Family Meal Planning Series (Part 4): How to Spend Less Time Grocery Shopping

by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on February 15, 2010

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In part 3 of this series we talked about planning a weeks’ worth of healthy meals to save time. But I think the most challenging part of the whole meal planning process is translating that plan into a readable grocery list — getting all the food you need and storing that food in an organized fashion.

I have been known, on occasion, to forget an ingredient or two and not discover it until it’s too late. My husband comes home, I cry, and he’s off to El Pollo Loco. Not fun.

Learning what leads to those bad weeks has helped me figure out what’s needed to make this process run smoothly. And I care because the better job I do meal planning and shopping, the better my whole week goes, and the less time I spend running back to the grocery store. So without further ado, here are some tips on how to maximize efficiency when grocery shopping:

1. Healthy Grocery Checklist: I’ve been using a pad of blank paper to write my grocery list on. The problem with this is food is listed randomly on the paper. So when I’m in the store, I’m more likely to miss something or have to backtrack to another department (not a good thing with kids in tow!).

So I devised a printable grocery list that also contains helpful nutrition tips. The idea is to hang it on your fridge and check off items as they run low so there are no fun surprises later. Then finish filling it out before your big shopping trip. This dowload is only available to subscribers so sign up today.

2. An organized kitchen: I often write about my lack of organization skills. But I know that having an organized kitchen is key to minimizing mistakes. Because when it comes time to write up your grocery list, you need to check and see if there’s anything you need. And if you have a pantry or fridge that looks like mine, that’s going to make life difficult (see “before” picture of cereal pantry below).

(I often blame my disorganized fridge on its small size but that’s just an excuse –even though a bigger fridge would help….)

To show you I’m serious about getting organized, I decided to revamp my food storage areas. So I cleaned out the pantry and fridge, labeling everything so even my husband knows where things go. I have decided to give it a touch up each week so it stays nice all week long. This blog is helping me to become accountable!



After (sorry, accidently deleted the before pic)

3. Designate which ingredients are meal/recipe items: After figuring out which everyday items you need, you’ll have to list ingredients needed for your meals/recipes. I either highlight or circle them so they stand out from the other grocery items.


Because if you like how the week turns out, you can use the meal planning chart and grocery list again. Simply save the “good” weeks and soon you’ll have a collection to pull from. I’ve done this a couple of times and it was a lifesaver, especially for those super-busy weeks.

4. Going to The Grocery Store:I wish that there was one grocery store that had it all. I seem to need three of them (Trader Joe’s, Vons or Ralphs, Whole Foods), make that four if you count the farmer’s market. But going to each of them weekly is not realistic for a busy mom like me. So here’s what I do:

As I said in 5 Secrets to the Perfect Weekly Meal Plan, every Sunday is my big trip to get the bulk of groceries for the week. I do this big trip solo, during the kids nap, but sometimes my daughter will come with me if I do it earlier in the day.

I first go to Trader Joes and get all I can there and then head to the Ralphs next door to get the things Trader Joe’s doesn’t have. I usually have to go grocery shopping again sometime before the following weekend to get more fruits and veggies and little items for the weekend. This would also be the time I try and go to a farmers’ market, but I’m not always successful.

I also try to make it to Whole Foods once a month because there isn’t one near me. Whole Foods has some items the other stores don’t have like homemade baby food and frozen food items for kids (they have salmon fish sticks that are pretty good — too bad Anna won’t touch them!). I almost forgot about Costco. Luckily my husband works close to it so he gets the bulk items as we need them.

So what do you do? Any master grocery plan or do you just wing it? Do you think my fridge is small?

Next: 12 Tips for Getting Meals on the Table Fast.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Stacy February 16, 2010 at 3:36 pm

I also do a printable grocery list…however, i do it by store, (i go to 3 stores too: tj”s henry’s and then a biggie like von’s) and i put the items in the order in which i walk through the store…that way, i’m sure to get everything and when i give the list to my husband to do, it’s much more efficient….it works great for staples and then if we are trying something new i can either type it in or handwrite it. I print the list and then i highlight the things we need from each store.


Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD February 16, 2010 at 10:59 pm

You are very organized! Great idea!


Cecily February 18, 2010 at 6:27 pm

I always write out my list of meals for the week. I start with evening meals, then I make sure I write some ideas for lunch and breakfast also. Evening meals are set,whereas lunch and breakfast can move around as needed! The rest of the food I buy every week – some bread, dairy products, fruit, veggies to eat cold and veggies to go with dinner and then whatever item we are out of that week,be it maple syrup, herbs etc. They eat fruit and cold veggies with lunch and then one or two veggies with dinner. I go to Vons once a week then Trader Joe’s every other week stocking up on what we need from there each trip.


Steve A February 21, 2010 at 2:40 pm

I just happened upon your blog while searching alltop. Your articles are informative and well written. Keep it up. Your fighting the good the fight. Kids are worth it. I’ve already subscribed to your feed. Thank you


Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD February 21, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Thanks Steve! I’m glad you’re joining us!


Cortez Vegan August 13, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Very helpful article. Check out this good link too healthy foods


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