Meal Planning and Grocery Lists

Someone recently asked me what I buy when I go to the grocery store. And then, someone else asked me what my meal plans are like. 

So, I am going to tell you those things.

First, as far as cost goes:
I spend about $4-5 per meal per day. Which means I spend about $12-15 every day to eat whole, organic, delicious food.
The thing is: I don't really budget for groceries at all. I buy whatever looks good, even if it's a more expensive cut of meat or if the tiny little basket of organic blackberries cost like FOUR DOLLARS MORE than the non-organic ones (which drives me nuts). I just shop for what I want to eat. So, if you're on a tighter budget than me, It can be done for less. I could probably drop that number down to $3-4 per meal if I was really trying to be savvy.

How would you cut costs?
A few ways. One: I wouldn't buy everything organic. I'd shop The Dirty Dozen, and skip out on buying organic for the foods that don't matter as much. Second, I'd buy less expensive meat. I'm not saying that I would buy the cheap, processed shit with all the chemicals and god-knows what else added--I'd still buy grass-fed, organic, pasture-raised meat. I'd just buy more things like chicken, tilapia, and ground turkey instead of flank steak or salmon.

How do you know what to buy?
This process has gotten much easier thanks to my favorite grocery/recipe/meal-planning app called Paprika. (I'm not being paid to say that.) It's seriously the best. It costs five bucks, but it's worth it. I can search new recipes, save them in my "recipe" tab, create meal plans for the week/month by selecting which saved recipes I want to try, and I can import the ingredient list from each recipe directly into my grocery list--which is the best. thing. ever. No more hand-written lists, or typing them out item-by-item.

My meal-planning/grocery shopping process is like this:

  1. Once a week (or whenever I run out of food), I sit down with Paprika and recipe-hunt. At this point, I have dozens of recipes already saved to the app, so I don't have to search long to find what looks good.
  2. Then, I add a recipe to each day of the week in my meal-planning calendar (I usually do this week-by-week because I can't fit more groceries than that in my fridge). 
    1. Note: I only meal-plan for dinner. I don't put anything on the calendar for breakfast or lunch because breakfast is almost always some variation of eggs, protein, and fruit--and lunch is usually leftovers from dinner or something I can easily throw together from whatever is in the fridge.
  3. Once I've added a recipe to each night of the week, I import the ingredient lists directly into my grocery list, checking off the things that I don't need, or already have in the house. 
  4. I add whatever else I need to buy to my grocery list. Things like: eggs, lettuce, tomato, deli meat, smoked salmon, fruit, nuts, olive oil, paper towels, etc. Stuff that I use for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and for cooking (like spices).
  5. Then I go buy the things.

Why meal-plan? 
Because trying to figure out "whats for dinner?" every single night gets really old. When I don't meal-plan, I end up not cooking at all (and spending way more money eating out), or I end up cooking the same three things over and over again--because a weird thing happens to me when I have to figure out what I'm going to make for dinner every night. All of a sudden, I can't remember what there is to eat in the world. Pasta, tacos, and grilled chicken are somehow the only things I can remember to make for dinner--like for real, WHAT DO PEOPLE EAT.
A meal plan gives me a delicious answer.

What do your meal plans look like?
Since my meal plans change from week to week, the best I can do is give you a few samples of what a meal plan of mine looks like:

See what I've done there? I just picked recipes that looked healthy, easy, and yummy, added them to each night of the week, and loaded the ingredient lists straight into my grocery list and boom--I know exactly what I need to buy at the grocery store.

What kinds of food do you eat?
I was laughing to my husband the other day, saying that my shopping cart always has a very uniform look: Fruits and veggies spilling out of the big part of the cart, and meat piled up on the little seat-area. 
Honestly, I buy a lot of vegetables, fruit, and meat. I buy some nuts and seeds. I buy like three cartons of eggs a week. 
Lately, the husband and I are kicking dairy, grains, alcohol, and sugar--so I don't buy any of that right now. But even when we're not doing a cleanse-or-whatever, I rarely buy those things anyway. A typical grocery list of mine would look something like:
 

 

Yeah but--how much time do you spend cooking?
I spend probably 30 minutes cooking each night. Is that a lot? I think it's pretty normal.
I really enjoy cooking, though--so I don't mind it taking 30 minutes, an hour...whatever. I like the process of chopping, mixing, searing, and sizzling. It's not hard to find easy recipes that take 30 minutes or less. Just take your meat out of the freezer in the morning and you're ready to go when dinner rolls around.

If you wanted to--you could do all the prep-work at once for the week. Some people do all the chopping, mincing, and mixing on Sunday, for example, and store it in containers in the fridge so they can just pull it out for each meal. Personally, I don't mind the extra 5 minutes it takes to do it fresh each night.

What do you eat for breakfast and lunch?

Breakfast is always some variation of: coffee/tea, eggs (scrambled or fried), protein (bacon, smoked salmon, or some leftover meat I throw into a scramble or frittata), a little fruit (grapefruit or berries usually), and some kind of vegetable (tomato, avocado, or spinach thrown into a scramble).
Lunch is weird. I never really understand what I should be eating for lunch. But I often have leftovers from the night before (there are always leftovers), or I make some kind of lettuce wrap. Currently, my favorite thing has been to wrap turkey, pickle, tomato, avocado, mustard, salt, and pepper in a huge leaf of romaine. I eat like three of them for lunch and they're noms. I've also put tuna or smoked salmon in them, and that's pretty tasty.

At the end of the week, we usually have a "Leftover Day" or two. Once we empty out the fridge and consume all of the perishables/leftovers, the cycle begins again.

Let's see...what else?

  1. I make a lot of things, and I garden. That means: kombucha, sourdough, fresh herbs, squash, tomatoes, chives, onions, green beans, lettuce, kale, etc. often come from the dirt (or a fermenting jar) for free. This saves some cash.
  2. I said it before--but I don't buy dairy, grains, sugary stuff, alcohol, etc. very often, if ever. Those things can be expensive, so it helps to cut costs (and keep my meals healthy).
  3. I shop at my local farmers market for 98% of my groceries--only venturing to the neighborhood grocery store for the 2 or 3 items I can't get at the farmers market. I know not everyone has access to a great farmers market, but if you do--I recommend it.


Have I answered your questions? Let me know.

Photo by Nancy Neil


 

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