Grocery shopping is an inevitable part of the week for most of us. Before I had kids, I loved to leisurely stroll the aisles discovering new snacks or obscure vegetables to cook for dinner. Today, I’ve traded the leisurely strolls for gummy worm bribes and a “let's get ‘er done” mindset.
Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, I thought I’d gather together our Simply Recipes team’s top tips for adding a little ease (and a few bucks) back into your next grocery shopping trip.
1 About That Budget ….
First off, do you have a budget for groceries? Do you really know how much you spend each month? No judgement from me, as we constantly go over-budget in our house, but having a baseline goal will help you understand your spending habits and possibly pivot or make changes mid-month if it looks like things are going off the rails (as they do).
2 Meal Plan
The number one thing that helps our team maintain sanity (and our budgets) is meal planning! It may not be particularly sexy, but it certainly helps ensure that we’re not making multiple smaller trips to the store each week, or pulling out our hair at 4pm trying to figure out what everyone will eat for dinner.
If you’re overwhelmed planning five meals each week—don’t! Plan out three meals for the week, and fill in the rest with easier meals that feel more like assembling rather than cooking (I wrote more about this approach here).
3 Organize That List!
While all of us at Simply Recipes make lists, we’re divided in how we do it. Our Community Manager and social media guru, Claudia, goes old school with “good old paper and pen.” I organize my list according to the store. I have columns like FRUITS, VEGGIES, MEATS, DAIRY, NON-PERISHABLE, BAKING, CANNED, FROZEN, OTHER.
Andy, our Art Director, and his partner Darci ditch pen and paper for Google Keep: “We can do this on our phones anytime, anywhere, and it’s synced between us, so it doesn’t matter who goes shopping; we both have the list and can update it from either phone.”
Our Editor-in-Chief, Emma, uses Google Keep, too, taking it one step further by creating tasks for each section of the store, and then adding the individual grocery items as sub-tasks.
4 Only Buy Veggies You Have Plans For
Now, this may be controversial, and I’m certainly a big proponent of eating as many veggies as you can, but I also hate food waste and have come to the realization that produce that I buy on a whim (“Ooooh, I should eat more veggies!”) has a high likelihood of ultimately going bad. Numerous heads of kale have wilted, despite the best of intentions.
5 Don’t Buy Something Just Because It’s On Sale
It’s so tempting: You’re cruising down the pasta aisle looking for rigatoni when BOOM—you notice diced tomatoes are on sale. Were they on your list? No. Would you use them? Eventually. But just because something is on sale doesn’t make it a smart purchase right now, and I find that whenever I stock up on discounted pantry staples, they end up sitting in my cupboard for longer than I’d like.
6 No Shame in the Online Grocery Game
A lot of us actually like going to the grocery store, but some weeks it’s just impossible to find the time, or bringing the kids along just sounds ... exhausting. Sure, we love picking out our produce as much as the next person, but occasionally grocery delivery really saves the day.
Did you know you can actually order ingredients directly from any Simply Recipes recipe using Relish? Just look for the red “Shop Ingredients” button at the bottom of each recipe, and you’re on your way. Total game changer!
Claudia actually swears that online grocery shopping helps her stay within her budget each month—"because I'm not tempted to buy things on the fly.” I agree: Online shopping keeps me fully focused on the task at hand, whereas at the store, I get wooed by those flashy displays of popcorn or kombucha.
7 Check Expiration Dates to Avoid Food Waste
I so hate having to toss half a jug of milk because we didn’t get through it before it went bad. Sometimes, of course, this is inevitable, but checking expiration dates at the store can really help.
Usually, stores put products that are going to expire sooner right in the front, so I always reach far to the back to grab my milk. I also always check dates and ask myself if we’ll honestly get to it in time. If I know we’re out of town for a week, for example, perhaps I’ll buy a smaller container of milk, or just be super mindful about using it up quickly.
8 Ponder Bringing the Fam
Our Associate Editor, Summer, insists, “The biggest money- and mind-saving tip is to leave your kids at home.” I think she was joking at the time, but I have to agree. To me, there’s nothing enjoyable about shopping with very small kids.
That said, of course this plan requires childcare or a partner who can be at home to watch the kiddos, so it’s certainly not always feasible to have a leisurely shopping day.
So, next best move? Make the best of it! Claudia (aka Superwoman) says, “I’ve taken all five kids to the store multiple times, and my girls know to stay right by me. One is assigned to help push the cart; one is assigned to help push the babies in the stroller, and one helps me get the groceries. I think it's a great opportunity to teach my kids about pricing and food budget.”
9 Balance Convenience with Cost
While the pre-cut fruits are enticing, they’re always more expensive. If you’re headed to a get-together or party and need something quick and portable, great! But if you’re buying fruit for tomorrow’s breakfast and have a little time to spend cutting it up, you’ll be better off prepping your own berries and melon.