Monday, January 11, 2016

How to Organize: Meal Planning and Grocery Store Trips

This topic was on the top of my mind this morning as I prepared to go to the grocery store.  I try to only go once a week.  I know people who shop multiple times a week or even every day.  Raise your hand if you like going that often?....especially with kids.  (I'm not raising my hand)  I also know people who shop without a list or coupons.  I AM NOT an "extreme couponer", but I hold on to the ones I find and I sign up for automatic coupons on the app for the store I shop at.  I am in the Midwest so I shop at Kroger.  I also go to Costco (bulk foods) about once a month and then occasionally I travel up north to a city with a Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.  For a while I was also going to a produce market, but after switching to mostly organic produce, because they didn't stock much organic, I stopped going, and just get my produce at Kroger.

Part One: Meal Planning

I hate meal planning more than grocery shopping.  The main reason is that I still have picky eaters.  I have a 13 year old who is really flexible and will still politely eat things she doesn't care for (this is only been her attitude for a couple years though).  I have a 10 year old (almost 11) who is an excuse giver, most of the time it's "I'm not hungry", and a 4 year old who just plain refuses to try things, says things are yucky, or spits stuff out.  I try not to make more than two "iffy" meals a week so they don't explode.

1. Start collecting recipes you like

I know in this digital age it's so much easier to collect recipes online than on index cards like our moms and grandmas used to.  So, if you have a Pinterest account and are already collecting recipes start a board with things you've already made and loved so you can easily find them again.  If you just bookmark stuff online shove your favorites in a folder.  Don't expect them to be around forever though...I made this lovely dessert from a blog that no longer exists and I will probably never find it again.  This online way can be easy for collecting, but for me, at least, it's not easy to cook from a recipe using my smart phone.  I've done it when I'm too lazy to write it down, but I think it's much easier to write the recipe on an index card and keep a file box.  That way when you plan your meals for the week, you can pull the cards and have them ready to go.  I keep my recipes clipped up in front of me so I can read them easily while I'm cooking and I don't get them dirty.  I also sometimes even create index cards from my favorites in cookbooks so I don't get the book yucky and I can simplify the directions in my own words.

2. Keep extras / stock up on the things you use a lot
I will be doing a post on "Stocking a Vegan Pantry" in the near future.

3.  Look around in your cupboards and fridge for inspiration and to remind yourself what you have

4.  Figure out how many meals you are going to cook and write them down on a list

I end up jotting down my meals in the same notepad I write my list on so I can refer to it and go over it to make sure I'm writing down all I need on my grocery list.  Usually after my trip to the store I rip it out and pin it up.  My husband, however, got me a roll of chalkboard paper and chalk markers to make a menu on the side of the fridge, so now I can post it in a prettier way.  The kids love running in to see "what's on the menu" for the week.  I actually think the hubby got the markers so he could draw with them (he added the food drawings...I'm not that much of an artist).  I do have to note that my "chicken sandwiches" on the menu pictured are Boca spicy chicken-style patties, I made the "chicken soup" with Beyond Meat chicken-style strips, I spelled "Manwich" wrong (I use Boca crumbles for that), and I buy Lightlife brand veggie dogs for my "hot dogs". We usually go out to dinner on Saturdays, so I usually only plan to cook six nights a week.

Part Two: Getting Ready for the Grocery Store

1. Get a notepad and coupon organizer 
I have this 1/2 standard, notebook-sized, spiral notebook and I tape an envelope in the back to hold coupons I'm using for that trip only.  I have found it's easier to have them ready to hand the cashier than to pull the coupons out of my organizer at the counter. I usually don't take my organizer with me, but I have, however, found items on sale that weren't on my list and the matching coupon was at home.   I also make sure to ALWAYS HAVE A PEN with me when I go to the store to mark off items after putting them in the cart.  It's easier than going over your list a million times and forgetting stuff. It's nearly impossible to remember everything even with a list when you're a mom and you're tired and the kids are with take a pen.

 Note: My coupon organizer only has so many are the Categories that worked for me:
-Canned Goods
-Cleaning and Paper Products
-Frozen Foods and Snack Foods
-Bags and Wraps
-Meat and Bread
-Dairy (which is my old category, but now includes Almond Milk, Soy Yogurt and my Plant-based cheeses)
-Other (batteries, vitamins, greeting cards etc)
-Side Dishes and Condiments

2. Write your list strategically 

I draw columns on my list: "Other", "Nature's Market" (health food section), "Produce" and "Non-Foods" .  This makes it easier when you go to the store and doesn't take much more effort when you make the list.  You can get even fancier and make columns for each aisle, but so far, this way works for me.  I have also, in the past, put a symbol next to the items I have coupons for in case I need to check the coupon for an exact brand, size or number of packages listed on the coupon.  I kind of phased that out but that works too.  I always smile and feel good when my produce list is longer than the "other" list.

3. Add the things to the list you stock up on and are out of

You can even write lists of those items you want to keep on hand and pin them inside your cupboard

4.  Add the ingredients to the list for the meal/recipes you are making and don't currently have on hand.

5. Keep organized at the store too!

I like to pack the cart as I shop in a neat way and not throw things helps things not to get squished and keeps like items near each other for when you unload.  Is there anyone else who strategically puts items on the conveyor belt to get the bagger to bag them properly?  I'm totally guilty of that.  I put the heavy stuff on the belt first, then the "hard stuff" (cans, bottles then boxes),  non-foods, then the produce, and last the "soft /fragile stuff" (bread, tortillas, taco shells, light bulbs).  This subconsciously helps the bagger to not be careless about packing stuff and then keeps similar items together for easier unpacking.

Tips for Saving money:

- if your store has a shopper's card you need for sale items, get one

-check to see if you can load auto coupons to your shopper's card through an app on your phone

-collect coupons and make sure you're on the store's mailing list in case they send coupons through the mail

-check the store's mark-downs and clearance items EVERY WEEK (find out where the store puts the mark-downs in each department)  I have saved a ton of money this way.  These items are usually the only thing I buy that is not on my list. *check dates on perishable items

-if the store has a credit card you can sign up for to earn points, do it, but only if you intend on paying it off every month.  We use our Kroger card for groceries and gas only.  Our points add up, and quarterly we get gift checks to use in store (usually $35 - $45 a quarter)

-join mailing lists for the companies of products you buy the most often in case they might send you coupons (this works great for baby items like diapers, wipes and formula)

-send letters of appreciation to the companies you love...often they reward your efforts with coupons or free items

I hope this helps everyone.  Let me know if you have any more tips, or how implementing these ideas helped you!

1 comment:

  1. This is great. You know how unorganized I am but T
    I really need to start doing this so I can save some $$ and frustration lol