I'm one of those people that actually likes grocery shopping. I like having my list and crossing things off it as I grab food from the shelves and finding the deals in the store is like a treasure hunt. 10 Lara Bars for $10? Sign me up!
But even though I like grocery shopping, I'm not about to go to the store every two days to pick up food for dinner that night, especially with two kids in tow. Nooooope. No ma'am. I barely have time to get dinner on the table at a reasonable time as it is, so there's no way I'm spending 30 minutes getting groceries multiple times a week.
Enter meal planning and the once-a-week shopping trip.
Every Saturday or Sunday, we load the kids up and head to two stores, usually Aldi and Target, or Trader Joe's and Target, and get all of the groceries we need. It takes us about 1.5 hours and then we're done for the week. To make this work, I have to meal plan before we go to the store so I'm not grabbing random stuff off the shelves because I can't remember if we already have it at home.
I'd estimate that 60-70% of our list is the same every week -- fruits, veggies, milk, eggs, the basics. Then another 20-30% is unique based on the meals we're eating that week. (I generally only plan our dinners and make sure a few of them have leftovers that we can take for lunches. The staples cover breakfast on the weekends.) Up to 10% is items that are less frequent purchases like condiments, baking supplies, toiletries. This 10% is the main reason we have to go to Target; Aldi and Trader Joe's don't always carry the specialty items that we like, or we just like the mainstream brands better (mostly cereal because my husband is a brand snob when it comes to his Mini-Wheats and Honey Bunches of Oats).
If I forget an item, I don't go to the store to get it in most cases. I either improvise with something else or just leave it out if it's a small amount of a spice or won't ruin the recipe if it's not there.
You might be asking, how does this save time and money? Well, let me just tell you the joys of shopping once per week!
- You spend a larger chunk of time up front, but save time by not having to make multiple trips to the store throughout the week. For me, that means more time playing with my kids after work and the ability to make our dinner at home 5-6 nights a week.
- When you have all of your ingredients for the week at once, you can prep portions of the meal ahead of time, which saves time when you're making the actual meal (helpful on busy evenings!).
- If you know you are making 3 meals with chicken breasts in a week, you could pre-cook all of them at once (if the recipe allows) to save time later.
- By planning your meals before shopping, you can ensure that you're scheduling meals that will use up everything you buy. For example, if you only need 1 cup of chicken broth for one meal, plan another meal that will use the rest so the remaining broth doesn't sit in your fridge and go bad.
- When you don't make multiple trips to the store, there isn't the option to grab random snacks and treats off the shelf, which add up quickly.
- If you're planning your meals on the fly every day, you are likely doubling up on items you already have at home. Being at home while meal planning allows you to see what's actually in your cupboards and fridge so you don't over buy.
- With one trip a week, you'll likely hit every aisle of the store and will be able to take advantage of sales to stock up on non-perishable items, thus saving money in following weeks. However, I only recommend stocking up if it's something you would already normally buy! Buying things just because they are on sale is not saving money in the long run. No, you don't need 18 cases of rice cakes just because they are on sale for $.49 a pack.
How do you grocery shop? Once a week? A bunch of mini trips?