Grocery Games

Grocery shopping can be one of the most stressful times of the week (month?) for some people.  Growing up my mom probably went to the grocery store 3-5 times every week for whatever she needed – food, toiletries, or random household items.   My mom with 4 busy kids somehow found the time to make it out that way often.  Nobody’s got time for that.  Or I don’t, at least.
In my former pre-babies life as a personal chef I taught myself the in’s and out’s of the grocery store,  shopping for all that I needed in one trip and really learning the importance of making a list.   I’ve been asked a time or two about my grocery list, my grocery budget, and how I make it all work together, so I decided to share how we do food in this house.

BUDGET: We spend about $250 a week on groceries.  That is
typically for 5-7 dinners, 6-7 lunches and all breakfasts and snack items for 2 adults and 2 toddlers.  We almost never eat out- and if we do, it is about once a week and usually on the weekend.  Honestly- we can go weeks without eating out somewhere, and then some weeks we swing through Chick-fil-A for lunch and sit down at our favorite Mexican place in the same week.  That being said, on a monthly basis, it is consistently just about once a week. So, if you are looking at my grocery budget every month with wide eyes, you would see the ‘going out to eat’ line item of our budget to be very, very small.  This $250 also includes the random purchases of toothpaste, cosmetics, and toiletries – and I compensate for other food items when I know I need to make those purchases.  I do not coupon, nor have I ever done so.. if I do come across a coupon that happens to be of something I buy on the regular – of course I will use it.  But, I don’t usually take time to mess with it, and often I end up picking up something I don’t need.  I do shop sales!  I’ll get into that below.

BULK SHOPPING: We do have a membership to both Sam’s Club and Costco and make a trip about twice a month.  We have kind of ‘cheated’ the system in that we share the membership to both places with Jordan’s parents.  We buy the Sam’s membership and the in-laws buy the Costco membership.. and we hand over one of the cards to each other (you get two cards per membership).   I’ve learned that these kind of places have great deals on somethings while others are definitely duds.  I frequent my stores enough to know what is good and what is something to pass on.  I don’t actually want/need 47 gallons of ketchup for $14.97, when I can get what we need at Walmart or Target for 98% less than that price.  Things that we go through quickly- like toilet paper, paper towels, dish detergent, bottled water, frozen chicken nuggets, frozen tilapia, wheat bread.. occasionally we buy fruit and vegetables.  Most of those things are a great price in bulk comparatively to buying them in smaller quantities nearly every week.  If Jordan happens to go without me, he’s texting me pictures of random items the entire time he’s there – as if to get my thumbs up or down on a good deal he’s found.
ONE TRIP: Most of the time I go to the store on the weekends when I have a morning I can get to the store early enough to browse the aisles while they are empty, especially when I am bringing my girls.  I do prefer Friday or early on Saturday (by 8am or 9am).  I know when my grocery stores restock each week- Tuesdays and Fridays, so making a trip around those days promise the best time for me to get the freshest produce and meat as well as increases my chances for finding exactly what I need. By Sunday afternoon the grocery shelves are bare and I’m left to making random changes to my list mid-trip.  I only know when my store has big shipments come in because I asked:) If you don’t know when your store restocks, it doesn’t hurt to pose the question.

What you see in my fridge/pantry is for just one week.  I like to fill up my fridge/pantry on Friday or Saturday morning and then have it empty 7 days later.  I know exactly what is in my fridge and each item has a purpose – whether it be included in a recipe for dinner or lunch that week or just enough for snacks all week long.  This keeps it clean and free of clutter.. I will admit that my Type A personality keeps up an organized refrigerator. When you keep an organized refrigerator, ingredients and leftovers aren’t pushed to the back and forgotten about, and eventually go bad because I forget they are in there and sitting behind I have a bazillion other things in front of it.
WHERE I SHOP: Outside of going to Sam’s or Costco once or twice a month, my weekly shopping trip consists of three main places: Target or Walmart and Market Street (which is a local grocery store in my town).  Most of the time I go to Target because I can get things like diapers (we use the Target brand diapers) and shampoo/conditioner (honest co.) for Parker and Jolie in one trip.  I also like their store brand, archer farms.  There are some things I can only get at Walmart (do they do that on purpose??) so about every other week I’ll plan my shopping around a Walmart trip.  Meat, produce and organic milk are purchased 90% of the time from Market Street.  I do the bulk of my shopping first and then run in to get milk (it is cheaper to buy the store brand organic milk at Market Street than to buy it at Target or Walmart) and the majority of my produce on my way home.

-BUILDING A LIST: My shopping list includes items that we’ve run out of for the week, but adding to it the ingredients I plan to use for meals that week prevents me from forgetting necessary ingredients.  I have my generic buy-every-week items (which I included below) and I build on top of that list for things we may have run out of that week as well as the ingredients for recipes I plan to make for meals that week.  I usually save the meal idea in the coordinating date on the calendar in my phone – so I know in the back of my mind what ingredients go with what and I end up not wasting a ton of food.  As far as the actual making of my list – I use an iPhone app called Grocery IQ.  I’ve used this list planning app for about 6 years and love it more than any other I’ve ever tried.  It remembers my ‘History Items’ (which includes those items I put on my list every week) and stores I have ‘built’ and frequently use and it allows me to organize the list based on the way my store is laid out.  This makes it really easy to build my list and prevents me from backtracking in the store because that item was at the bottom of my list (the worst!)
STICK TO IT: You’ve probably heard this ‘tip’ a millions times, but really, you must! Once I make my grocery list for week, I rarely veer from what is listed in my app. I occasionally make the mistake of shopping while hungry or being conned into a cereal thats on sale (because, yes, I am human), but otherwise, everything in my shopping cart has a use for it in the upcoming week.  Again- saving money and not wasting food.
MEAL PLANNING: Unless I’m making a ‘fancy meal’ or cooking for guests (Supper Club), I usually only focus on the essential ingredients in the recipes I choose.  When a recipe is a mile long and I only have one or two items in my pantry to make it, I usually put it aside and search for a new recipe to try. I also make a lot of substitutions with whatever ingredients I have around the house (dried for fresh herbs, etc.) and I really try to use fresh items that didn’t get used up the week before.  ALSO- those sale ads that come in the mail every week (mine come on Wednesdays) – use them!  If ground beef or fish are on sale, plan your meal around that protein rather than one that is full price.  Also, shopping in season for produce is going to be your best bet for finding the greatest discount on fruits and vegetables.  You can always count that the produce advertised as being ‘on sale’ are in season.  We spend about 75% of our groceries on produce which can become out of control expensive if you aren’t careful.  Most of where ‘healthy eating’ gets the rap as being so expensive. Truth- Ramen Noodles are like $.60 a cup, so if you bought and ate Ramen for three meals a day it would be cheaper.. but you know.. thats a lot of pasta.  and sodium:)
Fresh Cilantro
Kale/Romaine Lettuce
Mandarin Oranges
Melon (on sale)
Grapes (on sale)
Brussels Sprouts
Fresh Salsa
Fresh Meat+Seafood
Chicken Breast
Ground Turkey (93%
Chicken Sausage
Rotisserie Chicken Deli
Meat (Hillshire Farms)
Turkey Breast Deli Meat
Baby Swiss Cheese Slices (Sargento)
American Cheese Slices
(Store Brand)
Light String Cheese Sticks (Store
Shredded Cheddar (Store
Shredded Mozzarella
(Store Brand)
Coffee Creamer
Greek Yogurt
Organic Skim Milk
Edemame (shelled and/or in
the pods)
Broccoli/Green Beans (Green Giant
Brussels Sprouts  (Green Giant Steamers)
Quinoa (archer farms)
9-grain waffles (Kashi)
Grains + Pasta + Cereal
Look for the grains that contain ‘whole’ as the first ingredient.  Ensuring it is a whole grain product.  Skip those that say ‘enriched’ in the ingredient
listing. Look for English Muffins that have at least 5 g protein, and 4 g
English Muffins (Thomas
Double Protein)
Whole Brown Rice (Uncle Ben’s Steamable Pouches)
Wheat+ White Corn
Carnation Instant
Oatmeal (Special K Hot
Canned Goods
Fruit (mandarin oranges and sliced peaches canned in 100% juice)
Beans (black and pinto)
Veggie broth
*Honey mustard
*Lite Ranch dressing
*Choose dressings with 8
grams or less of fat, look for those with 300 mg or less of sodium per 2
tablespoons.  Choosing dressing with
canola or olive oil as the main ingredient to make the dressing for the heart
healthy fats, and dressings that high fructose corn syrup is not the main
ingredient (among the first 3-5 ingredients in the list). 
Dried Fruit (cherries,
blueberries, raisins, cranberries)
Tortilla chips
Goldfish crackers/Wheat
*Natural Peanut Butter
*Full-fat peanut butters trump reduced-fat flavor, and they supply
heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and 7 grams of protein per serving. (Read
the food label and choose butters without trans fats.) Seek ones that contain
no more than 3 grams of saturated fat, 150 milligrams of sodium, and 4 grams of
sugars. Skip any spreads made with partially hydrogenated oils or palm
oils.  Reduced-fat spreads ­offer little
calorie savings, and you’re ditching good-for-you fats. Crunchy or creamy it
really doesn’t matter
2-Liter Soda (most of the time this route is cheaper than buying canned soda and limits us to how much soda we actually drink- the hubby and I love the carbonation.)
Drink Mix (Crystal
Light + store brand)
Pear Juice (Gerber Brand- keeps constipation at bay for Parker and Jolie)
I wish I would have snapped a picture of my grocery cart this last week.. but the list above is about the gist of it for us in addition to these enormous gulf shrimp (on sale) and a couple of small steaks we decided on grilling up with a side of broccoli and mashed potatoes.  I hope you found it helpful- I would love to hear your tips and tricks for shopping!


May 14, 2015

  1. WOW I admire your organization! So many great ideas and you are right, healthy eating is not cheap! We are trying to get on more if a schedule with our eating (my hubby is of course on board for planned meals if I figure out breakfast and lunch for him!) but it is hard! I like the idea of only have a weeks worth of groceries in the fridge, I cannot tell you how many jars if pasta sauce get thrown away because they get 'pushed to the back'.
    I would love to see a sample menu of how you tie together sale and promotional ingredients to make dinners for the week!

  2. Blair Smith says:

    This is so perfect and helpful!!! Thanks so much for sharing!!!

  3. Jen Klares says:

    This is so refreshing! I always see how to keep your grocery bill below $XX.XX and I just don't know how people do it (I'm convinced they're the ones eating ramen). It's only my husband and me right now and we spend about $100 a week (and that's with couponing!). This is so helpful and let's me know I'm not crazy! I love the organization tips, too!

  4. AmandaM says:

    Loved this! Great post. I think it's always interesting to see how others do their shopping. I'm going to check the app. Out now!

  5. Emily says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE reading about this! Might be my favorite post ever. 🙂

    Much of our life revolves around the weekly grocery shopping trip (we also never eat out). I never thought of what days the grocery store stocks up, smart! I use the app Listomni which is a dual-purpose grocery/to-do app that also remembers history and sorts by aisle. It has an email function, so I email it to my husband and he can check off the boxes in the email as he shops.

    I love reading through your grocery list – I never knew that Kashi makes waffles! I will have to look for them.

    With so many similar items, I'm trying to figure out how you are ~$250 and our family of 3 is ~150 (and I can't imagine there is that much disparity between Philadelphia and Texas food prices). Aaron eats daycare-provided lunches/snacks during the day, but that still seems like a big difference. Perhaps its the bulk items, since we don't buy in bulk…? Who knows.

    Anyway, THANK YOU for sharing!

  6. amber says:

    Emily- I'm so glad you enjoyed! The cost is usually increased when I buy additional ingredients for the specific recipes I am cooking that week. Lean protein is expensive if you don't happen to have a sale to shop from. I can easily get out of the store with my base list for under $250. I will say that making lunches for 4 people (even two being little) it can def change the cost a little.

  7. amber says:

    That's a great idea:) I'll document how I meal plan around those sales and share soon!

  8. No more reduced fat PB for us, thanks to our handy dandy dietician friend! 🙂

  9. Elizabeth says:

    What a great post!! My husband and I have an 18 month old son who eats like a 16 year old boy, haha! We've noticed a big increase in the grocery bill since we too try not to eat out at all. Just as a heads up, obviously every store and area are different, after I ran the numbers I realized it was much cheaper to get our chicken and ground turkey at Costco and keep the extra in our deep freeze until needed. I can usually get all the meat we use for a month in one of my bi-weekly bulk shopping trips. Hope that helps, even a little. Every little bit counts right : ) Keep the food posts coming! Thank you!

  10. Loved this post!! Meals and grocery shopping with a plan and some good tools makes all the difference! I use a website called Southern Savers that shows all the weekly ad items and prices for every store all in one place. I usually plan my meals once I get a good idea of which proteins are on sale, like you mentioned! I love this site too because if there's an electronic coupon out there, she adds it right to the food item so you just click and print–so awesome for snagging a few extra bucks without all the "couponing madness".

  11. Dranrab says:

    Do you have a search function on your blog? Trying to look up pesto recipes.

  12. This is SO helpful!!! I love that you are a dietician and a mom and share real life recipes and tips and tricks. This is so helpful for me! Thank you!