Go, Go, Grocery Mom!

As I have mentioned before, we live in a rural area.  This means I don't have the convenience of just running to the grocery store to grab something for dinner on a daily basis and definitely can't make a quick run for something I forgot/we ran out of.

This has definitely been an adjustment for me, having grown up in a city with all the conveniences that includes.  So, to cope, a few months ago, I started xtreme meal planning.  Yes, it has to be spelt "xtreme" because "extreme" doesn't convey how truly extreme it is.
I start with your basic calendar template in word and put labels for "Lunch" and "Dinner" on each day. Then it's time to fill in main and side dishes for suppers.  I, personally, am crazy, and do choose different meals for each and every day.  I know several other, significantly less crazy, people who do a bi-weekly rotation and just rinse and repeat.  April will be my third month of xtreme-ness and I've learned a little something each time.  This month, I've decided I should separate my calendar into weekly theme nights:

  • Monday = Meat & Potatoes (Special for the Mr.)
  • Tuesday = Mexican
  • Wednesday = Hotdish (We live in Minnesota, it's what we do.)
  • Thursday = Italian
  • Friday = American (Burgers, brats, sloppy joes, and, yes, pizza!) 
  • Saturday = Crockpot (because I don't "work" on Saturdays)
  • Sunday = Something New (New recipes I've found on Pinterest/in a cook book, etc.)

This makes choosing the meals easier and ensures we don't have too many "like things" together.

Once all my suppers are filled in, I go back and write in "leftovers" for any lunch the day after something I know has them (this is most of them, I cook for the two of us the way I would cook for my family of four growing up).  The remaining days get average lunches like soups/salads and sandwiches, burgers, and, once in awhile, things like fish sticks and chicken nuggets (these I do try to limit to just once or so a month each, preferring healthier options).

Now I have all the food we will consume in one month all planned out, sans breakfasts.  Admittedly, we suck at doing breakfast (Bad J family!  Bad!), but I intend to use a tip I picked up from B over at The Modern Day Juggler and start making a week or two's breakfasts ahead of time.  These items will be added to the list once completed.

And how do I create this list?  Well, I am admittedly a bit overly organized when it comes to things like this, so take that into consideration.  I use an Excel spreadsheet to organize everything I need for every meal I intend on making.  The first column lists the main and side dishes.  The second column is split out into individual ingredients, including pantry items, which are so marked.  

(Note:  You do need to have a rough knowledge of how to split/merge cells to get this to work.  If there is interest, I'd be more than happy to post the templates I use for those of you who are spreadsheet illiterate.)

Once all the meals are listed with each of their coordinating ingredients, I copy the second column into a separate sheet and use the sort feature to list them alphabetically.  This puts all the like ingredients together so I can see how many of each item I will require.  Please note, it's important to always write ingredients the same way for each meal (i.e. tomato sauce can be written as "tomato - sauce, 1 can," or "canned tomato sauce," or "tomato sauce.")   Use whichever method you prefer to list your items, but be consistent through out the list, otherwise your like items will not always filter together.  Also, do not use a number at the beginning of an item ("1 can tomato sauce" vs. "tomato sauce, 1 can") for the same alphabetical filtering reasons as before.  Then, to make things a bit easier on myself (and to save paper) I consolidate all the like items (changing "tomato sauce, 1 can" written four times into "tomato sauce - 4 cans" and deleting the now unnecessary extra lines).  A quick look through the pantry to check on which items from the list we are out of and which we won't need to replenish this trip, add in breakfast items and anything special or snacky that Mr. J requests (try to keep these to a minimum!) and I have my list!

(P.S.  The BEST thing about the meal plan calendar, meal/ingredient list, and shopping list is that I can save them and re-use them every month.  All I have to do is add in any new ingredients for things we haven't tried yet.  I never delete anything once it's been added to the meal/ingredient list, I just grey out anything we won't be having that month so I know to remove those items from the grocery list.)

The past two months I have done this major meal plan/shopping trip, I have done a very loose job checking for the best prices/coupons/etc.  I get what I can at Sam's and the rest at a local grocery store.  Now that I have a bit more time, I will be doing my research and trying to get the best possible price on everything we need.  That being said, please understand I am not extreme couponing (I was watching  the TLC show on Netflix last night to try and pick up some tricks, but that sort of intensity is out of my depth).  I am sure that if I went all out, I could feed my family for pennies the way they do, but I don't for several reasons:  
  1. I don't believe in taking more than you need.  There may be others who really needed mustard that day and you bought all 62 bottles that were on the shelf because you could get a good deal?  O.o  Really?
  2. We have a small home and even if I was willing to sacrifice all of our basement and garage storage space for a "stash," I wouldn't feel comfortable keeping so much of it, not to mention the difficulties that arise when you start dealing with perishables.
  3. Most of the food we buy is whole, which means we don't get a lot of pre-processed "box" food, which tends to be what most coupons are for.  When they start offering sweet coupons on fresh produce and such, I'll be there!
Now that I have ranted to unnecessary length on the matter... on to the shopping trip!

Since this is my first month doing this as a stay-homer, my strategies are going to change a bit from the previous months in which I went Friday night after work because Grandma would take Baby J home from the nanny's for me and I could power through on caffeine and determination!  I was successful both months I did this, but there were unfortunate side effects like I would just grab everything at one place because I didn't want to deal with a several stop-shop and things tended to be accidentally over looked because I was tired and ready to go home.

This month my plan is to go during the regular work week, during the early afternoon when traffic is the slowest at the stores.  As in previous months, Baby J will be staying at home, either with daddy or an aunt who lives near by.  He is a trooper when we shop, but this kind of intense trip is just too long a day for him!  Since I plan to do research ahead of time about where I can get the most bang for my buck, I will have my list separated out accordingly (along with any coupons we can use) and have a plan of where I will go first, second, etc. My greatest weapons?  Really comfortable shoes and an Audible book on my iPod.

The first is a given, but the audiobook is something (perhaps) uniquely me.  I am an avid reader.  Love, love, love the written word, but I can't read and drive or shop!  So, in comes the audio!  I stick my ear buds in and work my way methodically up and down all the rows at each store, grabbing my items and crossing them off my list.  (One of these days, I'll be a bit more tech savvy and just have my list electronically).  Listening to a good story (especially if it's from a great narrator, like the Dresden Files, read by James Marsters.  Best.  Ever!) makes the time speed by and I don't get all antsy and bored and try to rush through things and then end up forgetting stuff.  For those who aren't so much into literature as I am, just rock out to a bitchin' play list!  I only avoid this because I have to surpress the urge to sing along and that's just awkward in the supermarket.

I hope this (much more detailed and lengthy than originally intended) guide gives you an idea for an incredibly useful tool to make one more chore a little less stressful!

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