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How many times have you realized you don't have an ingredient or two for dinner during the week and end up at the grocery store? How often does that happen each week? Once? Twice? More?
One of the best things you can do for your family budget is to limit your time in the grocery store each week. Not only will it put extra time back in your day, but it will put more money in your wallet.
Trust me. It worked for us. Once I implemented the steps below, I was no longer stopping in to the store once or twice a week mid-week. Arguably the best part? I wasn't spending as much on our grocery bills! And that, my friend, feels fantastic.
So how do you shop once and eat for two weeks?
1. Plan your meals. Write it down.
Planning is key. Plan out your dinners for two weeks. Write down your main dish and any sides and vegetables. Are you making breakfast at home? Lunch? What will you serve at each meal? (See my meal planning posts for more details on how this is done.)
I plan specific menus for dinners, but make a general plan for breakfast and lunch. I list out what dinner will be each night of those two weeks. Then I'll note on my grocery list that I will need bread, deli meat and cheese for sandwiches, a pack of hot dogs and buns for the kids' lunches here and there, and eggs and cereal for breakfast. I also make sure I have ingredients on hand for pancakes and waffles.
Write out your two week menu plan. You might want to use a calendar sheet you can post on the fridge or a bulletin board near the kitchen. I use a 12" x 12" calendar whiteboard that sits on the side of the refrigerator so everyone can see at a glance what we're having, but I also use a weekly meal planning sheet that has a section for a 3x5" sticky note. The sticky note is perfect for writing down the grocery list that pairs with your plan, and makes for an easy peel & go list for the grocery store.
2. Opt for fruits and vegetables with a longer shelf life.
Prioritize meals that use vegetables or fruits that will spoil within a week or so. This might mean you eat more side salads the first of your two weeks, then switch over to broccoli, squash and potatoes. Pick up some frozen vegetables like peas or stir fry mix, and maybe some canned vegetables for the second week. Keep in mind that apples, pears and oranges last longer than fresh berries. You don't have to avoid items that won't last as long, just plan to eat them earlier in your two weeks.
3. Pick a few key proteins for meal plans.
Make one or two proteins multi-task for a simpler grocery trip and plan. How many ways can you use chicken breasts or thighs? What about ground beef or pork roast? If you can break up a bulk package of meat (sometimes called a "value pack" or "family pack"), you can often get a better price than if you'd bought a smaller package. It also makes your grocery shopping go faster.
For instance, ground beef can be used for tacos, spaghetti with meat sauce, cheeseburger pie or meatloaf. Chicken could turn into fajitas, baked chicken, fettuccine, a sheet pan dinner and more. See if you can use one protein three or four times over the course of the two weeks.
4. Check your freezer & pantry inventory.
Don't go through every single thing in the pantry, refrigerator and freezer, but do check and see what you already have that you could make into a meal. For example, leftover chicken can be shredded and frozen to be given new life later in chicken tacos or fettuccine. Do you have canned beans you can turn into burritos? Plan to use what you have on hand.
5. Don't forget snacks and a few treats.
You're going to want snacks and treats. List crackers, pretzels or chips that will be a side for sandwiches. Make sure you're getting fruit and vegetables to snack on, and yogurt. If granola bars, Goldfish crackers and fruit snacks will keep your kids (and therefore you) sane, add them to the list.
6. Do you have enough household items to last two weeks?
Check your toilet paper and facial tissue supply. Is the soap or shampoo running low in any of your bathrooms? Do you have napkins and zipper plastic bags? Dish soap and laundry items?
7. Make a couple of backup meal choices.
In case the store is out of something you need for one of your meals, you'll want to have a backup for that night. For us, this is often spaghetti or breakfast for dinner. Whatever that looks like for you, make a contingency plan, just in case.
8. Freeze meats when you get home.
If you bought a bulk pack of ground beef, break it up into one pound portions and store them in the freezer in plastic zip baggies or freezer paper. Meats don't keep well if you freeze them on the little styrofoam trays they come in at the store. If you don't already have one, invest in a small kitchen scale to help portion things out. They're inexpensive and very helpful!
I highly recommend keeping a supply of plastic zip bags and freezer paper on hand for this purpose. (Freezer paper is that stuff they wrap your meat in at the butcher counter.) Masking tape or "freezer tape" works well to tape the paper shut. Don't forget to use a permanent marker to label your freezer packs with the contents and the date!