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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.