Grocery shopping is one of my least favorite weekly tasks. I love looking at fresh produce, say, at our local Eastern Market Farmers Market. But having to head to the grocery store after work because we need a couple of things for dinner, with oodles of people there trying to do the exact same thing as me? Not my idea of a good time.
Which is why a couple of years ago I decided to streamline my grocery shopping and cooking processes by setting up a weekly meal planning system. By spending less than one hour per week, I save myself countless hours of wondering what we are going to eat for dinner and wandering around the grocery store. So here are my top tips for how you can join me in visiting the grocery store just once (fingers crossed!) a week!
1. Use a meal planning program, like Paprika.
Paprika was life changing for me, seriously. Paprika is a recipe manager application that you can download for your computer/laptop and all of your other devices (iPad, iPhone, Kindle, etc.). The downside is that it does cost money to download the application on each of your devices (for example, you have to pay $19.99 to download the app for your Macbook, but then another $4.99 if you want to download the iPad version also). But the overall benefits of the application far outweigh the cost of purchasing this app for multiple devices. This application allows you to:
- Add recipes from your favorite recipe websites, blogs, etc. on the internet, as well as to add your own recipes from cookbooks or of your own creations.
- Scale recipes and their ingredients down or up, which is super useful for going from large parties of people to just us two.
- Plan what meals you are having each day of the week.
- Quickly compile a grocery list of ingredients you need from the store for that week.
2. Choose your meals.
First decide if you want to have any “theme dinner” days or any other constants in your week. For example, we eat Mexican every Thursday night, usually have leftovers on Wednesday nights, and save Friday or Saturday for either take out or any type of event we might have, like a party or dinner with the parents. We also like to pick the opposite day (Friday or Saturday) for a nicer meal, such as homemade ravioli or gnocchi (which I love to make!). These are totally optional and you should adjust according to your own family’s style and needs. I mark these off in Paprika by adding a custom recipe “note” that says “Leftovers” or “Dinner with Mom and Dad”.
Then I browse through my recipes on Paprika and Pinterest, and also any recipes I’ve found recently in cookbooks that sounded good. We don’t love eating the same type of meat every night of the week, so I try to mix it up with having chicken one night, beef another night, and some type of fish or seafood. I also try to limit myself to just one or two pasta dishes a week (but if I had my way, I’d have it every night of the week! 🙂 ).
I also try to look for meals that have similar ingredients. Beef tacos with kale for Mexican Thursdays, and a kale salad with our weekend meal? Perfect: that means I just buy one big bunch of kale and don’t have to throw it out when it goes bad since we would not use it all in just one of those meals. Add your meals to each day of the week in Paprika so you can keep track of them.
3. Compile a grocery list.
Paprika makes this so easy. You just click on the grocery cart tab at the top of the recipe and then choose which ingredients to add to your grocery list. You then have one complete list, and you can also add any other ingredients to it that you typically buy throughout the week, like milk or fruit.
This is where having the Paprika app on your phone or iPad comes in handy. The apps can all sync with one another, so I can sync my grocery list directly to my phone without having to print anything out or write anything down. I open the app on my iPhone at the grocery store and there is my complete grocery list, ready for me to check off!
Extra tip: check your pantry for any items that you have already, and to make sure they have not expired yet!
4. Check your coupons!
This step is optional. For those of us who coupon, I next check out what the sales are at different stores, and if I have any store or manufacturers coupons for any of the items I need. Sometimes I will combine steps 3 and 4: for example, if there is a really great deal on meat or seafood that week at my grocery store, I’ll find a recipe with that type of meat or seafood that I’ve been wanting to try and fit that into our meal planning for the week.
5. Pick a time to grocery shop every week.
This varies depending on where you shop, your work schedule, and what day of the week you prefer to go grocery shopping. Right now while I’m not working, Monday morning is ideal for me. However, when I work I usually will have to go shopping on the weekends. This means long lines and busy stores! Sunday morning I have found to be a good time, if you go early while other people are still in bed. On the flip side, Sunday afternoon is the absolute worse, so I avoid grocery stores like the plague later on in the day. Do some research and shop at different times that are convenient for you to figure out which works best. You may also want to ask when your preferred grocery store restocks produce items, so that you can ensure you have a full selection of the freshest produce items to choose from when you shop.
6. Check your planning nightly!
Every night before we go upstairs to go to bed, I check my Paprika app to see what the dinner plan is for the following night. This way, if I need to defrost any meat I can put it in the refrigerator before we go to bed so it is ready for the next night. Even if you forget to do this the night before for small cuts of meat, it’s not the end of the world! Just the other day I forgot to defrost my bacon and it turns out there are many ways to defrost bacon, most of which I didn’t even know about. Of course, it’s better to be safe than sorry so defrosting in advance is always advisable. Please note that this does not hold true for any larger pieces of meat, like whole chickens or turkeys, or large chunks of meat. These will need longer than one day to defrost, so plan accordingly.
So with about an hour of preparation time each week, you can manage to spend just one quality trip at the grocery store each week, which means more time for family, friends, and of course, cooking! Please comment below and tell me what your tips are for saving time with meal planning and grocery shopping!
Click here to visit my meal planning page for more tips and ideas!