I’ve been asked these questions by a few of my friends and hopefully the answers will help people get in my mind (just not too much though, it can be scary 😉 ).
When do I plan my grocery list/weekly menu?
Typically every Saturday morning I watch the Food Network as my inspiration, 3 shows are my staple: The Pioneer Woman, Trisha Yearwood, and The Kitchen. I grab ideas from Giada and Bobby Flay if I sit around long enough. Funny how when one becomes older it goes from Saturday morning cartoons to cooking shows; I become grumpy if I miss my shows! For the meals, I always make sure to have 1 of each if possible: fish, vegetarian, 3 different meats; leftovers happen 2x a month if I’m lucky. If you don’t have the time to watch TV (it’s ok, not everyone does – I happen to be off on Saturday’s so it’s my only time to sit down & breathe), start searching the Food Network website. The recipes are very clear and pictures are super helpful plus you can see a scale of how easy/difficult a recipe is. For the most detailed pictures go to The Pioneer Woman.
I honestly keep an open mind as to how I plan on preparing any of the said main ingredients. We became tired of fish filets so I’ve attempted fish stick a few time and they were successful, fish tacos are also fun which you can switch up for shrimp. I’ll try turkey burgers with all of the “toppings” diced into the meat with a yummy sauce and pretzel bun. Most of you know we love pork chops so I tend to keep those pretty simple and make different sides each time. We love stuffed peppers (with OR with out meat!) and I can’t leave out my pasta dishes. Lord know I still have plenty of Dream Fields pasta from the recipe contest I won. Don’t let your slow cooker catch dust – it’s underrated in the kitchen and nothing is forcing you to cook a “casserole” or “soup” in it – I’ve done pulled bbq chicken and pork, stuffed peppers, curry chicken and rice, mashed potatoes, veggies, and spaghetti. Of course you need to think how long you’ll be out of the house, not all recipes call for an 8 hour cook time.
When do you go grocery shopping and what do you buy?
I go shopping on Monday’s – this specific day serves a few purposes. Most people go on Sunday’s by default, if you work weekdays it would be a tight squeeze between work/cooking/family time, plus kids need lunches for the week so going on the weekend is usually the easiest. Which ever works for you, do it. Back to my day of shopping, the store is empty and I get in/out under an hour which is all I really have time for! I allow for 30 minutes of unpacking once I’m home and then I begin to prep that night’s dinner (I have an hour between lessons and band rehearsal which is obviously only enough time to eat). So while I don’t have kids I am certainly on a tight schedule.
We used to belong to Sam’s for the cereal, meat, and house goods (paper towels, napkins, etc) bulk purchases. I tried bulk fresh produce but it only lasts a week and forget about fresh bread not going bad in a few days. So those adventures ended within the 1st year of our membership. I go to HEB, our local grocery store or Wal-Mart, it depends how I’m feeling. I buy what I need for the week I’ve planned for and that’s it! I’ve stopped having to throw away rotten veggies/produce and if I make extra sauces I try to use it the following week. My fridge is no longer hiding 10 day old food, my counter is clear of produce and bread clutter, and my pantry is pretty organized (almost TOO organized) which makes it easy to see what I have or what I ran out of. If your pantry is cluttered you could easily begin a collection of vinegar, spices, evoo, etc. and that stuff runs up a hefty tab if you keep purchasing it unnecessarily. Once a week to the store also helps with our budgeting; my job doesn’t really pay on the 1st or 15th, money trickles in throughout the month and it’s not even guaranteed to be the same each week.
Here’s a few pictures of my thought process … I mean, weekly menu and grocery list:
I use a standard ‘legal pad’ of paper, the back side from the previous week is used for my meal inspirations and the front side is where I break down each category of what’s needed. Once I have 5 meals figured out then I ask my husband what his schedule is – I really should do that first and actually, I used to. It began to cramp what I wanted to create. If he worked nights I made sure something was on the menu that could be reheated quickly. We got into a rut of yucky food, ha! So I do my planning and then tweak meals if they don’t exactly fit our schedules or I’ll flip them around to different nights
The categories on my list consist of produce, dairy, meat, canned, frozen, and other. I go through each recipe and write down how many onions, peppers, tomatoes, etc. that I’ll need. This way I never buy too much or too little. Once I write down the main ingredients I go back and fill in the usual essentials: coffee, yogurt, cereal, toilet paper, napkins, etc. If my husband needs something off the norm it is his responsibility to add it. Seriously. If he doesn’t write it down and only tells me, it won’t get purchase because I will forget about it. He’s learned the hard way a few times and is much better now. Oh, once the entire list is “done” i do a quick check to make sure I am actually out of everything I put down. If I happen to have it then it gets crossed out, one less thing to buy… plus I hate getting up/down to check the fridge and pantry, I do it all at once at the very end. Also if I notice we’re low on random items I’ll add them at this time.
So I hope this helps to give you an idea of what goes on with my planning and grocery shopping. Having it all planned on one day and shopped for on another allows me time to do other things in my minimal spare time, like buy dog food, get my car washed, fill up with gas, clean the house, take out trash, do MY laundry (husband does his own), clean up the back yard (remember, we have 3 sous chefs), etc. You can see why I don’t feel like running to the store last minute but sometimes it’s inevitable which means a text is sent to my husband asking if he can pick up ketchup or milk, luckily with him in the Air Force it’s an easy stop for him to make at the commissary.
Keep those questions coming and I’m here to help you meal plan! If you want my exact recipes and list layout, I literally have my lists going back many, many weeks. I can use it for reference but really it’s just easier to have that note pad instead of loose paper floating around.