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Does grocery shopping stress you out?
I remember the days when trips to the grocery store felt like Mission Impossible. The whining, the mess, the corralling, the bribery, the lost shoes.
Small children and long lists simply do not mix.
And even when I worked so hard to keep my family fed, I would never have what I needed! I forgot to put items on my grocery list; my kids’ diets would consist of Cheerios, Goldfish crackers and macaroni and cheese. They survived and so did I, but at one point I decided that some things would have to change if we wanted to be healthy and sane people.
I don’t have the perfect system. But, I’ve gone grocery shopping to feed our family hundreds (if not thousands) of times. Since consuming food takes up a good portion of our everyday lives, I’m excited to provide a little inspiration in this area.
One caveat: this isn’t a magic formula.
I see a lot of articles on Pinterest about how to scrimp and save and come up with the perfect family food plan. But I haven’t come across a single one that would work for me. And maybe you feel the same way.
Here’s why it’s hard to present the perfect grocery shopping plan:
- Every family has different needs and preferences with their food. We don’t have any food allergies or restrictions in our household. We’re also purchasing quite a lot of food these days, to feed three growing kids and three adults.
- Not everyone has the same access to food. I can get to five different grocery stories within five minutes of leaving my house, and I have a big minivan that I can load up with food. That’s luxurious.
- Not everyone has the same financial means. Right now we live pretty comfortably. In the past we supplemented with government WIC coupons. MANY people live paycheck to paycheck.
- On that note, food prices vary drastically in different parts of the country (and world!). I visited rural Alaska once, where the price of a half gallon of milk was about $9!
- Everyone has different schedules. Maybe you stay at home with your kids; maybe you work. Maybe you have a car; maybe you rely on public transportation or even walk.
- We all have different amounts of storage space. Our family has space in our garage for a refrigerator/freezer so we can stock up. Another luxury.
So I realize that the strategies I present may or may not apply to your situation. As I said, this isn’t a magic formula, but I hope that you’ll nonetheless find at least some of these tricks useful. You have a lot of potential stressors in your life; grocery shopping doesn’t have to be one of them.
10 Ways To Make Grocery Shopping Ridiculously Easier
1. Get comfortable with cooking from scratch
Wait, what? Isn’t cooking a different topic? Well, yes and no. I list this first because it’s difficult to assess what your family’s food needs are if your meals consist primarily of boxed mac & cheese, frozen pizza and carry-out. I’m not against these things entirely, but in my experience, it’s cheaper and easier—yes, easier—to put meals together when you’re not relying on the pre-made stuff. After teaching myself how to cook, I’m a lot more comfortable with throwing together non-recipe based meal based on what I have on hand. This way I’m going to the grocery store less frequently and actually using up what I have.
Does the thought of cooking cause anxiety? Don’t worry. Just take it one step at a time (I still rely on boxed mac & cheese from time to time!).
2. Make a meal plan that works for you
Some people like to plan out a whole month’s worth of meals. I cannot stand the rigidity of doing that. For a long time I did weekly plans, but now I only do about three days at a time so I can adjust for changing schedules, unexpected guests, using up leftovers, etc. There are about a million ways to meal plan, so pick one. The only one I suggest avoiding is…not planning.
3. Make a list of your family’s favorite meals
I love getting in food ruts! Said no mom ever. If you’re tired of spaghetti week after week, start making a list of your family’s favorite meals. Try a new recipe every now and then. If it’s a keeper, write it down on the master list. Then, when you’re planning out those meals, you have a growing list of ideas to choose from. I keep mine in my master planner.
4. Make a pantry inventory
This might sound painful but I promise it might be the easiest thing on this list. I came up with this idea a few months ago: going through my pantry, fridge and freezer and making a comprehensive list of everything that I like to have on hand to make our favorite meals. I put everything in an Excel spreadsheet. Now, when I’m preparing to go to the store, I pull out the list and check off what I need and don’t need. I rarely run out of anything! I also made lists for toiletries, cleaning supplies and other consumable goods, since I often buy them along with my groceries.
5. Keep a running grocery list
Even with my pantry inventory I like to keep a short grocery list with me. These are things that I might only occasionally need and aren’t necessarily on my master inventory. I write them down on my phone or my planner.
6. Buy in bulk about once a month
With my pantry inventory in hand, it is easy to figure out what I need to have in stock month by month. At the beginning of each month I make a big trip to Sam’s Club, followed up by Aldi and Meijer (gotta love the midwest!). It’s a big event, but then it’s DONE. This is the time to get your dry goods and anything you can freeze (which is a lot!). I fill in as needed during the weeks in between, based on my meal plans and how much of the bulk we’ve gone through. Typically these are quick, painless trips to pick up produce and little odds and ends.
I know not everyone is able to do this because of lack of storage space. If this is you, then just adjust as necessary. Maybe you do a bigger trip at the beginning of the month, and then a second but smaller trip in the middle of the month. Whatever works.
I know a few people who order some of their bulk goods online, through specialty shops or even Amazon. Do what works for you!
7. Schedule your major shopping trips
A problem I used to have was feeling that I never really had the time to do a big trip, especially with kids in tow. But ironically, I ended up making bigger trips more frequently, which made me feel exhausted week after week. Now, I have my once a month “big shopping day” on my calendar. Thus I know in advance whether I can schedule other things that weekend—and it helps me plan childcare. I love my kiddos and they love me, but ain’t nobody want to do shopping day together. We all win.
And if you’re really motivated you can schedule some food prep as well—freezer meals, if that’s your thing. I’ll admit…sometimes I get inspired, but not usually.
8. When your kids do come…have a plan
While I don’t take my kids on the monthly big trip, sometimes they tag along when I have to fill in. They know the routine now, but every now and then we have to have a little chat before we go into the store. I call it “the prep talk,” which is very effective at helping kids understand what’s acceptable behavior during the trip.
9. Schedule deliveries and/or pickups
Wherever you like to shop, check and see if they have delivery or pickup options. Often when I go to Sam’s Club I make an order in advance that is ready to go when I arrive. Then when I get there I pick out my meat and produce, and I’m on my way. It saves a ton of time. We also have our milk delivered weekly by a regional dairy we really like. It’s a bit of a splurge, but in my opinion it’s worth it.
10. Don’t stress about coupons
I understand that some people are experts at couponing and it supposedly saves them loads of cash. It’s not my thing. I clip coupons as I see them and keep them in a file. I also clip electronic coupons at my favorite stores and use my Ibotta app to get rebates. When I go shopping I try to remember the coupons, and they save me a couple of bucks here and there.
I don’t obsess over coupons because I believe that when you’re planning your grocery shopping well, you don’t need them. If you pay attention to great deals at Aldi in particular, you’re going to save more than you would with coupons (if you don’t have an Aldi I’m so sorry L). Instead of spending hours poring over coupon deals, I could be spending that time making money instead or spending time with the people I care about.
And that’s it! Some of these tricks are simpler than others, so if grocery shopping stresses you out I encourage you to at least try a few. Let me know how it goes!