meal planning

Organized Grocery Shopping

I love grocery shopping. I love heading into the store with an empty basket and walking through the produce section to see all the delicious fruits and vegetables. I love wandering the aisles and imagining all the things I could make with the ingredients there. I fill my reusable bags full of healthy food and vibrant colors with my head held high.

Unless of course my kids are with me – in which case I’m buying everything on my list and getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

Since I only get to go grocery shopping alone about once every three months, you can bet I’m getting in, getting the things on my list and getting out as quickly as I can. Blissful browsing and hunting for that package of tamarind paste is just gonna have to wait.

Thankfully, there are ways organize your trip to save time and reduce stress – because organized grocery shopping is efficient grocery shopping. I feel like I’ve developed a pretty solid strategy and since it works so well for me I figured I’d share it with you.

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So here, without further ado, are my organized grocery shopping tips:

Know your store. I always shop at the same store and I know it well. I know the fastest and most efficient way to make my way through the store so that I can get the things I need quickly. Produce first, then the bakery, meats & cheese, dry goods, dairy, frozen foods and cleaning supplies.

Here’s a little drawing of how my favorite grocery store is laid out.

Grocery Store Layout

Have an organized list. I use two separate lists for keeping track of what I need. I have a list on a chalkboard in my kitchen (it’s not a real chalkboard – it’s a frame from Target with black paper inside that I write on with chalkboard markers) that I use on a daily basis.

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As I notice something that I need to purchase I write it on the chalkboard.

When I’m planning our meals for the week I use a list I created in Remember the Milk. First I sit down and add everything I need for our meals for that week, then I add anything I wrote on the chalkboard. At that point I erase chalkboard and have it ready for the next week.

Remember the Milk is my FAVORITE list making service. It’s cloud based and multi-platform so I can add stuff to my grocery list no matter where I am.

In Remember the Milk each item has four different priority options and I use those to keep my grocery list organized. I divided my grocery store into four sections and assigned each section a priority level. Every time I enter an item on my grocery list I assign it a priority setting depending on where it’s located in the store.

Priority 1 = Produce
Priority 2 = Seafood, Bakery, Deli, Meat & Cheese
Priority 3 = Dry Goods
No Priority = Dairy, Frozen Food, Cleaning Supplies & Pharmacy

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My grocery list is set to sort items based on priority so all the items in my list are grouped by where they are located in the store.

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As I walk through the store I make sure every item in that location is checked off before I move onto the next section. This eliminates a lot of walking back and forth which saves time. My goal is to hit each section once and not go back.

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Keep your basket organized. I use a smaller hand held basket inside the larger shopping cart to neatly stack produce. The smaller basket keeps the easily bruised produce from getting squished in the cart and it leaves the real estate in the buggy open for larger, heavier items like flour or laundry detergent so I’m not constantly rearranging stuff.

The carts at my grocery store have a smaller space in the top of the front and I use that for cold items.

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By organizing your cart by food type you can unload it by type at checkout. When you unload by type you make it easier for the person bagging the groceries to keep like items together making the checkout process faster. That’s a win for you and the grocery store!

Though grocery shopping is still a chore at least by being organized I’ve made it as painless as it can be. Yes, most of the time the kids fight and scream and sometimes cry but at least I have a plan and that’s a good place to start!

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Meal Planning 101

500x750We’ve all been there. It’s 5 pm, you’re exhausted after a long day and staring blankly into the pantry wondering what to make for dinner.

Ugh. Let’s see…I have spaghetti sauce, ranch style beans and chocolate chips. *sigh*

This is the last place anyone wants to be. Your brain is fried from and entire day of decision making, there’s no way you can be expected  to construct something edible. Forget delicious, not gonna happen.

I’ve found myself in this situation more times than I’d care to admit but it didn’t take long to learn that planning our meals in advance is a fairly easy solution. With a meal plan, I know that my family will be fed healthy, home cooked meals every night and it’s cheaper than take out.

I grocery shop once a week, on Monday, so that means planning our weekly meals on Sunday night. When I’m planning I try to keep in mind how long perishable food keeps in the refrigerator and plan accordingly.

I plan the meals whose ingredients spoil quickly earliest in the week (like fresh fish, meats and veggies) by the time we get to Thursday I’m using using what’s left of our fruit and when the weekend finally rolls around I’m digging stuff out of the pantry and eating up the leftovers.

If weekly decision making is holding you back or if meal planning for you is well intentioned but rarely accomplished consider making a recurring meal plan. Sit down with your cookbooks and plan two weeks of meals then rotate through those 14 meals in the same order over and over.

For a long time I would plan different meals each week but recently I created a four week meal plan which I rotate through. I found I didn’t make more than 28 different things anyway and now I don’t have to decide what to make on which day. Now I check the meal plan, double check our schedule for the week to make sure it all fits and and make my list.

Weekly Meal Rotation

I left Saturdays open for going out and Sundays open to allow us to go through leftovers or to try new recipes.

I switch things up occasionally out of need. For example two weeks ago we went out of town on Friday and missed grilling fajitas but we didn’t want to wait an entire cycle to get back to them so instead of going out last Saturday we grilled fajitas instead.

I put the recipes for each of those meals in a notebook, arranged in order by week in my kitchen so it’s easily accessible for cooking. I put each recipe in a page protector (just say no to grease splattered recipes!) and labeled the page protector with the week and day the recipe is used. When I’m ready to switch a recipe out in my notebook I can just remove the old one from the page protector and slide in the new one. No digging for recipes, looking up stuff online or remembering which cookbook it came from. Grab notebook, turn to correct page and go.

weekly rotation recipe notebook

The rotating meal plan is never finished. Just like our food preferences, it changes with the seasons. For example, I know our Friday night grilling session will change when it starts to get colder but that means we can add more soup to the schedule and I LOVE soup.

Creating a recurring meal plan might not be right for you, perhaps you have an erratic schedule or someone in your household travels unpredictability but please give meal planning a try. You’ll be surprised how much more peaceful your evenings become!

What about you, do you use a weekly meal plan? Have you ever tried doing a meal rotation?

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