Menu Planning, Day 3: Let’s go shopping!
So…are you feeling daunted by the task at hand? Were you able to come up with 20+ meals for your family that you love, and then come up with a menu plan for the week?
Today, we’re going to talk about going from menu plan to shopping list.
The Menu Shopping List
Because I try to keep a relatively stocked pantry, I can take my shopping list, look over the pantry, and know what I need to buy just to keep my pantry stocked. I also keep a copy of that shopping list on my fridge so that I can make notations during the week when I use up something. I generally shop once a month for the biggest chunk of my groceries (thus I also plan for the month), and do stops as needed for milk and fruit/veg.
You can download my Shopping List HERE. It is an Excel file. It prints on a legal sized sheet. You can delete the last column that is for our bulk purchases, and you’ll have a letter sized shopping list. It is completely customizable for your needs. I prefer this kind of list to a blank list because I can group like foods together to make shopping easier. It’s by no means complete, I still have to write in things, occasionally, but it works for me. Hopefully, some of you might find it useful. Or, here are two other examples, given to me by friends who were teaching me how to plan years ago. This one from Susan has you fill in the items as you go. This one from Penny is set up like my shopping list, but with larger areas to track totals. Both are Excel files, so you can alter them to fit your need.
Now..to the actual planning from meal to store.
As I go through and plan what we’re going to eat, I take the recipe card and mark on my shopping list the items that it requires. I don’t bother with small things like salt and herbs. I purchase those items in bulk so I know I’ll always have plenty of it. I use a pencil to mark each can of tomatoes, each lb of ground beef, each vegetable, each lb. of pasta, by making a tic mark in each square. By the time I get through the week or month, I know exactly what I’ll need to purchase.
For things like shredded chicken, I know that I can get 3-4 C of shredded chicken per whole chicken. So I make generally purchase a whole chicken per month, roast it whole, shred it, and stock the excess in the freezer. (actually, I generally purchase at least 2 per month, roast them together, and fill my freezer with the excess). If I know I need 5+ lbs of ground beef, I can purchase in bulk to get a greater break on the price of the beef. Of course, if I’ve kept up on purchasing when products are on deeper sales, I have a good supply of beef in the deep freeze that I can shop from first before purchasing new. For items like eggs, I just keep a tick mark going of how many eggs I’ll need during the week. Normally I keep plenty of eggs on hand at all times, so I generally only need to purchase extra eggs if I’m doing more baking than usual.
Once you’ve filled out all of your items, you now have your shopping list for the week. You can add the extras you know you’ll need like toiletries, etc. You can then approach this two ways:
1. As a stockpiler, I like to keep about 3 months of food on hand at all times. Keeping the stocked pantry for your planning also keeps you prepared for bad weather, sickness, employment changes and unexpected bills. Most of what’s on my list will probably already be in my pantry or freezer. Unless were trying to cut down the grocery budget that month, for some reason, I don’t shop out of my pantry/freezer. I plan on adding the extra in and rotating the stock. So what I’m looking for is making sure I don’t have an overabundance of a product that I need to use up (in which case I’ll mark it off my list and not purchase additional this time around).
For example: If I know I’ll need 4 boxes of pasta during the month, I check my pantry first. If I’ve hit a big sale at the store recently, I’ll probably have an abundance of pasta ready. If it’s more than I normally need for 3 months, I’ll then erase that from my shopping list, use up my excess, and not have to purchase pasta this time. If, however, I know I normally like to keep about 12 boxes of pasta in the pantry, but I only have 5, purchase what I need for the month. And if pasta happens to be on sale, I’ll grab the extras I need to get my pantry back to full stock in pasta.
2. There have been months where I’ve shopped out of my pantry first. We’ve had unexpected bills, we’re going to be going on vacation or we’re trying to save up for a bigger purchase of something we need, so we can cut back on the grocery budget a bit to help. Then, I’ll just shop from the pantry first, mark off items we already have in stock, and whatever is leftover becomes my shopping list for that week. If you don’t keep a stocked pantry, this is also how you’ll do your list. Whatever you still have in your cabinet, mark it off the list, and you’re ready to shop!
Shopping this way may seem overwhelming at first because you feel you’re purchasing so much food. But the GOOD thing about it is that you’re purchasing the food with a purpose, not just buying things because you had a coupon, but no real purpose for, or buying things in hopes that you’ll use it to make some sort of meal. It also keeps you from overbuying things that you really don’t need, and keeps you from under purchasing so that you’re making fewer extra trips to the grocer, where you know you always spend $10-20+ more than you intended to when you were just going in for some eggs.
Your Assignment: Take your menu calendar and cards and sit down and begin working through your meals to come up with a shopping list. Then compare it to what you already have stocked to come up with a final plan. This is the list you’ll use to shop for your weekly meals. You can print out each of the sheets for examples that I’ve given you and play with which might work best for you, or come up with your own. It takes a little bit of time and planning, but it can save you from making unexpected and expensive trips to the grocery store for items you still need.
This is a mock run so that you can go through the process, and it’s going to take some extra time, but the more you do it, the more streamlined you’ll get, and you’ll come up with your own version of making this work for you. You’ll be glad you did!
Tomorrow: Tips & Resources