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A Meal Planning Approach to Grocery Shopping

Years ago I had the habit of shopping whenever I ran out of food. I would find myself shopping hungry, grabbing things that I didn't need but that looked tasty in the moment. I realized I was spending way too much money on foods that weren't even going to give me the energy that I needed, and more food went to waste. Using the same type of planning that we were doing at the restaurant that I was working at in that period of my life, I took to taking the same principles and thinking ahead. Meal planning worked really well for me, for so many reasons, and even as my life has changed multiple times, the adjustment has been that much easier in the new chapters due to this type of shopping approach.

I have my own theories as to the best way to shop for meal preparation. In the process of creating this blog post, I researched to see what other peoples’ approaches are, and to be honest, I was overwhelmed and confused. For me, I need simplicity! The problem that comes up when figuring out the best shopping method, is that there are about one thousand variables. So to simplify it, for all the different folks reading this, I will break it down into approaches. See what works best in your circumstance.

In my overarching blog post for this meal planning series, I gave a basic idea of considerations for shopping. To review what I cover, check out the blog post here. Here is a summary of the basic points:

  • Plan to go to the store once per week.

  • Think about how to structure your shopping list.

  • Examine what your dietary needs are.

  • Consider staple items that you use in most of your meals

  • Work out how to stack your meals.

Now let me go deeper into each section. By asking the following questions my hope is to give you some considerations for a blueprint to help you customize a shopping list that fulfills your needs!

  1. How often can you go shopping?

  2. Where do you go shopping? Do you go to multiple stores?

  3. What kind of foods are you buying for your diet? What sections of the store have those ingredients?

  4. What ingredients do you use all the time? Are you buying them each week, consistently? Should you consider buying in bulk? Are they perishable and do they need to be bought fresh for the best nutritional value? What ingredients do you prefer to switch up to give variety to your meals?

  5. How many meals or recipes are you using this particular ingredient for? Are there other people you need to consider with the specific ingredients you are using and therefore buying?

Once you have had a chance to think about these questions, then you can go about the process of creating your shopping list. Here are some rules to help refine your approach:

1) If you have settled on shopping for everything in one day, then you have to consider your route. If you are going to multiple stores, find a route that is consistent and works within your daily plan on the day you have designated for shopping. This will benefit you in case there are perishables or if you are going to different locations between other errands. I know this sounds super basic, but sometimes it's hard to see the pattern, and this can help with practicality. Sometimes convenience is not always the best option, and sometimes the opposite is true. So, figure out what works best for you.

2) Another part of this “one-day shopping plan” is considering what you will buy at each store. Are you choosing to shop in multiple stores because not every store has the items you want? Do your dietary restrictions require you to go to the stores that have the best ingredients for you? Are you trying to find the best value for the items you want to buy? Every store has high priced and low priced items that vary, resulting in one place being better for this, and another for that. Take all of this into consideration, for your choices of stores. Now organize your list based on what is most important and see if you need a different app page or physical sheet for each store. It’s important to make sure you don’t miss anything.

This may sound daunting, but after the initial setup for this blueprint list, your total time in preparing to shop each week will drop down to 15-20 minutes maximum!

3) Next, going by store, consider the layout (if you have been there before, of course). Usually, the bakery and the produce will be near the front of the store (enticement factor). Make your list flow by section starting with the front of the store, then follow the directional flow you usually choose to take through the store or the path that is most logical, based on the arrangement of the store. Hopefully if there is only one path through the store, having your list will help you easily manage where you stop to grab ingredients! Being mindful and purposeful helps you be alert to the “enticements” and will help you keep to your goals for meal preparation.

4) Now if your goal is to begin the habit of meal planning, for the purpose of a diet change or just being better about how you are consuming foods, there is a small extra layer of list building to consider. This will come more and more naturally as you practice this habit. The key is to be mindful of the distribution of ingredients that help you achieve a balanced diet, whatever your goals may be. How do you find the best proteins, fats and carbohydrates for your macronutrients, while incorporating your choice of micronutrients in the form that works best for you? I will cover this topic later in the series to dive further into macro and micronutrients. Here, the purpose is to make sure that you are considering where you find these ingredients in the store. Are you going for vegetarian or vegan options? Are you looking for only organic and seasonal ingredients? Are you considering environmental output? Are you looking for ease of preparation in the kitchen because you are a busy parent who just wants to get food on the table? Consider these ideas when planning your way through the store and, while in the store, interacting with the different sections or aisles to help fulfill your meal planning goals.

5) After creating your list to go through your store/stores, you will know where to look in your own home to find the ingredients you commonly use. Identify these as your staple “must have” items. Check to see if you are in short supply of these ingredients and need to be purchase them again. Now, with your blueprint in hand, sit down for 5 minutes and go through the master list. Which ingredients do you still have plenty of? Which ingredients are low and require buying at some point? Will they last the week? Did an ingredient not go over well with a family member? Do you have to adjust the ingredients that you are buying based on extra people being in the house that week? Check your pantry, check your fridge, check your freezer, check your counters and the condiments like oils and vinegar that may be out near the stove. By doing this, you can be confident your list will have all that you need and include all the staple items you should have on hand.

6) Finally, once you have checked your staple items on your master list, create a meal list. This is a daily list of the meals you should plan for. This will help you figure out if there are extra ingredients not normally on your list that you might want to have on your shopping list. This does not have to be difficult. Usually it is based on the recipes you routinely make. For example, if you have the same breakfast everyday, that is usually a good place to start. This plan will help you figure out what is changing during a given week. Are you going out for a birthday or anniversary? Do you have to prepare a different sort of meal because there are extra people coming over? This will also keep you to the specifics and keep your preparation easy and smooth.

I hope that these approaches have helped to give you some guidance as to creating your own shopping plan and give you ideas as to how to create the best shopping list for you!

Now, you should have a thorough, thoughtful, shopping list and a great guide to keep you focused when shopping. The shopping list along with your daily meal list mentioned in number 6, should provide a format to support you with your meal plan.

If you found this post useful, please “like” it and share it with your friends! We welcome any comments below if you have tried any of these approaches to shopping or if you have any further questions about this topic.

You can also check out more information about meal planning in our blog. If you are interested in going deeper with cooking, meal planning and baking, we invite you to check out our cooking and baking classes and courses!


About Becky W:

Chef, Cooking Instructor, and Owner of Becky's Pixie Kitchen.

My goal is to impact as many people, through my passion for food, in order to improve their lives with physical health, mental health, and quality of life.

At Becky's Pixie Kitchen we create cooking classes for the community to help kids and adults who want to cook at home, by providing instruction that promotes enthusiasm, encourages curiosity and focuses on the important pieces that make techniques and recipes easy and repeatable.

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