Menu Planning and Grocery Shopping Basics

Menu Planning and Grocery Shopping Basics

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    Love it or hate it, an important part of cooking is grocery shopping. And an important part of grocery shopping occurs before you set foot in a supermarket: menu planning. Read on for tips, tricks, and plans for making your trips to the grocery store easier, quicker, and more focused. And perhaps cheaper, too.

    To get started, you need some ideas about what you plan to cook, right? So get out your recipe box, favorite cookbook, or troll through online recipes. Choose a few favorites or new recipes you want to try and set them aside or mark their pages in a book.

    Using a large sheet of paper (no little scraps from the bottom of your purse, please), jot down a basic meal plan for several days. For example, your dinner plans might look something like this:

    Monday – Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn, rolls

    Tuesday – Chicken casserole, salad, bread

    Wednesday – Tacos, refried beans, chips and salsa

    Thursday – Grilled chicken, baked potatoes, steamed veggies, bread

    Friday – homemade pizza

    Next, carefully read through each recipe to determine what you need to prepare each one. You will write each item on your list, where your meal plans are already listed. (Having the meal plan with you while shopping can come in handy – you might notice an item you forgot to add to your list or think of a substitution if you run into a great sale.)

    A simple way to organize your list is to make two columns on your paper. On the left hand side, list Produce, Meat, Dairy, and Freezer items. On the right, list Grocery, Cleaning and Health/Beauty Aids. Under each heading, you’ll do something like this:


    (list fruits/veggies you need)


    (List items needed, such as breads, condiments, canned goods, etc. If you are       familiar with your store’s layout, you can list them in the approximate order they are found in the store to speed up shopping and make it less likely you’ll forget something. Crossing off each item as you add it to your cart can also help you to not forget anything.)



     (ground beef, chicken, deli meat, etc)                              




    (milk, cheese, eggs, etc)




    (frozen veggies, waffles, etc) 


    (cleaners, detergents, etc)



    (shampoo, makeup, soap, etc)


    Going through each recipe, list all items needed on your list under the appropriate heading. For example, for meatloaf, you might need ground beef, bread crumbs, tomato sauce or ketchup, an onion, eggs, and spices. (Some of those items may already be in your pantry or fridge, of course. Check on those and just list what you need to buy.)

    Some shoppers like to make their list extremely detailed, such as listing “Tomato sauce, Hunt’s, 15 oz” but do whatever works for you. If you’re making the list and shopping, do just what you need to understand your list when you’re at the store – so if “tomato sauce” is enough information, then just write “tomato sauce”! (If someone else will do the shopping, you may need to be more specific. And you’ll definitely need to make sure your handwriting is legible!)

    Now, add any other things you need to purchase, items needed for breakfasts or lunches, beverages, pantry staples or household products. You’ve got a list!

    Please note that if you’re the type of person who makes all her lists on the computer: go for it. Set up a standard list you can fill in each week and print it out when you’re ready.

    If you are a coupon-user (please, say you are!), you’ll need to get your coupons ready, also. Look through your coupons (which should be organized!) and take out any that apply to your current list. Set them aside in whatever way works for you – paper clipped to your list, in an envelope, or tucked in your wallet. (Just keep them where you will remember to use them! One clever idea is to write your list on the outside of a letter-sized envelope and tuck your coupons inside.) Go through your list and mark any item for which you plan to use a coupon – circle it, highlight it, write “w/c” (with coupon) beside it or whatever will catch your attention and help you remember to use the coupon.

    (Truly dedicated money-savers also like to plan their menus based on what’s on sale each week – i.e., making hamburgers when ground beef is on sale or roasting a turkey when turkey is cheaper than usual. This method does save money but takes a little extra planning. If that’s your style, scour the ads before deciding on your menus.)

    Now you have a detailed, concise list and are ready to shop! Most of us stray from our lists at least a little bit, but having a list truly makes grocery shopping easier, more efficient and less of a hassle, and usually saves money! 

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