Now that you are armed with a meal plan, you are ready to head to the store! Well, almost. Part II of our three-part series on easy weeknight dinners will prepare you for making the most of—and spending the least during—the grocery trip.
The key to efficient and cost-effective grocery shopping is the list. A thought-out list will not only reduce those expensive impulse purchases, but it will also ensure that you’re buying what you need at the best available price.
To get started, I’ve posted a handy meal planning/grocery shopping worksheet that you can download and print. After filling in the meals that you plan for the week, run through each recipe and jot down the ingredients that you’ll need for each.
Take inventory of the staples you already have: cooking oil, salt, frequently used dried herbs, chicken stock, or other go-to items for your family. Don’t impulse-buy full-priced items only to find out later that you already have them. Or, worse: you think that you have them and don’t buy them and wind up sabotaging your Wednesday night chili because you actually were out of beans.
Learn where you can buy your regularly featured foodstuffs at the cheapest price. It’s nearly impossible, for instance, to find better prices on organic meat and poultry (not to mention organic nut butters and olive oil) than at Costco. (Not convinced? Check out this post for why Costco is an organic foodie haven.) You might find it useful to make a spreadsheet comparing the prices of the top ten items at your top three or four favorite stores. You may be surprised!
Buying in bulk can also be a cost-saving strategy, but it has its pitfalls. Whole Foods, for instance, offers a 10 percent discount when you buy items like tomato sauce by the case. The trick here is to do it smartly. Don’t just buy a ton of pickles because they were on sale, or extemporaneously convince yourself you can use 15 pounds of sweet potatoes before they go to rot. Only opt for the bulk buy of items that are in your regular rotation—or in your meal plan that week!—or those with a really long shelf-life. Bulk purchasing may hurt your credit card bill this month, but it is worth it in the long-run: the 20-pound bag of organic basmati rice at Costco set you back $18, but considering that same rice sells for $8 in a 32-ounce package, you’re ultimately saving $62!
Oh, and one last tip before you head out the door: grab a snack. Shopping while you’re hungry increases the risk of impulse purchases, especially of more expensive items (new $7 watermelon water, anyone?).
For those of you who simply do not have time to shop at brick-and-mortar stores, online delivery services continue to get better, in both quality, variety, and convenience. Online services like Fresh Direct or Amazon Fresh deliver right to your door. Plus, it’s much easier to stick to the list without the visual appeal and ambiance of the grocery store. The all-organic Brandless.com is my new favorite e-destination for non-perishables. Everything from coffee and maple syrup to feminine hygiene and dried fruit is available for $3. Amazing!
So now you’ve made your list, you’ve checked it twice, and you’re ready to get your food! Next up, we’ll talk tips and tactics for making the most out of your plans and purchases by learning some smart prep practices and by encouraging family participation. Stay tuned!