How To Meal Plan & Grocery Shop + Tips!


It sounds funny that I should be telling you how to grocery shop, but I’ve actually gotten a lot of inquiries as to if I meal plan and how I shop – so I’m dedicating this post to it!


I plan out dinners for 4-5 nights a week and grocery shop once a week for ingredients that will feed Ben and I for 7 days – breakfast, lunch & dinner – on a budget of $50/week. The nights I don’t plan dinners we usually have “fend for yourself” nights, eat at his parent’s house or mine, or we’ll dine out.

Step 1: Meal Planning

1. First I start a list by writing down everything I know we’ll need for the upcoming week. Things we eat everyday or pantry staples that we’re out of, such as:

  • Bananas
  • Bread
  • Non-stick spray

2. Next I check out my grocery store’s online ad to see if there’s anything on sale that I can make a meal out of. If there’s something that jumps out at me – such as Pork Roast – I’ll decide that one of the meals for the week will be Shredded BBQ Pork Sandwiches. Then I’ll write down any additional ingredients I’ll need to create those (such as buns, etc.,) if I don’t already have them on hand.

Screenshot: On the left is my grocery store’s online ad and on the right is my list. Notice that at the top of the list is stuff that I already know we need – bananas, salad, apples, etc., and down below that is stuff that I’ve written down while flipping through the ad.


3. Then I take a look at my pantry/freezer/fridge and see if there’s stuff in there that I can create any meals out of. This is what frozen chicken, frozen vegetables, rice, potatoes & pasta is good for. If I can create any meals out of what we already have, I just jot down anything I’ll need to make the meal complete (fresh vegetables, etc.)

4. Finally, if I still haven’t come up with enough dinner ideas for the week, I’ll take a look at any recipes I may have starred in magazines or online. If I decide to make any of them, I’ll write down the ingredients I’ll need to buy at the store.

Step 2: Grocery Shopping

At this point I’ll have a list of the meals I’m planning for the week and all the ingredients I need to buy at the store to make them, separated out by department. Produce is listed first because the produce section is in the front of the store, pantry items are second because I head to the aisles after the produce section, etc.

I write everything out on a paper list to take with me, because I’m gangsta and don’t own a printer at home :)

2 IMG_9343

Then I head to the store, where the list above turns into this:



Usually I come back with 80-90% of the things I had on my original list and 10-20% things I didn’t, because things like this may happen:

  • My list above had cantaloupe on it, but when I got to the store I decided I didn’t feel like cutting up cantaloupe this week (hey, it’s messy!) so I got a pomegranate instead.
  • The Kashi cereal wasn’t on the list, but I found out it was on sale when I got to the store and I found a coupon in my purse, so I got it for $1.50…nice!
  • Sometimes I make impulsive purchases, such as the two mini pumpkins, because they’re just so darn cute! :D

My Tips:

1. When meal planning, always take a look at the food you already have on hand. Try to create dishes around those items so you can use up your supplies.

2. If you find staple pantry items like chicken broth, tomato sauce and beans on sale – stock up. For me, these are items that I can quickly and easily create meals around.

3. Buy items like bread, cheese and meats in bulk when they’re on sale – they keep wonderfully in the freezer.

4. There’s nothing worse than buying a specific ingredient for one dish and having to throw away what you don’t use, because you only needed it for that one recipe. Try and plan multiple meals during the week that utilize the same ingredients.

5. If your grocery store doesn’t carry something that you’re looking for, ask the manager to start stocking it. My grocery store didn’t stock Barney Butter until my Mom asked the manager to. Several months later – they’re still stocking the shelves with it!

6. At my grocery store, there is a flat screen that displays everything that the checker is scanning, as they scan it. PAY ATTENTION to what’s showing up on the screen as it’s being scanned, especially with produce. Every single grocery trip – 100% of the time – there is it least 1 item that the checker makes a mistake on. Most recently, I was charged for the wrong type of tomatoes ($2.99/lb instead of $1.99/lb) which saved me a whole dollar! Sure it’s $1, but this literally happens every single week – so it really adds up over time!


So – clearly I am a type A person who seems to have a lot of time on hands – but honestly meal planning takes no time at all and has saved me hundreds upon hundreds of dollars. I can’t even imagine what I would come back with from the store, and how much it would cost me if I didn’t use my methods described above. Try it for one week and see how much you save. Good luck!


Do you meal plan and shop with a list? Or do you just figure out what to buy once you’re at the store?

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  2. Ashley 04.17.2010

    What Hy-Vee do you go to for the Barney Butter? I started eating almond butter a couple of years ago, but haven’t quite found one that I LOVE and that is inexpensive, although its keeps for such a long time.

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  4. Rebecca 07.19.2010

    Hi. I too am a type-A and shop and meal-plan / grocery shop in a very similar manner, although I tend to go a little overboard once I get to the store. I love to cook and eat so the grocery is an exciting venture for me! I work for a restaurant company and get a lot of random freebies, so often times my menu starts around whatever I’ve gotten that week at work. Sometimes it’s basics like burger patties, salad mix, and bread, but other times it’s really strange things like a bucket of avocados or giant bag of fresh garbanzo beans. It’s also challenging for me because I favor a vegetarian diet while my husband is a total meatitarian.

  5. Tennille 07.28.2010


    I realize I’m reading this much later than it was posted, but it looks like you may be shopping at Hy-Vee from your screen shot. Just to let you know if the cashier does make an error and you don’t catch it or fix it at the register, you can go to Customer Service and you will receive that item for Free!

  6. Mimi 12.08.2010

    Wow, best tips ever! I don’t know if I can be quite this organized, but there are definitely aspects I can utilize!

    P.S. I like how you are “gangsta” because you don’t own a printer at home!

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  10. Rebecca in NC 06.28.2012

    Hi! I found you through Pinterest.

    I grocery shop like this, too! It took me a while to figure it out, but it saves a lot of money. Plus, our pantry/fridge supplies get used up instead of our throwing them away because they went bad/stale.

  11. […] How To Meal Plan & Grocery Shop + Tips! […]

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  13. The content that I normally see is nothing like what you have written. This is very well-thought out and well-planned. You are a unique thinker and bring up great individualized points. Please continue your work.

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