my list. This got old. Fast.

On the actual day of shopping I hit three stores. The first is the store in my area that has the best produce for the best value. Next is the big bulk discount store. There isn't a lot that I buy there - but there are a few things that actually are a better deal.  I try to keep this store to every other week - but sometimes that doesn't work.  And, lastly I go to the regular store to get everything else. Typically from start to finish (including unloading and putting away the groceries) it takes me about 3 hours.

The smaller trip later in the week happens if an end-of-the-week meal really needs fresh meat or if the store was out of something on the first trip or if my brain wasn't working on the first trip. I try to avoid going to the store twice in a week though.

A goal that I have that I haven't quite taken the time to implement yet is to keep a log of the cost of food that I buy often - things that are in "Section 1" I tend to know the cost of just because I buy it so much - but the Section 2 and 3 items I don't always know off the top of my head. If I can start tracking the typical price per oz/item cost of these things and when sales typically occur - then I'll better be able to map out the weekly grocery budget when doing meal planning. Also, I occasionally have to go to the pricier grocery store to get items - they also have sales on occasion which I typically ignore - but if I know the normal cost at the cheap store I'll know it it's a deal or not to get it at the pricier store.  I don't get much into couponing unless it's a grocery store "$5 off $30" coupon or something.  Most of the time - even with the coupon - buying that item in bulk is not cheaper than buying the store brand as the coupon is usually only good for 1-3 of the items and I typically buy everything times 4 or 5 and I don't have time to hunt down multiple copies of coupons. Maybe I'll eventually get there - but no interest at the moment. :)


  1. Well, I found this post interesting!

    Another grocery shopping tip I've heard is to list items on your grocery list in the order of the aisles you typically walk through, so you don't have to backtrack if you missed something.

  2. wow! and it's taken how long to develop this system? :-)) truly, sounds like you're doing a great job in a faster time frame than i'd thought possible! do you take a cooler with you for cold stuff? (i had a friend years ago who did that bc of the length of her trips). besides mike with his spread sheets i can't think of an easy way to remember the prices :) (unless there's an app on your phone for it?) good idea, too, to cross off an already printed list than run back and forth to add to it.

  3. April - I've tried the "sort by order of the store" or "sort by store" thing before too - - I like the idea in theory but always get frustrated trying to make the list perfect and annoy myself when something is out of place on my list once I get to the store. :p

    Mom - 9 months out of the year it's cool enough here not to worry about that. ha. In the warmer months I'll sometimes run home in between stores if I have meat or dairy that needs to get in the fridge - all the stores are pretty close to the house.