When you’re trying to eat healthy, the best place to start is at the grocery store! What you buy at the store and bring home will determine the choices you have throughout the week. But how do you decide what to grab at the store? Should you just buy as many fruits and veggies as you can carry and call it a day? (Nope.) I’ll walk you through how to build a smart grocery list that will ultimately save you money, reduce food waste, and prevent you from wandering the aisles!
Step 1. Take Inventory
Check out which foods you have on hand. Has there been a can of black beans in your pantry that’s begging to be used? Still some frozen meat in the freezer? If you’ve got some extra sweet potatoes from last week, maybe check out a new recipe using sweet potatoes, and use it this week! Incorporate the foods you’ve already got into recipes coming up so they don’t go to waste.
It’s a good idea to check on which staples you’re getting low on, too. It would stink to be cooking only to find out that your husband left you with a sprinkle of a certain spice instead of the full tablespoon that you need. Take note of anything that needs to be replenished, or will need to be soon. Add those to your grocery list first.
Step 2. Make a meal plan
Before you can make a grocery list, you’ll need to have a general idea of what you want to eat throughout the week. Start with dinners – which recipes do you want to cook? Do you want to try something new or stick with something tried-and-true? Regardless, you’ll need to have an idea of the meals you’re going to cook, and the ingredients that go into them.
Think about breakfasts, lunches, and snacks, too, which you or your family members may be eating at work or school. Do you need quick foods for on-the-go, or things that don’t need to be refrigerated? Maybe not every meal will be homecooked, after all, so you’ll need to add more to your list than just the ingredients for the five recipes you’re cooking this week!
Between all of your recipes and snacks, you’ll have lots of ingredients to put on your list. But don’t just buy them because you want to try the recipe – make sure that you can actually prepare all these recipes. Make a meal plan so you know which days you’ll prepare them. Then, finally, you can add the ingredients to your list!
Related Reading: How to Start Meal Planning
Step 3: Fill in the list!
Using the ingredients you’re lacking and the grab-and-go stuff, jot ’em down. Write them on paper. Put them in an app. Ask Alexa or Siri to do it for you.
For recipes, especially, I highly recommend being specific (stewed, diced, crushed, or whole tomatoes?) and using measurements. When you get to the aisle with canned tomatoes, will you need 8 oz or 14.5? This way, you won’t be pulling up the recipe on your phone and wasting time looking up how much of an ingredient you need – just write it down in the first place!
There are lots of ways you can organize your grocery list: by food group, by store aisles (if you know your grocery store really well!), by recipe, alphabetically…you get the idea. As long as it’s all on there, you’re ready to hit the store.
Tip: Don’t go to the store hungry.
I promise you you’ll come away with more things in your cart and much less money in your wallet. And not all of those things in your cart will be healthy. I promise. Just don’t do it. (Can you tell I’m speaking from experience here?)
Tip: Stick to your list
Once you’re at the store, stick to your list. Don’t buy extra things because they look good, or because you’ll “find a way to use it”. If you don’t have a plan for it, especially produce, it’ll spoil and you’ll have to toss it. Money in the trash. ☹
I personally go to the grocery store once a week, the day of or after I make my meal plan for the week. Sometimes I go a few times a week, like if I plan for salmon on Thursday but go shopping Sunday. I’d rather stop by the store quickly on Thursday to get super fresh salmon than let it sit for four days or buy frozen.
Tip: Buy in bulk
If it makes sense for you to buy in bulk, do it! Many items can be frozen, so why buy individual steamable bags of frozen broccoli at $1/serving when you can buy the “family pack” size of frozen broccoli that has 12 servings and you just steam in a separate bowl? Buy items that can be stored for long periods of time in larger containers, like nuts, spices, coffee, frozen items, and dry items like pasta. Generally, the bigger you buy, the more you save by weight. There should be a “price per pound/ounce/other weight” on the price sticker on the shelf. Compare those to find your best bargain. Remember, though, you also have to have room in your pantry or freezer to store these items!
Tip: Choose generic or store name brands
For packaged items, more often than not, the generic item will be just as good as the brand name. They’ll almost always cost less, and sometimes even contain the same exact product. From the same factory. Seriously. If there’s a specific brand you love, don’t skimp, but wherever possible, save some pennies here and there by choosing store brand tomato sauce instead of Hunts. (For me, I refuse to buy anything but Oreos….but obviously, that’s a rare and special occasion. I pay the extra fifty cents.)