Written By: Chelsea Hansen

Often, we find ourselves nearing the end of a long work week and our food supply is starting to dwindle. We think “I really need to go to the grocery store”, and then we put it off one more day….  

We finally get to the point of eating dry cereal for dinner and decide it’s time. We head into the grocery store, browse through the aisle filling our carts. Maybe we have a few meals in mind, maybe were just grabbing whatever sounds good that day.  We get to the check out and watch the total rise. $300? How did that happen? We go home, unload and step back to admire the fully stocked fridge and pantry…. But then we think what am I going to make for dinner?  

Throughout the week we slowly use up some of the groceries, but there is produce that goes bad, extra ingredients taking up space, and meat that now has a semi-permanent place in the freezer. We call this food waste

Preplanning before you shop empowers you to purchase only what you need. This can save anywhere from $5-$50 in groceries. But who has time to sit down and plan out every meal? Not me. That’s why I use three simple steps before I shop. 

Step 1Check your fridge, freezer, and pantry.

A great place to start is by assessing what you already have. How many times do you go to the store and think, “do we have enough milk?” and end up with an extra carton. I like to start in the freezer and take note of what meat or frozen produce I have. Then I decided what dinners I can base them off. Ground turkey, chicken breast, and beef tenderloin?… great! I’ll make turkey chili, shredded chicken tacos and a roast.  

Next, I check the fridge and pantry for the remaining ingredients I will need for those meals or for other meal inspiring ingredients. Usually, I can come up with at least 2-3 dinners with half the ingredients already on hand!  

Step 2Check the calendar.

What does your week look like? Do you have dinner plans at a relative’s house on Monday? Great! One less meal you need to plan out. Late work meetings on Tuesday? Let’s plan something quick and easy that day.  

Planning our meals based on our schedule makes it easier to stick with it. Often, we get ambitious and think we need 5-course meal 7 days a week when we just need a crockpot roast and a breakfast dinner.   

Step 3Make a List

Now that you know what you have on hand, you’ve looked at your week and thought up some meal ideas, take 15 mins to write down the essentials you’re missing.

Using a list while shopping is a huge penny saver. It’s too tempting to go into the store and walk by all the catchy marketing. If you have a list in front of you its basically a contract you signed yourself before heading into the store. Also, it’s a huge time saver! Don’t be afraid to let yourself stray occasionally when you feel the urge but try to stick to it as much as possible. You would be surprised how quickly those impulse buys add up.

Pro TipStart Small.

Start with the first step and work your way up as you get the hang of it or feel more confident. Try planning at least 1-2 meals/week and add in more as you get the hang out it. Assign themed nights like “Taco Tuesday” “Sheet pan Saturday” or “Crockpot Monday” to help with dinner decision fatigue. Remember, small changes over time add up to big results while too much change all at once can cause burnout.