All About Groceries

Mealplan

Dinner in our house is often an afterthought. Generally I have an idea of what I’m going to make, but I never know quite how it will come together and I often swap nights at the last minute. I make sure I have building blocks in my kitchen, but I don’t plan out what goes with what (usually) until maybe 4-5pm. Sometimes this is bad because I don’t have enough time to roast a potato, for example, but most nights it works out and I put together dinner quickly based on what I’m craving at the moment.

meal plan

The Non Meal Plan

Most weeks I take inventory of my proteins (including things like beans and eggs and things in the freezer) in my head and buy vegetables that are in season to go with them. Then I mix and match when dinnertime comes around. Here’s an example of a week’s worth of dinners and lunch/breakfast staples without a plan”:

 Building Block Basics
  • 2-3 seasonal fruits
  • 1 bunch bananas (with green tips!)
  • 1 kind of greens (like kale, collards, etc.)
  • 2-3 green vegetables for dinner sides
  • 1 container salad mix or 1 bunch leafy lettuce
  • Carrots and green pepper for salads (if we’re out)
  • 1 kind of starchy veggie (like sweet potato or squash or corn in the summer)
  • Mental check on bulk food stock (refill anything we completely used up)
  • 1 meat (we already have salmon on hand this week)
  • Eggs/milk/yogurt (if we are out of one or all)
  • Mental check on pantry staples like tomato sauce or sardines (will venture into an aisle if I need it)
  • 1 cheese for salads, 2 if planning to use some in a meal
  • Occasional Splurges: tortilla chips, pre-made hummus/sauces, extra cheeses, more expensive fruits/veggies like berries, non-bean/grain bulk bin stuff like dried figs, fancy drinks like kombucha
Meal Plan

On a good week, I write down foods I’m craving and LOOSELY put them into a meal plan. As you’ll see, we’ll probably flip flop most of the recipes to different days or use different ingredients or just cancel a meal altogether. But at least this plan is available if we wish. On a bad week, this list is just in my head!!

Groceries

Examples of loose meal plan nights:

“The meal plan for tonight was: ‘Something from the garden, combined with eggs or sardines or beans and something grainy.’

Meal plan = ‘Roast things from the fridge”

Ingredients

If I have a lot to buy, specific recipes in mind or things I don’t want to forget, I make a list of groceries for ingredients, plus staples of yogurt, produce, cheese, milk, a meat or fish, a few canned things, etc. I usually plan a vegetable and a protein source for each night and fill the gaps with starches (toast, grain) and seasonings / garnishes like cheese.

STAPLES I can’t live without
  • Bananas
  • 2-3 other fruits
  • Organic milk
  • Local eggs
  • Kale
  • Salad veggies like carrots, bell pepper, cucumber
  • Lettuce / spinach of some kind
  • 1-2 dinner veggies (like zucchini, eggplant, asparagus, sweet potato, green beans)
  • Frozen berries
  • Yogurt
  • Sharp cheddar cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • ROLLED OATS
  • Hummus
  • Sardines/salmon in the pantry
  • Beans in the pantry
  • Whole grain pasta in the pantry
  • Diced tomatoes in the pantry

Here’s an example of a week of groceries: Rainbow Over Yonder.

Our grocery bills ranges from $40 on a light week where we just need vegetables to $125 on a heavy week where our fridge and freezer are bare of everything.

Cart

Most are surprised that I keep my fridge pretty bare! I only buy what I need for the week and can usually make it stretch pretty well. A cluttered fridge drives me crazy! I like to be able to see everything inside at a glance. We often have a shelf for dairy + eggs, a shelf for leftovers and fruit, overflow and drinks o the bottom and veggies in the drawers. The doors are all condiments and sauces.

Fridge

QUICK DINNER STAPLES

Here are things that are easy to keep on hand for quick dinners in order of importance

Vegetables = limitless, obviously. Try to have something green for every night of the week. Frozen veggies work well!

Proteins = beans, legumes, frozen fish (requires a day of advance planning), tinned fish, bacon, eggs, tofu <—many of these are easy to keep on hand verses buying “fresh” meat/fish

Grains = easy to keep in dry storage, and of course, bread!

Garnishes = cheese, nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, eggs, capers, pesto, sauces, and more. They give the meal flava!

EASY DINNER IDEAS
  • Bean burgers made from canned beans, veg on side
  • Salads with protein on top like eggs or fish, bread on side
  • Omelets or frittatas
  • Warm lentil salad
  • Pizza (dough needs some prep in advance)
  • Mexican bowl with beans + grain or chips, cheese yogurt
  • Savory pancakes
  • Anything sardines/tuna from a can
  • Soups with leftovers/beans/grains/veggies mixed in
  • PASTA

So as you’ll see, my meal planning is anything but formal. Just a loose plan to get some foods in the fridge and cravings down on paper. It takes a bit of flexibility to work this way, and perhaps when I have a child to feed (or if Matt didn’t eat a lot of his meals at the bakery) we’d need a more rigid meal plan. But I like to eat what I’m in the mood for, so having a flex plan works well for us.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lea @ Healthy Coconut May 7, 2012 at 10:53 am

I think that this works great for a household for two (like my household is) and I do the same thing too. I plan on making 2 recipes a week and then the rest of the week’s meal comes from pantry staples.

But in the future when we have kids, I feel like I will need to have a more structured meal plan.

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2 Andrea @FrSeed2Stomach May 7, 2012 at 11:25 am

I shop like you (minus the meat) but my fridge is always crowded! I’ll aspire to keeping it so neat and clean!

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3 Rachael May 7, 2012 at 11:47 am

I’m the same! I find trying to make a strict plan makes me feel constrained and not want to eat what I’ve planned. I totally eat by cravings. I shop the same way, often even without a list. I know it’s dangerous but I mostly shop at Trader Joe’s so even on my worst trips the damage is under $80.

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4 Katie May 7, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Thanks for this, Kath! Extremely helpful. :)

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5 Tracy May 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm

I agree with you on meal rigid planning. I used to try to meal plan and it drove me CRAZY! I was rarely in the mood for what I planned and either food went to waste or I suffered through an unwanted meal. My meal planning is similar to yours and I have a husband and 4 teens to feed as well. So it can work with a family!!

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6 Maria @ Sinfully Nutritious May 7, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Oh my gosh, I never know what I want. I shop every two weeks with needing to pick up lettuce in between. I buy a ton, two carts full at Trader Joe’s. I have this crazy issue that I am going to run out of something or need an ingredient I do not have, so I am constantly restocking.

I have a vegan family of three, who eats every meal including snacks and desserts at home. No eating out except for the occasional scoop of Kung Pao Tofu from Wegman’s when I am shopping there. I buy pretty much everything organic and average about $375 for the two week trip. But, like I said, there are no meals out. I cook everything. I pack school lunches everyday and cook plentiful meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner and make lots of recipes for my blog. I know I could stretch my two weeks to three if I needed to, with exception of salad ingredients. You know the saying, “will work for food”, I say “I work for food”. I love cooking and would rather get a gallon of coconut oil delivered than new shoes or clothes. I shop Kohl’s clearance with a coupon for clothes, but I will shell out $12.00 a pound for nuts! I AM CRAZY!!!!!!

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7 KathEats May 7, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Hahah I’m the same way. No problem spending $12 on a jar of nut butter, but I can’t stand to pay full price for clothing!

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8 Sarah @ Fresh Living May 7, 2012 at 1:06 pm

What a great help this post was! I definitely need to become more organized with my shopping. I love your big fridge, especially how organized it is :)

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9 Amanda M May 7, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Thank you so much for this! It was a huge help to me. I was afraid I was going a bit crazy with my current grocery budget, but it’s pretty similar to yours so I think I’m ok, especially since I live on an island off the coast of Alaska!! Fresh fruits and veggies can be super expensive, and so can frozen (since they have to stay they way while being flown or shipped in). But I’m making it work with a little creativity.

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10 Carli May 7, 2012 at 6:27 pm

It is so hard to plan what to put in that bowl each day, isnt it?!

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11 j3nn May 8, 2012 at 3:54 am

I envy your ability to keep your fridge so skinny! I love the idea of having space I can see in between, and I even attempt it when it’s clean-out day, but, inevitably, I fill it up to capacity within a week, lol.

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12 Diane May 8, 2012 at 10:56 am

I am much more rigid in my meal planning, writing down all the ingredients I need on a list. I have two young kids and a short time to cook after work so I like to preplan everything so that I don’t have to think about it when I get home and I know I have everything I need and won’t have to run to the grocery store in the middle of the week. When it was just me and my husband, we never had a list or preplanned that much and went to the grocery store a few times a week. I don’t think the rigid planning happened until we had two kids – the bathing, cleaning up, laundry etc just doubles so I have less time at night to think about what I am cooking for dinner.

It is always facinating to me what people spend on groceries each week. It amazes me that people with kids can spend less than $125 a week. We eat pretty basic, vegetarian fare and still can barely get out of the store for $175 for the week.

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13 Tami Jo Eaton May 8, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Just wait until those kids start coming. I have 3 children. I find half drank glasses and bottles and hate wasting them, so I make the kids write their names on the lids and put in the refrigerator and then as we are running to baseball/soccer practice, they have to drink their half gone one first. I actually have two refrigerators and a huge freezer in the garage as I shop in bulk. I am like Sinfully Nutrious, very rarely do we eat out. I see good deals and buy a lot because I know the next time I go back it will cost more.

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14 Candice May 8, 2012 at 1:40 pm

I am a rigid meal planner. We will move things from one day to another after I make the plan, but otherwise it’s pretty solid. But, by meal planning, we are able to eat out just once per week and our leftovers become all our lunches for the week. So it’s really a money saver. And it only takes me one lunch hour every two weeks to meal plan, so it’s really not that much of a commitment.

For those who are curious, because I always am, I spend roughly $400/m to feed my husband and I all meals and snacks for the week except one dinner out. We are vegan but we eat pretty basic with just a few splurge items.

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15 B May 8, 2012 at 11:46 pm

This is so perfect! I have arrived in the US for a week and am trying to navigate healthy eating. I came to your page to look at old posts for oats-piration.

Some people come to Vegas to drink and party, I ended up going to Whole Foods! I was overwhelmed so ended up with lots of lara bars and a few fresh salads! I did also get a jar of sunflower seed butter to take back with me as the stuff at home is filled with sugars and other rubbish.

I would consider moving here just for that (but then all the candies would also tempt me… I am safe in Australia without Pretszel M&Ms on every corner)

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16 Jane May 9, 2012 at 9:59 am

Quick question (and I don’t know if you’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I haven’t noticed it) – is there a reason you eat rolled oats instead of steel cut? Just taste preference? Ease of preparation? Or is there a dietary basis?

Thanks!!

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17 KathEats May 9, 2012 at 10:22 am

Taste + ease of preparation. I like them creamy and quick to cool!

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18 MommyPage August 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm

This is a wonderful grocery store shopping list. All your items look very healthy and delicious!

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19 Lindsey March 24, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Hi Kath! For health reasons, I’m working on removing sugar, preservatives and food dyes from my diet. I want to switch to whole grain pasta, but I’ve never had one that I liked. Which one do you like?

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20 KathEats March 24, 2013 at 7:57 pm

I usually just get the store brands. You might like fresh whole wheat pasta better if you can find a store that makes it

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21 Millie April 6, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Great website, i’m always looking for tips on making my groceries healthier and this post hit the nail on the head, thanks allot -Millie

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22 Kat August 21, 2013 at 9:57 am

I love this post, I revisit it often. I’d love to hear how your grocery and meal planning has changed since you had the adorable Mazen.

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