The Most Effective Way to Meal Plan / How to Grocery Shop

To those new at this thing we call “adulting”, even just the thought of meal planning can be hard. I mean come on, nothing could ever prepare us for the fact that we would have to come up with, plan and cook 3 meals a day for ourselves (and our families) for the rest of eternity! There are two rules I go by when planning meals. 1. They have to be nutritious, nourishing meals. (Our bodies need to survive, so we can’t just eat junk all day) 2. My wallet shouldn’t suffer. Always be frugal! The key is to find balance between the two. It’s not a simple task and it takes experience and time to gain the knowledge to be successful at this. 

Why should I meal plan and what difference does it make?

A good portion of the beginning of my adult life I didn’t exactly know what meal planning was or how I would even accomplish it. Due to a demanding job and fast-paced lifestyle, most of my meals were fast food. Any attempt at a homemade meal were just a basic meatloaf and maybe a side of boxed mashed potatoes. Oh, and the way my husband and I would grocery shop… Every week, we would spend $200- $300 on things we thought were essential for dinners, like pre-made dinner kits, hamburger helpers, or canned veggies (which we never used). We had so much clutter in our cabinets, but never had any idea what to make for dinner. What were we doing?  We weren’t getting any nutrients and it was hurting our health more than anything in the long run. Yes, I got most of my food for free, but was it actually worth not being organized at home and feeling like total junk all the time? So I stepped it up and started my search for better options.

It’s been about 4 years since I’ve joined the meal prepping club (not an actual club BTW), so yes, it has taken some trying and many failings along the way. But it truly is all about balance and what works for you and your family. The way we shop and eat now is C O M P L E T E L Y different from the way we used to back then. Yes, I still occasionally buy pre-made dinner kits, and I haven’t given up my love for chili cheese fries. But, I’ve incorporated so much more nutritious value into our meals by adding vegetables and fruit AND now we’re only spending around $75/week on groceries! 

Where do I start?

There is A TON of information out there on meal planning and meal prepping. Between Google and Pinterest, you’ll be stuck reading countless posts and leading to a never ending road. The madness stops here! I’m excited to share my tips on what I’ve done to improve and my experience in what has failed me along the way. 

#1 Identify your essentials. Start with the basics. What are some things that you keep handy and / or use on a daily basis? Items like ketchup, BBQ sauce, chopped garlic, flour, and sugar are essentials in our household. These are things that you should try to stay stocked up on all the time. We like to stock up on these items when they go on sale and keep them in our pantry! 

#2 Check your cabinets. TAKE INVENTORY! Now make a list of E V E R Y T H I N G in your cabinets, fridge, freezer, and pantry. These will be your base items for meal planning! If you have something that is going to expire soon, or looks like it just needs to be used up, be sure to put a star next to it so you know to add it to your plan first.

#3 Come up with a base plan or goal. What are your nutrition goals? Whether you want to cut back on pasta, or just simply add more veggies to your meals, it’s always best to have this decided before you start meal planning, that way you stay focused along the way.

#4 Find your happy! It’s okay if your little one doesn’t like cauliflower, or if you can’t stand the thought of sweet potatoes. First, think about what veggies you want to incorporate that you’ve never tried before, or that you’d like to try again. If you have a picky eater , doll veggies up with cheese or simply add them to your spaghetti or chili sauce. (It works!) My favorite thing to do is look up “kid-friendly” recipes online – there’s SO much out there. Find your balance in what makes you and your family enjoy the meals together! 

#5 Make your Grocery and Meal List Now that have an idea of where you need to be, it’s time to make your grocery list! Now this is the step where most people go wrong. Most people look up recipes first, then shop the items on the recipe list! That’s just adding MORE groceries to your pantry and not using up what you already have! Instead, start with the ingredients you have on hand FIRST. Go back to your inventory list and use up what needs to go. This week, I had a huge jar of hummus and some leftover rotisserie chicken in the fridge. So, I based my first meal around the hummus – hummus taco bowls, and the second meal was a chicken broccoli casserole – which I also had broccoli, rice, and cheese sauce on hand so win-win! Use what meat you have on hand as a base for your meal, then start building the extras with your pantry or fridge items like pasta, veggies, or even cream cheese, this helps you easily come up with a theme for each dinner. Now, say you have everything you’d like for taco night except guacamole or tortillas. Add them to your list! It’s saves so much money only having to fork out money for 20% of the meal vs. 80%!

Chicken Broccoli Casserole

#6 Shop Last – This is my favorite part! Yes, I love shopping, but that’s not why. Usually, by the time my list is made, I only have a small handful of items AND I know exactly what I’m going for and where I’m going. Before meal planning, I’ve spent countless hours in the store, going up and down each aisle, trying to find specific items and hunting for the best deal. Of course it’s always great to find a deal, but I’d end up buying something that I didn’t use in time or even like anyway. So, essentially I’m saving more money in the long run even if I do pay full price for those tortillas I needed for taco night, because I had a plan for them.

What are some tips you have for meal planning?

Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

Feeling Inspired? Check out these other posts!

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How to Keep Mornings from Being Chaotic – 10 Tips from and Organized Mom

Chicken Broccoli + Cauliflower Rice Casserole *Healthy*

10 thoughts on “The Most Effective Way to Meal Plan / How to Grocery Shop”

  1. This is great info. I struggle with meal planning and always lost on what to cook because we are out of everything and I hate grocery shopping with my 4 year old.


  2. I like your tips. They are very accessible to everyone. Especially to those who are just starting out to plan meals for themselves. It’s definitely daunting trying to plan out what you will eat for the week and making sure you don’t blow all your money on it. I usually try to use up everything I have in the fridge before purchasing new things but certain produce goes bad way faster than I get to it. So it’s always sad to see waster.


  3. I’m awful at meal planning. I now use a grocery app so I’m not needlessly buying random things but I’m still terrible at incorporating meal planning into it! Great tips!


  4. This is exactly how I grocery shop except I really dislike meal prepping. I’ll plan out the meals for my family but I can’t bring myself to cook in advance. I tried meal planning but it wasn’t for me. Great post nonetheless!


  5. I like all the tips you shared here. what I do is plan monthly and weekly grocery. thing that last long or have longer shelf life, I buy them once a month and things that last one week I buy them weekly like fresh fruits and vegetables.


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