House For Six

Meal Planning Part 2: Grocery Shopping & Food Prep

Deme Crinion1 Comment
Welcome to Part 2 of 3 in this Meal Planning mini-series!  Yesterday, I shared what's worked best for our family when it comes to planning our meals.  We plan out a month's worth of meals and shop for one week at a time.  How we shop and what we do when we get home from the grocery store is what we're dishing on today!

I'm an old fashioned girl when it comes to lists.  The process of writing things down helps to organize the jumble of thoughts playing WWF inside my head.  I know there are all sorts of devices that may be more efficient in helping me do this, but I tend to stick to good ole pen and paper for creating our shopping lists. Maybe you tech savvy folks, could share your favorite e-helps for meals in the comments.

If you are the type that likes to work with a printout, try these on for size....a complete list with items to check off when you are low/out from Meg, a similar one from Persnickety Graphics, this all in one weekly planning sheet that includes a spot for your weekly to-do's, menu and shopping list via Artsy Fartsy Mama, and this pantry inventory sheet from Jen.  If none of these fit your style, a google or Pinterest search for 'printable grocery list' will yield tons of options.

We have a magnetic notepad with a pen up on the fridge, and as we notice our standard stock items are running low, we jot them down on the list.  This includes our breakfast/lunch items.

When shopping day rolls around, I grab our notepad with the items we've scribbled down throughout the week, and our monthly meal plan calendar (that I also keep on the fridge).  I check the recipes for the meals scheduled in the upcoming week, and add any necessary ingredients to the grocery list.  I also do one last sweep of the fridge and pantry to see if any other standard items are running low that we missed during the week.

Once the list is made, it's time to shop!  But the big question is where?

As a family of five, we're pretty much BFF's with Costco and have been pleasantly surprised to see more locally sourced food there lately.  It's our main shopping spot and have found that it's the best value for most of our meat, organic milk/dairy products, and produce.  Once we grab our Costco items, we pick up any remaining things on the list from our neighborhood Smith's or Sprouts (a local farmer's market).  We were also introduced to a local butcher/market that had a great selection of proteins at great prices.

James and I are really trying to be more conscious of what we put in our bodies and what we give to the little bodies in our charge.   We are trying to buy organic and local whenever possible, but let's face it, healthy isn't cheap.  So we've been trying to expand our shopping options to new places in order to compare prices. It can be daunting trying to figure out which stores will give you the most bang for your buck, and shopping local ads/coupons can be overwhelming.  We're still trying to strike the balance between searching out the best prices and not running to 4 different places just to get our groceries.

To help with this, I made up a 2 page price comparison chart for myself.  I listed all of our common veggies, fruits, dairy, and protein purchases and created a column for the four stores we have found to be the best for price and quality.  Over the next few weeks, I'm going to track the prices we've paid for various food at these different stores so that we can figure out the to best way to conquer our food shopping.

And here's one for you to download too. The store names are deleted so you can write in your own on the top.  I do clip coupons for these four places, which is less overwhelming than scouring through all the ads that come through our mail.   I have a slot for coupons right in my wallet.  I check these when I write out my grocery list and make a note or highlight items we'll be grabbing from a specific store.  I should also clarify here....we try to do one bulk purchase of meat a month and then shop once a week to replenish produce, any pantry staples, and the food items for our dinner meals that week.

Here's where a few extra minutes, saves us boatloads of time (read: stress) during the week.  As soon as we get back from the store, or later that day, we try to.....

1.  Wash and chop up fruit/veggies. Our kids eat a lot of fruit and it's almost always cheaper to buy say a whole pineapple than the pre-cut/pre-packaged stuff.  To also save us prep time at meals, we chop up fruits like pineapple, melons, strawberries, and grapes ahead of time.  I still have a toddler that shoves food into his mouth two fists at a grapes get sliced in half.  I pop the chopped fruit into tupperware containers and they are ready to plate at meal time or for easy snacks.  Same thing for carrots, celery and peppers.  They get chopped up for easy grab and go.

2.  Sometimes we pick up a ton of fruit in one shopping trip, and I'm worried it will go bad before we can consume it.  In this case, I chop it all up, leave half in the fridge, and then combine a few different chopped fruits into small ziplock bags that get tossed in the freezer for ready to make smoothies

3.  Separate and freeze the bulk meats.  Ground beef is something we usually purchase in bulk from Costco.  We'll divide it into 1lb portions, place in zip lock bags, flatten them to save space, then stick them in the freezer. Chicken breasts are another standard bulk item for us.  We'll do any trimming and also separate these into meal size portions in zip lock bags.

4.  Marinade.  We typically leave a couple bags of chicken alone and to the others we add some sort of marinade.  Italian dressing, teriyaki, and BBQ are the fan favorites around here.  Just pour the marinade into the zip lock bag of chicken, turn to coat evenly and toss in the freezer.  The meat will marinade a bit while it gets to frozen and then marinade even more as it thaws.

Once all this is done we're ready to execute our menu!  If we need to switch a few meals around, we can do that.  I tend to forget to plan meals that have more perishable items early in the week, so food doesn't go bad.  If I need to switch up the order of the meals during the week, it's not a problem since I have all my ingredients on hand.  And if something comes up and items go unused, I either plan work them into the next week somehow, or simply freeze them for another time.

Part 3 for this meal series is coming up tomorrow - how/when we actually cook!  Until then....what are some of your food shopping tips?