Home > Meal Planning & Grocery Shopping 101 > Meal Planning & Grocery Shoppping 101

Meal Planning & Grocery Shoppping 101

Meal planning and grocery shopping are a major part of “my life”, without each of them I would not only have failed at my past & present weight loss goals….I also would be very stressed on a daily basis when it comes to feeding my family of “3”!

So in light of that I have decided to dedicate a post just to Meal Planning & Grocery Shopping!

I pretty much plan out most meals, aside from breakfasts that are either; cereal, oatmeal and/or waffles for all 3 of us and my daughter’s lunches during the weekdays as she prefers to eat at school rather than taking her own lunch. 

However, I do plan out what my husband and I will have for lunch during the week.  He typically has sandwiches most days so that is pretty cut & dry and I too have sandwiches (deli meats, tuna or peanut butter) as well and always have staples for them in the kitchen at work during the week days. 

From time to time I will make chili or soups that we share between us throughout the week or longer as well for lunch.

So for me, the REAL meal planning comes into play with dinner as I plan them out for the entire week prior to making my shopping list.  I even plan “take out” or “fast food” night(s) on my calendar, as well as eating at the “mother-in-laws” or “special event nights”. 

We, my family & I, live on a very strict budget, in which $100-$150 a week is spent on groceries/household items and varies depending on the purchases (house hold & hygiene items) I make for that week, and if any special more expensive meals (steak, large ingredient recipes, etc.) or dishes (baked goods, birthday cakes, etc.) are needed to be made.

Meal Planning

  • As I stated above I plan out pretty much every meal.  However, since breakfasts and lunches are often the same items (just rotated around each day/week) my main meal planning comes into play for our family dinners. 
    • First, I start by figuring out what meals I plan to make each day (Monday thru Sunday) of the week and then I write them down on my calendar on the fridge. 

  • Since we are a family living on a very strict budget we typically have many of the SAME meals each week (i.e. tacos, homemade pizza, spaghetti, hamburgers, pork chops, etc.) so I have a few “go to” meals that I typically list weekly, however I do try to “mix-it-up” every few weeks by adding in a new meal that I would like to try that I found in my recipe box, on another bloggers posts, online or by watching the Food Network (though I will admit their recipes can be a bit pricey so I don’t choose them very often, but I love to watch what they make for future reference).





  • Next, I look in the fridge & pantry to see what items are needed for each of these meals as well as breakfasts & lunches for the week. 
    • I then make a list of all the items I will need for everything on an excel spreadsheet that I tailored to my local grocery store, Publix, by their departments that I visit first (Bakery) to last (Dairy) in order so that my shopping experience is as efficient as possible and hopefully no items are forgotten nor is time wasted going back and forth across the grocery store looking for items I missed or forgot along the way.

In addition, I list Misc. Items or items that I need to stand out to me at the bottom highlighted in different colors so they are not forgotten as they may be items I do not buy every week and would most likely forget.

  • Then I check out my grocery store’s newspaper (online) weekly ad to see if there’s anything On Sale that I can use in one of the meals I have planned out or if I should change around my planned out meals to incorporate an item that is on sale that week into my menu.

For example, BOGO (By One Get One Free), sales are then added to my list and are then bolded in red or the sale information is noted next to them so that I remember this when shopping.

  • Finally, I review my grocery shopping list to make sure all items needed are listed!  This is very important as it saves you from having to visit the grocery store again (and again) during the week, which can be very inconvenient for a busy working mom and wife like me.

Grocery Shopping

So by the time I am on the way to the grocery store, which is usually every Saturday morning for me, I have my all my meals planned for the upcoming week and my Shopping List in hand.

After arriving at the store I grab my Publix Green Bags from my trunk and head inside the store.

Once inside I follow my shopping list by visiting the following departments in the same order as listed on the list:

1)  Bakery

2)  Frozen Foods

3)  Produce

4)  Meat/Deli

5)  Dry Foods

6)  Dairy

Usually, I hit the check out with about 90% of the things I had on my original list and 10% things I didn’t, because either an item on my list wasn’t available, didn’t look very good (produce) or was too expensive for me this week and I may make a few (very few) impulsive purchases that I just couldn’t resist or were on sale!


  • When planning your meals for the next week, always take a look at what you have in your pantry & fridge to see what you already have on hand.  Than try to create your meals around those items so that you can use up your supplies and save on your grocery bill that week at the same time.
  • If you find staple pantry items (rice, pasta, taco shells, tacos, spaghetti sauce, seasoning packets, canned veggies, beans, granola bars, chocolate f/the hubby, frozen waffles, eggs, etc.) on sale – stock up on them.  These are items that often used in the meals I make throughout the week.
    • In addition, I Stock Up on these items whenever I have a little extra from one of my monthly paychecks so that way when funds are tight I don’t have to worry about buying these items. 
    • I also buy these items at “Wal-Mart” as they are always cheaper!
  • Buy items like bread, cheese and meats in bulk when they’re on sale (got love BOGO at Publix) – most keep well in the freezer
    • Accept for certain fresh baked breads from the Bakery as I find they only last about a week before they start to taste stale even after freezing.
  • There’s nothing worse than buying a specific ingredient for one dish and having to throw away what you don’t use, which I avoid doing as it is just an expense I cannot afford.  I will actually not make several recipes that I have found because of this reason. 
    • If you really want to make the recipe however try and plan future meals that will utilize this ingredient.
  • If your grocery store doesn’t carry something that you’re looking for, ask the manager to start stocking it. 
    • I haven’t done this myself, however I have heard of other food bloggers that have as well as my mother-in-law who is from Montreal, Canada and has certain items she hasn’t found and requested.
    • Sometimes it can take a few months, so be patient.
  • At my grocery store (Publix) there is a flat screen that displays everything that the checker is scanning, as they scan it.  So PAY ATTENTION to what’s showing up on the screen as it’s being scanned, especially with produce and items on sale!
    • On several occasions I have been charged for the incorrect produce item.
      • Once could of cost me almost $15 extra as the checker entered the wrong fruit that had a much higher per pound price then the fruit I actually bought.
    • On other occasions I didn’t receive the sale price for an item.
      • I find this especially true if the sale item/price wasn’t listed in their weekly circular and may only be a daily special or something that wasn’t updated in the computers. 
        • This just happened to me last week with a sign that said $3.00 Post Cereals, limit one item per customer.  When the checker rang it up the sale price didn’t show and she had to send the bagger back to confirm what was posted, which he did of course as there were several signs posted.

So as you can see I am a HUGE planner!!! 

However, despite what you might think meal planning does not take that much time and in the long run will actually save you time. 

For example, you won’t have to waste time running back to the store for an item you forgot and you won’t have to spend “extra” time walking back & forth while you are at the grocery store looking for the items you need because everything you need is listed on your grocery list and in order by department so that you minimize your time at the store. 

And, the best part you will SAVE MONEY doing it! 

I have saved hundreds of dollars throughout the years and can’t imagine what I would come back with from the store or how much it would cost me if I didn’t use the above methods.

Try it for one week and see how much you save.


  1. Jenny
    February 1, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Thanks for this post. We also are on a strict budget and I am defiantly a planner, so I clip coupons and do a weekly meal plan on Sunday also. I love to see how other people do it–the spreadsheet idea would be a huge timesave for me! Thanks for the tips!!

    • February 1, 2010 at 5:41 pm

      I love my spreadsheets, I keep all of them and just go back and update where needed. It doesn’t take that long to make and saves a ton of time. =)

  2. February 1, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Very nice post on meal planning….I’ve been meaning to do a post like that on my blog as well. I’m glad there are others out there that have a budget! I think ours is even a little more tight….usually $100-$150 every 2 weeks and that is including diapers and formula for our 5 mo old. Hard???? Yes! But, with planning like you do, taking inventory of what we already have, and trying to used everything possible, in the most economical way, it can be done!

    • February 1, 2010 at 5:40 pm

      Ally, my actual grocery (food only, no household items) shopping budget is quite often a bit tighter then $100-$150 weekly, like this past week I only had $70 to use as the rest of the funds went household items & gas! It is hard, but my planning helps a lot and keeps me sane at the same time. =)

  3. February 1, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    I actually enjoy planning the weekly menu and doing the grocery shopping
    I take my husband’s and my schedule into account when planning. To make this easier I post our dinner menu on our shared gmail calendar. He does most of the cooking because he gets home much sooner than I do, so this allows him to give me input about the menue. This way too he can also see that if I scheduled something quick and easy to make it’s because I have some sort of meeting after work or I know that he’s going to the gym after work.
    It’s also important for me to plan in this way because I would probably run into alot of trouble otherwise. When he works an evening or overnight shift I probably would end up eating crap instead of making the effort of preparing dinner for myself. Instead I plan to make something that day before that will offer me leftovers as an option. If I didn’t plan my lunches the stress of work might influence what I went out to buy.

    Real Simple makes a tear off grocery list with magnets so you can stick it on the fridge. This way the husband can jot down what lunch meat or granola bars he wants. It’s organized into sections (i.e. dairy, veggies, fruits, etc.).

    I have two other rules/tips about grocery shopping:
    1. Never go shopping hungry. Otherwise everything looks tasty.
    2. If you suddenly feel compelled to grab cookies, chips, or other junk type food read the ingredients. Once you see all those unpronounceable ingredients it wont’ be so appetizing anymore.

    • February 1, 2010 at 5:37 pm

      Great feedback, thank you! =) You are totally right about the “don’t go shopping hungry”….I actually stop and get myself a coffee from my favorite place on my way there if I can as this helps keep me full & satisfied while shopping. Also, I should get one of those magnet grocery lists for our house too as my husband always forgets to tell me what he wants.

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