Grocery shopping for the busy family

Do you grocery shop every week?

For years I would tromp on down to the supermarket every weekend. It was a habit. One I thought you had to do. We all need to eat, don’t we? So every week we buy the food. And other assorted household stuff.

Grabbing staples, throwing a random selection of ingredients into the trolley. Buying veggies we “usually” use. Stopping at the butchers and buying different meat – beef, lamb, pork, chicken – to work out later what to cook.

In the morning: Chicken tonight? Yep. Take it out of the freezer.

After work: what shall we do with it? Stir fry? OK.

Even worse, the after-work-what-shall-we-cook conversation when nothing has been taken out of the freezer!

Come the weekend, back to the supermarket. Throw out the food going off. Restock the fridge.

After years of this, I hated the waste. Wasted food = wasted money. And the wasted time. So I changed to menu planning, working out what we would actually cook for dinner and buying for that. It cut out food waste significantly. And cut the stress of working out what to cook when we came home tired from work.

A few years into menu-plan shopping, I thought I would take a radical step: not go to the supermarket every week. I was bored with food shopping. I hated grocery shopping taking up a couple of hours of my weekend. Obviously not doing the weekly shopping could be done. Think of those who live in the country! Yet we do things out of habit, mindlessly, because we’ve always done it that way.

Now I spend half an hour working out with Mr Sans what we will cook for the fortnight. We are not strict; we just work out 12 or 13 meals – there’s always left-overs or a “catch-and-kill-yourself” night. (With two growing/grown-up sons at home, we always cook for left-overs so the boys can have food for lunch or snacks.)

Then I roughly plan each week’s menu – don’t want all chicken one week and all pasta the next! Normally the menu for the week is flexible. We swap the dinners around depending on the weather, our moods or if one of us is tired.

If we have evening functions we make sure we have a double meal (cook a double quantity so there is a meal ready to reheat). We also plan for the evenings when one of us isn’t available to cook. As we share the cooking equally but have different dinners we like and different cooking styles, we need to let the other know what night they definitely have to cook. “I’m out on Tuesday and won’t need dinner, so you have to cook.” “I’ll make the green curry then.” “Good, don’t like that one.”

After menu planning, I draw up the shopping list. Supermarket and butchers are visited once a fortnight. The green grocer I go to every weekend. That is why I divide the dinners into each week, so I buy the veggies for that week.

The benefits have been enormous: less stress, less waste, money saved. I have cut our grocery bill by hundreds. Fewer visits means throwing fewer “treats” into the trolley!

Now, my family would probably tell you I go even less than once a fortnight. Sometimes I go “on strike”. There’s food in our kitchen, so why shop? Eat the fruit in the bowl! Just because you don’t feel like an apple but want a banana doesn’t mean I have to go buy you one!

And teenage boys, well mine anyway, think if they have to do more than open a container and put it in the microwave, then there’s nothing in the house to eat. Tough, I say.

So what’s on the menu for the next fortnight?

Week 1
Sat – Mum and Dad are going out with friends for dinner, so readymade stir fry from the butcher’s with Hokkien noodles for sons to cook.
Sun – roast chook, gives some leftover meat for lunches. And I will roast extra veggies for vegetarian lasagne later in the week.
Mon – BBQ lamb kebabs and salad.
Tues – BBQ steaks, chips and salad. (We’re making the most of the end of summer. BBQs on the back verandah.)
Wed – two lasagnes – one beef and one vegetable. Lots of leftovers for lunches and snacks.
Thurs – Hokkien noodle pork stir-fry – double lot cooked for Friday.
Fri – left-over Hokkien noodles

Week 2
Sat – BBQ sausages (real meat ones) with salad.
Sun – Belgium chicken pasta.
Mon – Steak sandwiches. (We’re Aussies so these HAVE to come with tinned beetroot and fried onions!)
Tues – stirfry. Cook extra rice for fried rice later in week.
Wed – fried rice. Cook two lots.
Thur – fried rice.
Fri – leftovers / catch and kill your own.
Sat – roast macadamia and honey chicken roll.

So there you go. We love food and we eat well. A little menu planning and once a fortnight shopping saves time, money, stress and food waste.

17 thoughts on “Grocery shopping for the busy family

  1. I did the very same as you for many years and I have also cleaned up my act by doing menu planning. We still shop weekly for produce but sometimes the bill is really low. We also don’t stock up as much as we used to. I am really pleased with the low-to-no waste.

  2. My shopping schedule varies, but I usually shop every week for produce and basic staples like milk. I don’t mind the grocery store trips. But I’ve only been shopping/meal planning/cooking full time for about 10 years so I have plenty of time to get sick of it in the future 🙂

    I find that we waste less when there are fewer choices so I have cut back on buying 5 kinds of cereal, 8 different fruits, etc. in a single week. Meal planning also helps me waste less just like you said – and avoid the dreaded “What’s for dinner?” conversation at 6 o’clock. (I like Friday – “leftovers/catch and kill your own” haha)

    • Only 5 choices of cereal? We have 2 – muesli or porridge. Very occasionally I will buy a box of something kid-like, as maybe 4 times a year.

      Forgot to add that we get milk and bread delivered twice a week, so I don’t have to stock up on those or drop in to the supermarket to replenish.

      • Sorry, that was misleading! I meant we used to buy 5 types of cereal. Now we’re down to 2 – granola and raisin bran. Same with fruit – I used to buy like 8 different things – now I buy 2-3 (this week was bananas and pears). But I still go a little crazy in the summer when everything’s fresher.

  3. So glad to read this post. I’ve been obsessing over how to organise cooking/grocery now that I’m a back-in-paid-work mum. I’ve been doing exactly what you mentioned at the start – buying a random selection of “will use” items, then flying by the seat of my pants all week. It’s been ok so far but it’s only been a few weeks.

    I am definitely going to follow your advice and get back to meal planning before it all falls apart. I’m lucky that like Mr. Sans, my husband can step into the kitchen at any given time and knock up whatever’s on the meal plan. We pretty much split the cooking 50/50.

    • Obsess no longer, Fiona. Menu planning is the way, the light, the answer. Lol. I find not being too prescriptive works for me. Flexibility but structure. So tonight we’re having the lamb kebabs but turning them into roll-ups with soft tacos that I have in the pantry. Tomorrow we won’t have steak as I didn’t freeze the sausages and need to use the potatoes up before they go off, so sausages and mash it is tomorrow.

      We working mums need to make home life easy for us. Eating together is important for us as a family. And my boys look forward to a good meal. So I need to be organised. And can’t get away that I have saved heaps of money this way.

  4. It sounds like you have developed a plan that works for you. I go shopping after work each week as I have a leisurley shop starting with a hot chocolate in the cafe then a browse around the magazines although I am not buying any at the moment and don’t miss them. I am tracking the grocery spend very carefully and I am back on planning our menus each week which as you say does save a lot of money and would be my number one recommendation to anyone wanting to spend less.

  5. We’re at about 90/10 on cooking of late in the Cohab Central – mainly cause of the Michelle Bridges 12WBT menu. The deal is I make it, almost always a double serve unless I know he won’t eat it, he gets half, I get half. I eat 1/4 of the meal cooked, and 1/4 for lunch. He can do what he will with his (but gosh darn if he doesn’t eat it eventually I get annoyed!) Last night I kindly asked him to cook the meal – he followed the recipe, weighed stuff. And then baked up and made himself a different dinner with ‘leftover’ pulled pork, wraps on hand, and a despairingly (to him) small amount of cheese. I felt slack, but he took it in his stride.

    Pre – 12WBT, we planned together, with ‘my meals’ and ‘his meals’. ie if you suggest it you make it, with some items being easy enough for either, or make when it suits (ie pasta). Then we were closer to 50/50 and I often wouldn’t commence cooking or prep til he was home, so we could still semi share it. In any case, we’ve always been ‘planners’ when together.

    I weekly shop, whereas I used to shop by meal when I lived an even shorter distance to the IGA. I *thought* I had to be a pant/seat girl, as that’s how mum is and was. Alas, planning works for me, so I continue it. Sadly, wastage happens a bit now, with 12WBT wanting one shallot or one celery stalk (silly b****). I hate when the BF doesn’t ‘use it up’ and now she’s making us ‘waste’ by spoilage. Even had rancid ricotta today ewww… So I need to either opt out of some ingredients, or I don’t know, work out if adding more will change the overall dynamic of the dish.

    • That’s another reason I couldn’t do Michelle Bridges’ diets: can’t stand buying stuff only to use a little bit and end up with so much waste.

      I have a friend who shops daily for dinner. She stops off on the way home. Her argument is that she doesn’t know what she feels like eating until that day. And she enjoys going to the supermarket every day. I would hate the stress, the rush, the parking. All that and I haven’t even got into the supermarket! I know I wouldn’t have time anyway, often not getting home from work until 5.30 or 6 o’clock. And if I did shop everyday for a new dinner, then I’d be back in the spot you find yourself – with bits of veggies going to waste.

      • Yeah I hate food wastage – but I do do weight loss (although not this week!)

        I only shopped ‘daily’ cause I lived next door to a small IGA – I certainly wouldn’t want to fight parking and crowds! Gosh, I get up early now on weekends to avoid ‘family shopping’ – where a whole family seems to go shopping. I think it’s a cultural adventure in our local, cause it’s not with toddlers, it’s adult children!! But when I daily shopped, I was very conscious of the quantities of vege etc, and would use all of a carrot or cabbage in my meal, irrespective!

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