How I Meal Plan & Grocery Shop Part 1: Why

When Andy I first started dating, we ate out all of the time. Before we dated we ate our own types of bachelor food at home, and eating them together seemed depressing. After a while, and after we both realized that we both love to cook, and after we got really poor spending all of our money at restaurants, we started cooking at home more. An average evening went about like this:

Andy: What do you want to eat tonight?
Me: I don't know. *Frowny/pourty face.
Us staring at each other.
Us looking at recipes in recipe books and on the internet.
Us debating what to eat.
Us deciding on what to eat.
Us spending 20-45 minutes at the store four or five times a week.
Me, exhausted, cranky, and generally unproductive after spending said time at the store.

Not good times people. Eventually, after getting addicted to Pinterest and finding tons of great blog resources, I decided that we were going to start doing some real grocery shopping, and by the time we moved in together we got our shopping down to mostly once a week (with occasional stops in for fresh produce or things the store was out of when we went or things we forgot).

Over the last year and a half, Andy and I have gotten into a pretty solid menu planning and grocery shopping routine. There are a lot of resources out there aimed at moms about smart shopping, which is awesome and I've learned a lot from them, but I think I'm probably the only person my age I know who has a legit shopping routine, so I thought it'd be cool to share mine with you.

Why we do it (and why you should too!):
  • This routine save us so much time. Spending one hour at the grocery store(s) every week definitely beats a bunch of smaller trips.
  • It saves us money. Usually when you go on those smaller trips, you end up buying stuff you don't really need, or think you might need, or already have but didn't remember. You aren't necessarily planning your trip, so you just buy whatever looks good and sometimes that stuff doesn't get used. Plus, we shop sales and take a little time to coupon when we can, so we rarely pay full price on anything except milk.
  • We're able to plan ahead. When you know what you're going to eat each night, you have incentive not to give up and eat out, plus you know what nights you'll have extras and can invite people over. You also can plan quick, simple meals for busy times and more fun, elaborate meals when you'll have more time on your hands, so you're never stuck staring at the fridge, waiting for something delicious to materialize.
  • You get to spend more time with people you care about. It is so nice at the end of the day to get to sit down to dinner with your significant other or your family or whoever and just relax and talk about your day. By planning dinner, you're planning that time together. Otherwise you may both end up eating a bowl of ramen in separate parts of the house in front of your computer screens.
  • It's easier to make healthy choices. I'm not going to say that everything Andy and I eat is healthy, but even our unhealthy meals are better than a quick run to Taco Bell. Plus, we always make sure to have vegetables with our dinners and easy breakfast and lunch options available so we don't eat out for those meals as much either.
  • It reduces stress. Some of our worst times together are agonizing over what we want to eat. This usually only happens when we have to delay grocery shopping for some reason or one of our meals doesn't work out for some reason. Spending that time debating food until something sounds good to the both of us is the worst. This really negates all of that, and because we plan so many meals at once, we each get to pick things that we're interested in trying.
  • You can strategically schedule nights out, so you get the most of of dine out experiences. Every once in a while we go through a faze where all we want to do is eat out, but for the most part we eat out one time or fewer a week. When we do eat out, we always eat out together and/or with friends, so we get to use that time to socialize and enjoy ourselves.  Plus, we try to eat out when we know there are certain specials we like, or discounts we want to take advantage of.
Are there times when we deviate from our schedule? Totally! Sometimes things come up and we get invited out or our produce goes bad prematurely or both of us are too tired to cook. We try to minimize these instances, but we also allow ourselves to deviate as needed. Sometimes we end up shuffling meals around based on evolving schedules or further consideration. It doesn't have to be set in stone to give you a baseline.

If you're single, scheduling your meals can still be a huge time and money saver. If you're not a big cook, you can still plan in your simple meals and limit yourself to dining out a certain number of times a week based on your budget. In parts 2 and 3 I will explain our menu planning process and our strategies for grocery shopping, so stay tuned for those!

Yours Truly, Jen

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