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So How Do You Guys Do Your Shopping? Do You Plan Your Meals?

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I am rethinking the way I shop for groceries and plan our meals. I am looking to save $$ and time. I prefer to shop everyday or two for specific meal needs (tmeat and any extras) but I realize that this is costing me time and probably money.
Originally, I would try to plan our meals for the week but life being what it is it didn't always work out. I sometimes felt I was wasting food because of that. Sometimes I just didn't feel like having chicken one night but felt like I had to use it that night anyway because I defrosted it.

I go to the Produce market for produce, deli items and sometimes meat as the prices are far better than the supermarket. ($8 for a jar of kalamatas? Seriously?) With the kids going through 4-5 pounds of apples a week at one time the $1.99 vs $.99 at the produce store made a difference. Kids are away now so things have changed.

A butcher for most of my meat. I go to Trader Joe's mostly for frozen, cheeses and a few other items. Rarely produce/meat.

The supermarket for everything else and warehouse stores for some meat and staples. You get the picture. A lot of running around but I spread it out and I try to stock up and keep a pantry of things liked tinned tomatoes, spices, stocks, pasta etc.

I'm also trying to make meals from things we have in the house (and freezer too).

Life has slowed down a bit so I think it might be time to try some planning again. What do you think about it all? Does it save you money? Does it keep you from wasting food? Does it save you time?
Do you plan your meals from the sales that week?

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  1. I buy groceries in two categories:

    1) pantry items which I always keep a reasonable stock of on-hand (e.g. canned beans, pasta, other grains). I try to buy these whenever they're on sale and stock up. They have long shelf lives.
    2) Fresh items - produce and meats mainly, again I try to buy sales (my mom told me never to spend more than $2/lb on meat). I usually only buy enough to cook for the week, sometimes buying extra to freeze.

    I don't follow recipes, so I just add items from both categories in set patterns, with variations in flavors from variety. I usually come up with a meal that night, or the night before. In summer, when we get our CSA share I usually plan at the beginning of the week for the whole week on pick-up day.

    1. First, I suggest you acquaint yourself with any ethnic markets for for meats, poultry, sea foods and vegetables. These places serve their communities and offer far better pricing than larger supermarkets.

      Second, if you shop at the bigger Regional or National supermarkets, I suggest you learn to use the weekly circular to your advantage and purchase only the sale items. This will obviously same you money, but will also expand your diet and purchases. Everything at my local supermarket goes on sale in either 2-3-4 week cycles. If chicken is on sale this week, next week will be pork and then the next will be beef....then back to chicken. If Tyson Brand is on sale this time, the next sale will feature Perdue. The same will hold true for pantry items and brand rotation. If you are not absolute on your brand loyalty, this is another way to save some dollars. There really is no reason to stockpile food, as I have indicated, everything is always available and there is a sale on any particular item at any given time. I shop mostly at a market that changes its weekly circular on Sunday....so this is my usual day to stop by and see what's new for the week if I have some spare time. On Thursday, this market makes available the next weeks circular so I can see what will be on sale....so this makes the perfect day for me to shop. It lets me take advantage of this week's best buys and it allows me to compare what will be available next week and whether I can wait to purchase any other items....be it coffee or soft drinks and etc. This week brand x is on sale, but next week will be brand y.....@ (Z) Prices.

      1 Reply
      1. re: fourunder

        buying via coupons is a good way to buy DREK! For a year, I bought things at 50% off or better. Trust me, it's not worth it....

      2. I think thrown out food is probably the biggest waste in our house. I cook for 2 (child is eating babyfood still - homemade) so I have a hard time scaling recipes correctly sometimes which means freezing or pitching leftovers. Planning is key to preventing this. My time is more valueable to me than $ right now, so I primarily use the mass market grocery as my one-stop-shop for a once-a-week trip. I plan 4 dinners for Sun-Thurs, under the assumption I will be home late or unmotivated one night so we'll get takeout or pizza (and we go out every Fri & Sat). I select at most 2 new recipes a week. One is usually more time intensive, so I do it on Sunday, and one that I can manage in the work-week. The other meals are all standard things I know well. About every other week I manage to get to a specialty store/butcher/grocer for high quality seafood or meats, or some unique ingredients to elevate an otherwise boring plate of chicken breast + green veggie + starch. I shop at Costco about once a month and purchase certain items in bulk that seem to freeze well - tilapia, salmon, ground turkey, pork tenderloin, flank steak - then portion them out to 2-person portions in freezer bags so I have them ready to thaw when I need them. Finally, about every 60-days I intentionally do not go to the grocery. That week I am forced to be creative with what I have on hand or to work through all the leftovers in my freezer. I hope this provokes some ideas that may help you!

        1. I'm single and live alone, so I'm cooking for one most of the time. The 2 major grocery chains in my town run specials Wed-Tue. On Wed. evenings I check my pantry/fridge/freezer to get an idea of what I already have on hand, then sit down with the ads (usually online) and plan my meals for Sun-Sat the next week. I draw a 3x7 grid on a scrap of paper and jot down what I'm planning to eat for each meal of the day, including meals I'm going out to eat. I usually eat the same thing for breakfast everyday, and the same lunch Mon-Fri. Dinner varies. I plan meals based on what I already have, and what's on sale. I write out a list based on the plan, and sort the list by store based on sale prices, or my knowledge of price/quality for staples at each store. I recently started using the iPhone app OurGroceries, based on a recommendation on Chowhound, and like it a lot.

          Once I'm in the store, I stick to the list 95% of the time. I always scan the produce and meat sections for items that are reduced for quick sale, and will go off-list if there is a good deal on something that I can freeze or otherwise put up for long-term storage. I buy almost all of my ground beef this way, and a lot of pork as well. I once got 3 pounds of slightly bruised apples for .75, and made applesauce on the cheap. Both stores have closeout bins near the front, and I find they are worth a peek for seasonal and discontinued products.

          I do most of my grocery shopping on Fri evening or Sat morning, but also shop at least once in the middle of the week (usually Tues) for fruit and other things that won't last for a whole week.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mpjmph

            I do exactly the same thing. It's saved us a LOT of money. Plus getting a foodsaver.

          2. I buy canned, dry and jarred foods at Costco (I have lots of storage space).
            I browse the groceries and supermarkets and if something is on a good deal and it will freeze I stock up, and if a vegetable is looking particularly good quality I think what I can cook with it and shop accordingly. I don't eat meat, and only buy fish occasionally - not enough to warrant bulk buying.
            Anything that is pretty much being given away and which I eat - I buy. My freezer has packs of bread reduced to 5p, bags of fresh herbs at 10p and home-made curry pastes made of cheap oriental ingredients.
            My biggest saving is by cooking in bulk and freezing portions - I always know there is a meal to hand which minimises unhealthy impulse buys, and I use up all my fresh ingredients as soon as I buy them. On most Sunday afternoons I cook a couple of big dishes of food and portion them up. I never throw out waste food, except peelings.
            If I am entertaining it is a different story - I choose recipes, write a list and then shop - but even then I bear in mind what I have in stock.

            1. Even though I'm like you in preferring to shop every couple of days for meals I still always do meal planning. One of the most helpful things has been to create a calendar grid in Excel that shows seven weeks at a time. I don't plan out seven weeks ahead of time, but I write down each dinner we have and use it to plan meals ahead and to make use of left overs. The beauty of using a calendar grid to record dinners (I don't bother with the other meals, they don't vary much) is that I can see at a glance what I've made when, to avoid repeating myself too often, and as a look ahead to what's next on the menu. If I know I'll have leftovers I write down on the plan which meal they're for, and that way I don't end up throwing out uneaten food after a week in the fridge.

              And I always plan meals using the weekly circulars from my local grocery store, to take advantage of the items on sale. For example, I never buy steaks or chicken unless they're on sale, or if boston butts or chuck roasts are on sale, I'll buy and cook them that week. I rarely buy packaged/processed foods other than staples like tomatoes, condiments, coffee, peanut butter, and so forth and try to always buy them on sale. If there's a particularly good deal advertised I'll check my pantry to see if I'm running low and add it to my list.

              Planning and sticking to the plan, more or less, do keep you from wasting food. If you use your plan to make a grocery/marketing list you'll end up buying only what you plan to eat, and you'll eat what you've purchased.

              Good luck in your efforts.

              1. There are only two of us and we have lots of time, so we shop virtually every day for dinner, though we always have a good supply of cheeses and nuts (mainly Costco) and I get what fruits and veggies look good at the Farmer's market that is down the street once a week. We do not shop to save money, but we don't eat extravagantly. We made the decision last year to stop buying "cheap meat." so we try to buy humanely raised meat and to use it as part of a dish, not the whole dish. I love stewing and braising because it gives you a lot of flavor from a little protein. Even when we were both working full time we tended to shop this way because neither of us likes frozen meat or fish and we like being able to buy and then cook what we feel like eating that day rather than what is on the schedule--and I got tired of veggies going bad and meat getting freezer burn. We also have one meatless day and another "what's in the frig/pantry" where we create dinner based on what's already in the house. Demands some creativity on occasion but that makes it interesting.