Author Topic: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?  (Read 436 times)


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« on: February 15, 2017, 04:13:31 PM »
Hi guys, I'm new here. Have spent the last two days just reading endless MMM posts. I have some questions for you about menu planning and grocery shopping. A lot of you seem to have this figured out.

We are a family of 5 with 3 young kids in the Seattle area and I struggle with the grocery budget. I eat super healthy as a result of an autoimmune disease but still have to figure out things to cook that the kids will eat.

I've tried menu planning but always seem to fall off the wagon. Recently I've been really into incorporating more vegetarian meals and that's been working well. I still feel like I'm poking around in the dark though, I really want to get away from impulse grocery shopping and I feel like I need to meal plan to do that. I just can't seem to find a meal plan I like or stick to it.

Anyone have links, ideas, examples? What do you guys do that works?


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2017, 08:52:08 AM »
We keep it pretty simple.  We sit down once a week (usually Saturday morning) and plan out our meals for the next 6-7 days.  This includes lunches and suppers, as I like to cook enough at supper to have leftovers for lunch the next day.  We write the menu down on a piece of paper, and also use that paper for our shopping list (having the menu right there helps remind us to check which ingredients we need for each meal).  I've done this as long as I've been living on my own, and grew up with my parents doing this (4 kids and one income made it a necessity).  We also do a check for pantry staples that we may be running low on (cereal, soup, etc). 

To make impulse buying less likely at the store, I try to create our shopping list such that all like items (e.g. dairy, meats, breads) are grouped together in the list.  That way, we only hit each section of the store once.  If I have to start wandering back and forth between sections, I find it much more likely that I will grab items not on my list. 

It's not fancy, but it works for us most of the time.  The beauty of the meals being planned out is that we can always substitute them in and out if plans change over the week.  There no last minute "what's for dinner" panicking :)


  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2017, 08:58:53 AM »
I usually plan out and shop for 3-4 days at a time, with at least 1-2 meals being an idiotproof simple one that can be moved forward if something comes up and blows up our schedule (or if we choose ourselves to blow up our schedule).


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2017, 09:57:33 AM »
One silly trick that I learned for menu planning (and maybe it is obvious to some- but for a lot of people it isn't) to save money is
Don't decide what you are eating, and then go shopping for the things to make it.  Yes, this will likely save you money over going out to eat, but it isn't going to reduce your grocery bills.

Instead, sit down with the sale mailer from the stores your shop at and decide what you can make with the things that are at great prices.

For instance, this week, pork loin is on sale for $1.49/lb. If I sat down and wrote out menus of what I want to eat, pork loin probably wouldn't have made the list.  At that price- it is going to!  I'll save beef for a week that IT is on sale.

We also tend to only cook dinner 2-3 times a week and eat leftovers for lunch and dinner the rest of the days.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2017, 11:08:21 AM »
Following. I struggle to stay on that wagon too.

Though I often employ the strategy iowajes mentioned--whatever is on sale is what's for dinner. However, that often seems to include a scramble for sides and such.

And I hate cooking. So I'm trying to make this all less painful...


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #5 on: February 16, 2017, 11:34:58 AM »
We are currently on a crock pot freezer meals kick. There are several websites for this idea, so I browse through and note recipes I would like to try. I pick 8-10 and then draw up a grocery list from that. We then spend 2 hours on a weekend when the kiddo is balling to prepare everything. Then I have lunches/dinners for the next few weeks and all I have to do is grab a random bag out of the freezer.
"It'll be great!"


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #6 on: February 16, 2017, 01:07:22 PM »
We control the costs through where we shop, how often we shop, and minimizing waste.

We do the bulk of our shopping at Sam's Club (family of four), with one-offs purchased from the "fancy" grocery store. I am in the military, and we have access to the on-base Commissary, which is basically a non-profit grocery store. I find Sam's prices to be comparable (I price checked ~90% of what we buy on a regular basis and it was equal or cheaper, almost without exception). The produce and meats also tend to be better at Sam's. Costco would be another option if you have it.

Wife and I share a shopping list on our phones for each store and align purchases with already scheduled trips -- almost never do we just drive to the store to get something. If we're planning X for dinner and realize we forgot to grab something we generally just roll that meal to another day vs. going to the store (unless spoilage is a factor).

Rather than taking a menu approach, we pretty much buy the same stuff from week to week. It consists of mostly staples -- tomatoes, lettuce/spinach, cucumbers, potatoes, bananas, berries, eggs, milk, plain frozen broccoli, plain frozen chicken breasts, ground beef, some good cheese, etc. What we cook on any given night is a function of mood and what needs to be consumed. Tomatoes getting soft? Roast 'em. Bananas turning brown? Time for muffins/bread. Spinach getting mushy? Saute the whole container with Olive Oil and a little salt/garlic.

Not sure how you're preparing your food, but another cost savings is making the upfront investment in seasonings (vs. packets/boxed mixes) and learning to make sauces/salsa from scratch (vs. the bottled stuff). Moreover, you can dial everything in to the way you and your family like it.

When it comes to our kids (4 & 5) they eat what we eat. No exceptions. We set that expectation early (as we were raised the same way). There were a few nights of going to bed hungry / eating last night's dinner for breakfast early on. But the early pain was worth the gain. Kids will reliably eat damn near anything now (olives are a particular favorite).


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #7 on: February 16, 2017, 02:02:47 PM »
I've got a little different approach to meals for our family, I don't meal plan per se, but I do meal PREP.

In my mind the biggest difference is that meal plans typically involve a recipe, with ingredients that you may or may not be able to use up in other recipes before they go bad. My approach to meal prepping is this:
- Make huge batch of rice and some sort of beans on Sunday.
- Wash & chop all veggies and salad on Sunday
- Cook a BIG piece of meat on Sunday. I cook another big piece on Wednesday or Thursday.

This way, all of my food is "prepped". We mostly eat simple things like a salad with meat on top, quesidallas with veggies and meat, etc. you get the picture. I cook from a recipe only once or twice a week (usually onthe weekend when I have more time). On weeknights dinner takes 10-15 minutes, and involves very little dirty dishes. We rotate which types of rice/beans/meat/veggies every week so we get variety.

I am actually just starting to write a blog about this so I only have a few posts but I always love sharing ideas, especially with other working moms!
« Last Edit: February 16, 2017, 06:17:06 PM by Millennialworkerbee »


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #8 on: February 16, 2017, 03:22:03 PM »
I learned about the Plan To Eat app on this forum & it has vastly improved our meal planning as well as providing a neat way to catalog & collect recipes. One of its features is to provide for tracking freezer meals -- you can do bulk buying & packaging multiple meals to be pulled out & cooked later, & PTE lets you easily track & drag them into your plan. Because it's browser based, you can run it on any device that has web access, which means you can tap 'check' an item off your list as you get it as an alternative to a printed list. Anyone in the family has access as well, if you want them to. There's a free 30 day trial to let you see if it will help. I'm not connected in any way with the developers but really love this.


  • Walrus Stache
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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #9 on: February 16, 2017, 03:48:42 PM »
Involve the kids in the cooking and meal planning, using the sale flyers from the food stores. They will learn so much!


  • Bristles
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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #10 on: February 17, 2017, 08:28:31 AM »
PTF.  I make the week's menu plan every Saturday night, and then do a grocery run on Sun morning. I don't coupon much, but usually I do have some store coupons that were sent to me. If I'm on top of things, I go through the fridge, throwing out food that has gone bad (still a problem in my household) and trying to figure out what needs using up.

When I make my menu plan, it goes at the top of a really long computer file that I have, with every menu plan I've done for years.  So if I can't think of anything we want to eat, I scroll down a bit and usually can find something we haven't had for a while that the kids like. I don't have it in me to cater to picky eaters, but if there is a meal that all three kids hate, I take it out of rotation for a while.

I usually re-sort my shopping list in order of how I walk through the store (i.e. vegetables first, then baking section, etc.)



  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #11 on: February 17, 2017, 12:56:46 PM »
I have a routine now of sitting down on Monday morning and making a meal plan/grocery list. I'll pick 2-3 dishes for the week, and at least two of them will be big enough meals to make leftovers for another dinner and/or lunches. I don't worry about which we'll have on what night - I try to just keep it fluid, but at least have an IDEA of the few meals I want to make. I write down the grocery list right next to the meal plan (like someone else suggested), checking to see what we need. I also try to think about what I can use up in the pantry (hey, we have that salsa still from last week - I can use that up this week, etc.). We also do those freezer to crock pot meals that someone mentioned - so that's always an option for a spare or open night.

So I guess I don't think of it as a meal plan so much as a meal outline. Knowing that I for sure have ingredients for a few predetermined meals helps me feel somewhat organized. But also having the fluidity to mix up the days or do something different helps keep things adaptable for what's happening in our lives that week.


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #12 on: February 17, 2017, 06:03:13 PM »
We tend to plan one or two "special" meals a week. By special I mean we look up an actual recipe and buy things for that meal.

It's always oatmeal or eggs for breakfast so we keep those stocked.

Lunch is leftovers or sandwich or salad, so we keep bread, peanut butter, and lettuce stocked.

Beyond the two "special" dinners a week, we buy a regular rotation of common dinner foods and make standard stuff.  This basically looks like keeping the following on hand:

Corn tortillas
Tomato sauce
Tofu (we are vegetarian)
Various frozen veggies
Various random veggies like carrots, avocado, onion, cucumbers

Then a week of dinners on the regular nights might be:

Tacos or taco salad or quesadillas or nachos
Rice and beans
Pasta with tomato or pesto sauce
Baked or stir fried tofu with rice and a frozen vegetable
Potatoes cooked some way (baked or french fries) with vegetables
Soup made in crock pot with beans and whatever veggies we have around
Stir fry

And I loosely plan some of those things, but since we always have beans and rice and salsa, I can wing it if needed.
Journal:'s-journal/350/  featuring children, chickens (new!) and other ch words.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Menu planning? Grocery lists? What do you do?
« Reply #13 on: Today at 08:49:17 AM »
I'm going to re-endorse planning you meals from your store's weekly sales list.  That's been my most reliable money-saver, since buying meat that is on sale saves a lot of money for me.  Like, this week grass fed ground beef was like $3.50/lb at Sprouts, so I bought 3 lbs, and we're having tacos, burgers, and I made meatballs from the leftovers and froze them to use next week.  Otherwise we'd have like 5 meals with ground beef this week, and DH isn't fond of so much repetition. 

I'm also trying to do more planning ahead/leftovers, because cleaning the kitchen every day is a point of contention for us, and occasionally leads to ordered pizza rather than cooked at home meals.  I made chicken enchiladas, but made extra filling and made an extra small pan to put straight in the freezer.  I put all of our meals on Google Calendar, so I can see what I've made in the past, and so I can move things around if we change our minds about what to eat on any given day.

The last thing that is helping most recently is to write out my weekly grocery list based on the meals we're having every day, so if I miss something, it is more obvious.  "Oh, Monday we're having tacos, but we don't have any tortillas on this list, guess I forgot to write that down!"  That cuts down on last minute trips to the store, which almost always end up with ice cream or peanut butter or some superfluous dessert.