how to plan a menu and grocery list

When I was growing up my mom had $50 and a wad of coupons and would shop at our local Ralph’s once a week for everything she would need to feed our family of four, breakfast, lunch and dinner for seven days. My sister and I were not allowed to talk to her while she shopped. She would hiss at us “Be quiet, I’m counting!” and go back to her list and we were expected to keep up while she speed walked through the aisles or she would leave us behind. She had to keep track of how much she spent because there wasn’t an extra penny to go over budget. Her lists were a thing of beauty, written in the order that she walks in the store, aisle by aisle, if an item wasn’t on The List, it didn’t go in the cart. In no other way was my mom this detail oriented and organized.

I am not as strict as my mom when it comes to grocery shopping, but I do like to have a plan, and my lists are amazing. For me, shopping twice a week helps to keep my grocery budget under control and prevents me from buying a bunch of stuff I don’t end up using because plans changed in the middle of the week.

Here’s my strategy:

1. Check my pantry and fridge to see what I already have and start to think of some ways to use that stuff up.

2.Look at my calendar for the week and see how much time I have budgeted to cook dinner each night.
– Sometimes I will prep two dinners on nights that I have a little more time. I really feel like I have my sh*t together on those nights.

3. Check the weather report to see if any days in the week will be so disgustingly hot, it will be torture to turn on the oven. In L.A., this can happen anytime of the year and is pretty much guaranteed from mid-June through late October.

4. Write out my menu. This is where I try to be really strategic. I do not want to buy a bunch of stuff that I am only going to use half of and then throw the rest away. I plan my menus to use the same ingredients for multiple meals. Bonus points if I turn the main dish of one dinner into a second meal for the week.
For example:
– A whole roasted chicken will be the main dish of a Sunday night supper, the leftover meat will go into a second dinner like chicken enchiladas and I will make bone broth with the rest.
– I roast an extra filet of salmon and make salmon hash or top a green salad with it the next night.
– I’ll make a big batch of chili or soup knowing that my family will gladly eat that two nights in a row.

5. After my menu is planned I write out my list of necessary ingredients for each dish, then I add the basics and the staples that I also need to pick up like cereal and t.p. I usually write my list a second time organized by item type (produce items all together, meats together and dairy and pantry). This way I don’t have to backtrack through the store and after writing everything out twice I have pretty much memorized it. Yes, I realize this sounds crazy.

6. When I get to the store I head to the meat department first. Sometimes there will be a sale on something and I will change my menu slightly to take advantage.

7. Sometimes things come up and plans change, because of this, I only plan and shop for four day stretches. This means that I am shopping twice a week, but I have learned that I end up wasting less food in the long run this way.

This is a routine I developed and refined over many years. I think that this skill is easily mastered and can also lead to the ability to step into your kitchen, pull out a bunch of ingredients and make a delicious meal on the fly. It seems like a magical ability when the rest of your family is convinced that there is “nothing to eat”. I hope that you try this method a couple of times and tweak it to work for you. Let me know any tips and tricks you discover along the way.




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