Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Meal Planning and Shopping on a Budget: Part One

A lot of bloggers recently have done posts on how they meal plan, and grocery shop for that plan, and I decided to join in. About three years ago I started to be much more strict about our meal planning. When Ben and I first moved in together and were engaged, our grocery shopping consisted of, "that looks good, let's get that," or "that reminds me of a recipe I like, let's make that this week." There was little sitting down to plan, beyond when I would randomly find a recipe I liked on a blog or website, and then put those ingredients into my grocery list that weekend.

All that has changed now, and especially changed now that Austin eats dinner with us each night. We don't have a choice but to have a dinner plan, because Austin needs a good, filling meal, and can't just have a bowl of cereal if we don't feel like cooking like Ben and I can do.

During this two part series, I'll touch on our grocery shopping habits, and then in the next post, how we meal plan. I'll start with where we shop and what we go there for.

There are certain staples for our groceries we get at Costco. We go about once a month for certain items, and then buy other items there as we need them.
 Costco Staples:
  • Ground Beef
  • Chicken Breasts
  • Low Sodium Chicken Stock
  • Apple Sauce
  • Quinoa
  • Milk
  • Chips
We do have to buy milk more often than our trips to Costco, but try to stock up as much as we can there, since it's such a good deal. Austin has started to get really excited when we walk into Costco because he knows he will get to try a few samples (there have been a couple days where he had so many he didn't need lunch after).

For other staple grocery items, we go to Super Target or Target. A recent news story done in our area on grocery price comparisons shows that Target and Wal-Mart (where I hate going and refuse to) are the most affordable for staple grocery items.
Target Staples:
  • 99% Lean Ground Turkey
  • Cereal
  • Canned Goods
  • Frozen Fruits and Veggies
  • Shredded Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Ice Cream
  • Frozen Meals
  • Bread
  • Peanut Butter/Hummus/Condiments
  • Snack Bars for lunches
  • Fruit and Veggie Pouches
  • Other Random Grocery items
  • Toiletries
I prefer to use ground turkey when I can over ground beef, so I buy this at Target, as I haven't been able to find 99% lean at Costco. For saving at Target, it also helps that we use the Target Red Card for an extra 5% off, bring our own bags and I clip coupons for items we normally use to help us out. We usually get other items we need at Target outside of groceries like toiletries (we order diapers through Amazon prime).

For fresh produce and gluten free items, I usually go to Wegmans. I absolutely love this store, it has good prices for the level of service it has, and the store is beautiful and clean with bountiful produce options, delicious cheeses and bakery items. They also have a lot of fresh cut produce ready to use in recipes. I try to avoid these items to save money, but if I know I'll need them for a crazy week, I pick them up here.

Enjoying a Snickerdoodle while Shopping at Wegmans

If you're not familiar with this East Coast grocery chain, and read this in Minnesota, let's just say it's like Byerlys on steroids and not as expensive. Their hot line food bar is also restaurant quality for grabbing a quick meal. I'm digressing, but I love Wegmans. If I ask them to look into a certain gluten free item that I can't find on their shelves, they will try and special order it for me, and call me when it comes in to pick up at their service counter. Their customer service is simply wonderful.
Wegmans Staples:
  • Deli Cheese
  • Specialty Cheeses
  • Gluten Free Bread
  • Gluten Free Convenience Foods like frozen meals, crackers, etc.
  • All Produce
I also like Trader Joes and will randomly go there for certain items, like the ones I wrote about in this post, but like I said then, their produce does go bad quickly, but I like certain convenience items there.

Basically, there are certain items I like from certain stores, and sometimes based on time, I have to bite the bullet and just do all my shopping that week at a certain store (that usually ends up being Wegmans), but meal planning helps us not have to run back to the store during the week for random items.

Next post, I'll talk about specific meal planning and how to do that with food allergies, and toddler and different food preferences on a budget each week.

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