Monday, August 23, 2010

Menu Planning and Grocery Shopping 101 - REPOST

I originally wrote this post in January of 2009, but I thought I would put up here again. I get a lot of questions about how to shop for and plan a menu. With a bit of organization and planning, your weekly meals can be a piece of cake. Read on.


This post isn't going to be for everyone. For some of you, this is all old news and you are a pro. But for others, this is going to be revolutionary and you might even save some money. What am I talking about today? The value of a menu plan and the grocery shopping for it.

Convenient that my camera is a fossil
because it fits right into the pocket of my purse.
Thus, I can bring it anywhere!


I recently had a friend ask me about menu planning and how to do it. It might seem like such an elementary concept, but you can be more efficient than you think.

So how do I do it? I will give you the full run-down.

First, set aside one day a week to go to the grocery store. It keeps you more organized that way. My day is Monday. I ALWAYS go to the store with a list in hand. This isn't a list I have jotted down on the back of an envelope. No, this is a list I have prepared the night before and it is in my notebook I keep everything in. On my list are things that pertain to our weekly menu and things I have run out of. And then there is the occasional deodorant and toothbrush.

Van, my constant companion.
Jack was a few aisles over,
begging me for a toy like it was his last day being a child.


When I plan a weekly menu, I sit down with my pile of recipes and cookbooks, which is embarrassingly large. I go through them and decide what sounds good. Chicken taco soup with cornbread or pork tenderloin with green salad and roasted cauliflower. The list goes on. I take a look at the weekly schedule to know what nights we will be home for dinner and the nights we won't. So let's say I have to plan a meal for five nights of the next week. I write down five dinners. Then I go back through the recipes to see what ingredients I am going to need that I do not have. Usually that means fresh produce, cheeses, dairy and fresh meats. Sometimes it will include something I normally have in the pantry, but have run out of, like red wine vinegar or dried oregano. It is so important that I go through each ingredient and write it on the list.

After making the list, a sloppy one at that, I make another nice list and categorize it by type of food. This might sound stupid, but I am saving time in the grocery store by doing this. I write down all the produce together. Then the dairy, meats, frozen and pantry items in separate sections as well. This makes going through the grocery store a breeze. I am wasting less time going back and forth.

Want an example? Well, today is the day you have been waiting for. Behold, example. This is a small sample of my menu last week.

Shrimp creole with brown rice and green salad
1 lb frozen shrimp
green bell pepper
celery
onion
cayenne pepper
romaine lettuce
cucumber
cherry tomatoes
green onions

Braised hunter-style chicken with quinoa with green chilies, cilantro and green onions
chicken breasts
8 oz. button mushrooms
onion
bottle of lemon juice
5 Anaheim chiles
green onions
fresh cilantro

Cocoa Ripple Cake
eggs
walnuts
heavy cream

Random things for snacks, breakfasts and lunches
yogurt
bread
cereal
string cheese
popcorn
fresh salsa
corn chips
fruit- bananas, oranges, grapes

So then categorize it by sections of the grocery store:

Produce

green bell pepper
celery
2 onions
romaine lettuce
cucumber
cherry tomatoes
2 bunches green onions
8 oz button mushrooms
5 Anaheim chiles
fresh cilantro
fresh salsa
bananas
oranges
grapes

Meats
chicken breasts

Pantry
cayenne pepper
bottle of lemon juice
walnuts
bread
cereal
popcorn
corn chips

Frozen
1 lb bag frozen shrimp

Dairy
eggs
heavy cream
yogurt
string cheese

Household

baby formula
body wash


If you stick to a list, you won't waste money. Some weeks you will spend more because you have to stock up on more things, but other weeks you will spend less. The worst thing you can do is go into the grocery store without a plan. You will get home and wonder what you were thinking. But if you have menu and a list for it, you will have a productive week. No wondering what to do for dinner each night. You will have more healthful meals and less "breakfast for dinner". And the best part is that the leftovers are lunch the next day.

I hope this is helpful for some of you readers out there. I know this will help my friend. If you want to add any ideas or suggestions, add away!

24 comments:

My crazy crazy life said...

Great idea for a post. You do things very similar to me as far as making a list and putting it in order based on where stuff is at the grocery store. I do something a little different. If I'm in a hurry or if money's tight or if there are no good sales on meat that week, I will look in the freezer and the pantry and see what I have on hand, and then I'll try to adjust my menu to that first. That way I'm not running out buying a whole slew of new spices for new recipes I'm trying.

My crazy crazy life said...

Oh BTW, I read your pork post and how you only use Ken's Steakhouse Lite cesar dressing. ME TOO!!! It's the best and did you know that Paradise Bakery only uses it too for their cesar salads. It's hard for me to go there now when I can re-create every salad in that place right at home.

j & j dish it out said...

Can't wait to try you Hunter Style Chicken...sounds delish!

Morgan said...

thanks whit:)

Katie said...

That is EXACTLY what I do.

EXACTLY!

Vanessa Sanchez said...

This is exactly what I need to do! I am guilty of going into the store without a list, and as a result end up making multiple trips to the grocery store, within the same week. I am going to take heed, and make a list! Super helpful tips :)

cat+tadd said...

Is that two diet drinks I see? Glad to hear you are prepared for the task at hand.

Emily said...

Did you know that I loathe going to the grocery store- hate, hate, hate it and I will avoid it if at all possible. I usually con my culinarily-talented husband to do it because I never know what to get when I'm there. It's sad because I have been given the advise time and again to plan a menu and then shop for the things I'll need, but I rarely to never make the effort. (I know, I know... my poor children are going to be so malnourished!)

M said...

I SO second this. We do this and it definitely pays off to know exactly what you are eating that night, that you have the right items, and that you don't have unnecessary stress/multiple runs to the store.

Laura said...

I would really like to see how you have your notebook organized. that is one of my goals this year, to be more organized. Do you have calendar, then weekly menus, then your grocery list? do you do the coupon thing? if so, how do you plan around them?

My email is warlat@yahoo.com

Thanks for sharing all your wonderful knowledge with us!

Mal Robin said...

No one said anything about that beautiful produce! Payson Market should get some kind of award. I don't think you understand... the cucumbers and potatoes are stacked in a freakin design. Their array of veggies.. it is one thing that makes me truly happy. You have never seen produce like this. Ever.

Sweet Pea Chef said...

Great minds think alike. I swear I could have written this post, right down to the comment about the toy.

:)

Jones Family said...

I'm going to try this out and I'll get back to you. Thanks for the menu planning for dummies.

meg said...

Menu planning is for losers.

We all should drop into the store on our way home from work and pick up some dehydrated pineapple slices, soy milk, tea, baby carrotts, and dark chocolate-covered almonds and then get home and realize there's nothing for dinner.

That's so much more productive. \

And what's dinner anyhow?

Shayne said...

I do the same things...well not in every detail but close. I shop on Friday because I find that shelves are not well stocked on Mondays but always menu plan, # of meals, list shop, save money and time. Later in week less stressed and healthier do to the planning...I do add a craving section, this week would have to be Lox ;-)

Janeen said...

Love it Whit - I have been planning out 2 weeks at a time. The only problem I have found is that Briggs - I can't keep up with how much food he takes in, in a day. in 28 day's he'll be 12.....that explains everything.

Miss you tons...xoxo

Anne Living Life said...

That produce aisle is amazing!!

ec said...

whitney. thanks for reposting this. i've read it before, thought it was awesome and then forgot all about it.

i'm going to make this pretty and print it off. i'll give you all the credit, of course;)

{Erica} said...

This is exactly how I do my list and shopping. I even type my list up and have it divided by the different stores I have to go to. It's not a fun or easy task but the results are wonderful.

Thanks for taking the time to post this...now when someone asks how I do my list making and grocery shopping I will just direct them to this post.

p.s. Is it bad that I want to see more picures of your adorable little lady?

Jessica said...

I love grocery shopping with a list. I have a word doc that I've created. It has boxes and categories and the organization of it makes me happy. And it makes my grocery store experience much less annoying.

Damaris said...

I keep a notebook (theoretically I do) where I plan a weekly menu and then all the items I need to accomplish the menu then a list of items I don't have. I then separate the items by store and isles. I swear I'm not OC. I'm really not even an organized person. It's just that I HATE going to the supermarket with my kids so I spend as much time as I can organizing at home and preparing before I have to go out in the battle field. It pays off. Literally!

lifeofkevrik said...

I plan my meals around the weekly grocery store circular that lists all the sales for the week. It saves me a ton of money!!

Hooked on Merrill said...

I do this this same thing and my husband thinks I am wacko and spend way to much time organizing my meals and grocery list. Glad to see I am not alone :)

*Lauren* said...

HI! I'm Lauren. I knew Ethan back in the day. I remember meeting you years ago once :) Anyways, I'm so glad I clicked on this site! I neeeeed this. I hate to cook (because I don't know how and I'm impatient) and I need to learn and embrace it. Thanks so much for the recipes and advice!