Food Shopping and Menu Planning

by Kelly · 11 comments

in Money & Spending

Here’s the backstory: Simple Mom recently posted A Basic Guide to Menu Planning, in which she describes her method of planning meals and menus. It’s very simple and easy, but it involves planning in advance. I left a comment saying that I do the opposite- I plan after I do the shopping. People wanted more information about how that works, so here it is.

I started grocery shopping every two weeks for a very simple reason: the local grocery store offers €5 in store credit for every €50 spent. If I shop once a week, I spend €85, shopping every two weeks I seem to spend €150, occasionally I spend €200. This saves me money overall on the monthly budget (€400), and earns me a considerable amount in cash back. I have found that when I go to the grocery store more often, I spend more money overall- it’s as simple as that. Shopping less often saves me money, and I don’t have to battle my way through the crowds nearly as often… another, hidden, bonus.

How I go grocery shopping

I try to have certain staples on hand at all times. When I start getting low, or open the last jar of something, I write it on the list so that I can buy it on the next shopping trip. Some example: flour, sugar, cornmeal, eggs, canned corn, canned tomatoes, milk, cream, coffee, mayonnaise, yogurt, butter, tortillas, frozen vegetables, fresh vegetables, fruit, cheese, wine, cat food, toilet paper, diapers, breakfast food etc etc. Probably the same sort of stuff you buy. Stuff I never buy? Soda, candy, chips or any junk food. I do buy a few preprepared frozen mixes (pasta in a bag, frozen chili, that sort of thing) for days when I’ll be really busy.

Planning Meals

Because I tend to buy the same stuff over and over, I have a pretty good idea of what meals we can make from what we have. And because I buy from a list, I know what’s missing in order to make the meals I’m pretty sure I’m going to make. After I put everything away, I take a few minutes and write down all the meals that I can make from the food we have. This takes about five minutes. I put the list on the side of the fridge, and every afternoon about two PM I take a look and see what I feel like cooking. I do this in the afternoon because I’m not working at the moment, but obviously it can be done at any moment of the day or night.

Here is an example of the meals that we will eat over the next eight days, until I do the shopping again. The best part is that I’m not tied down to a specific meal on a certain night- I can pick and choose as I go along.

  • Fettucini with salmon and zucchini
  • Quesidillas with rice and beans
  • Pasta salad with green beans, garbanzo beans, cheese and ham
  • hamburger patties with Brussels sprouts and mac n cheese (a real treat, imported from the US)
  • Pasta with spinach tomato sauce
  • Fish cakes made with leftover mashed potatoes and cucumber salad
  • Chicken, vegetable and rice soup
  • Pasta with carrots, roasted red pepper and parmesan
  • Tuna patties, broccoli and corn bread

You can see that we eat a lot of the same sort of food: fish, pasta and veggie side dishes. These are all kid tested and kid approved… chez moi, at least! Lunch is often leftovers.

But what about fresh food?

I buy plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as frozen and canned. The trick to not have it spoil is in when you eat it. You won’t see any fresh green salad in the above meal plan, because we ate that last week. On the other hand, the carrots, zucchini and red peppers will both last a long time in the fridge, and the other vegetables were frozen.

And trying new foods?

If I find a new recipe that I really want to try, I write the recipe down on next week’s plan and any necessary ingredients on the shopping list. I don’t really like cooking to recipes however, just like I don’t like sewing to a pattern, and so I find my inspiration most often in the fresh ingredients at the grocery store.

This system works for me- will it work for you?

Other Grocery and Food Related Posts at Almost Frugal


1 Aaron Wakling July 9, 2008

I finally decided to write a comment on your blog. I just wanted to say good job. I really enjoy reading your posts.

2 Kelly July 9, 2008

Kelly says: Thanks Aaron! I appreciate the feedback.

3 Shevy July 9, 2008

I guess I do something sort of similar. I have a list of 22 dinner menus (dairy or neutral ones), 5 more meat meals for Friday nights and a couple for Saturday lunch (which is really dinner). I also have a few other meals I haven’t written down that we have very occasionally.

I generally restock the main ingredients for the most popular of these and try to have as many possible combinations as I can on hand, but I’ve definitely fallen away from planning what we’ll have on specific days (other than Friday night and Saturday by day for Shabbos). We often decide what to have when Hubby gets home, based on what’s happening later, the weather, our energy level, etc.

It seems to work fairly well for us. It helps that I don’t cook fancy meals except for birthdays, Shabbos or religious holidays. Any meal I make can probably be on the table from 5 to 15 minutes from when I start.

Shevy’s last blog post..Nothing New Under the Sun

4 Ann at One Bag Nation July 9, 2008

I’m a weekly planner, and sad to say, a frequent shopper. There are three stores very close by, so that encourages my habit. I keep a running list for the basic stuff, and add to the list according to what I’m cooking for the week.

Now that the local farmer’s market has opened, I’ll take advantage of that and try to hit the grocery store less often.

I’m impressed with your system!

Ann at One Bag Nation’s last blog post..Is Decluttering the Same as Simplifying?

5 Toblerone @ Simple M July 9, 2008

Sounds like this system works for your personality, your family's tastes, and your situation over there in France. Good for you! I wish I could go to the grocery store as seldom as you – it's one of my least favorite stores. I love the farmer's market, but the grocery store here is insane.

Thanks for sharing!

Toblerone @ Simple Mom's last blog post..Menu Planning Resources :: Useful Links, Sites, & a Free Download

6 Denise July 9, 2008

I’m impressed with your overall food budget! That’s amazing. With the kids home this summer with a sitter, I can’t seem to make anything last in our house.

Denise’s last blog post..Food for Thought

7 Eponine July 9, 2008

What about going to the daily or weekly market to buy fruits and veggies? What about the friendly (or even cranky) local merchant who remembers what you like to buy and makes helpful suggestions? Don’t destroy my illusions about what my life would be like if I lived in France! 😉

8 Budget Mama July 10, 2008

Groceries are my weak spot in my budget. I try to plan meals about 2 weeks out. This almost always works and saves me money big time. The problem is sticking to the planning. I’m making more of an effort lately. Great blog!

Budget Mama’s last blog post..Completed some goals

9 Kelly July 10, 2008

Kelly says:
@Eponine, My husband likes to joke that I really live in Seattle, France. Somehow my ‘exotic’ life abroad has morphed into a little corner, albeit far removed, of the good ole US of A. I didn’t really mean for this to happen, but, the best laid plans and all that.
@Shevy, wow from the pot to the table in 5 to 15 minutes? You’ll have to write about that!

10 Katy Wolk-Stanley November 3, 2008

I do a similar type of shopping. I try to go infrequently to the grocery store, as each trip increases what we’re spending. (Plus I HATE food shopping.)

I just keep a variety of staples on hand, from which I can make a large number of different meals. What I cook for dinner is based on using up food that would otherwise go bad.

When I have tried planning meals way ahead of time, we end up wasting a lot of food, as the leftovers build up faster than we can eat them.

For dinner tonight?

I have no idea. But . . . I do know we have chicken in the freezer, some leftover rice, a few tortillas, dried beans and salsa. Maybe burritos?

Amy Dacyczyn, of “The Tightwad Gazette” cooked and shopping in a way she called, “The Pantry Principle,” which sounds similar to what you do. She just made sure to have what she considered necessary on hand, from which she was able to concoct a variety of different meals.

Thanks for this entry, as it was very interesting to read and mull over.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Katy Wolk-Stanley´s last blog post..Once A Month Garbage – An Update

11 Sarah .aka. Mamalotsoftots February 10, 2009

Hi! I plan my menu’s backwards as you do. Only I’ve never really thought of it as backwards. LOL! 😀 Funny.
It seems to make the most sense to shop first with what’s on sale, the plan. Well, I look at the ad, then plan, then shop.

Sarah .aka. Mamalotsoftots´s last blog post..Spring Cleaning ~Kitchen Edition

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