Checklist for your List!

For details on how I make my own grocery list each week, click here.

1. Keep a list on or near the fridge. Add to it throughout the week when you run out of something, or when you’re nearly out of something.
2. Check the grocery ad for your preferred store for current sales. Let the sales choose your proteins and veggies, and build meals around those.
3. Write out your working Meal Plan for the week.
4. Cross-check your needed items and sale items with coupons. Use this site, your grocer’s website, and any catalina coupons you may have received at the register.
5. Be sure you aren’t missing any items or ingredients in the following categories:
* Dinner meals
* Lunches
* Breakfast
* Easy Snacks
* Household
* Special occasion
6. Finalize list by writing in coupons and prices. Add items for a preliminary total for your trip.
7. Gather, cut, and clip necessary coupons. Don’t forget your list and coupons when you head out the door!

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Making your Grocery List

I wanted to share a post on how I plan my grocery trip every week. I’ve shared how I shop when I am on a stricter budget than normal, but I also wanted to share how I usually do things, in case it helps anyone to try it this way. It may seem like a lot of information, but the general point is this: Putting a lot of thought and planning into your list earns you flexibility and time when it comes to meals.
At the end I’ve listed everything in numerical checklist-type-fashion for ease of use. 😉

Firstly: I keep one of those magnetized lists on my fridge. Throughout the week I will add to this – it’s where I jot down what we have run out of, or are low on, and will need to purchase right away. You could call these things immediate NEEDS. They are generally things we use every week like bananas, milk, butter, eggs; and other items we might not need to purchase every week, but will nevertheless NEED, like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, or a necessary pantry item I ran out of (spices, flour, ketchup, etc.).

Then, a day or two before my planned shopping, I check the weekly ad for sales. With my fridge checklist nearby, I start a new list based on the ad – what’s on sale that I should stock up on? A few things about this list:
* Are there crossover items (items on my NEEDS checklist that are also on sale)? I check for coupons and then add all these items to the new list – whether on sale or not.
* I write things in order of department. I shop from BACK of the store to the FRONT, because most of the cold things are at the front of the store.
* If a sale item is limited to a particular size or brand, I always write that to help me identify it in the aisles.
* I write small and leave room next to each item to write down if I have a coupon, and if so where to find it. This way I don’t forget to cut and/or pack the paper coupons, or forget to scan them at the register. I use Meijer mPerks and the Coupon Lookup site for these.
* I also leave room in the right margin to write the cost, if I need to stick to a particular budget.
* I can then add up the amounts in the margin and get an approximate and preliminary total for my trip.

After I have or while I am perusing the ad, I turn over my list and make a meal plan for the week. I don’t do this until AFTER I look at the ad, because I usually build my meals around protein, and I base my proteins on what’s on sale that week. As I meal plan, I figure out if I need to add anything to my list that are necessary ingredients for those meals, and add them to my list.

Then I’ll go back one more time to make sure I have not forgotten anything. If I’m over my budget, I’ll see if there’s anything I can postpone purchasing.

Here are some categories I check off in deciding what to buy each week:
* Checklist needs, as explained above
* Enough proteins, veggies, and starches for dinners for the week
* Lunch staples – bread, PB&J, etc. Tortillas are also a staple in our house as they are so good for repurposing leftovers.
* Breakfast foods – In our house we rotate cereal, waffles, toast, eggs, and sometimes pancakes and crepes. Other times baked goods like apple cinnamon muffins and banana cookies!
* Pantry replenishment – anything on my needs list, but also includes my preferred OHI; for example, spinach, tomatoes, avocado(!) that I like to have around.
* Easy to grab snacks – this used to mean granola bars and fruit snacks for the kids; now I’ve tried to switch more to fresh fruit and veggies. The ones that are the most mommy-friendly are ones they can eat without any prep (except the original wash of course): grapes, apples, bananas, strawberries. Also good are yogurt and cheese. Sometimes I’ll buy cucumber, wash and cut it, and store it in a bag in the snack drawer in the fridge for the kids to grab easily. These snacks are great for mid-day when I might be prepping for dinner or finally eating my own lunch, and can’t or don’t want to be interrupted! 😉
* Household Items – cleaning, seasonal, essentials (like light bulbs!), home or garden (lawn bags, etc.)
* Special occasion – Cards or gifts for birthdays, showers, weddings; celebratory and also sympathy occasions

Does that seem like a really long drawn out process? It doesn’t actually take me so long anymore, because I can breeze through all these steps really quickly now that I’ve been doing it for so long. I also don’t always do a perfectly detailed Meal Plan every week – that’s the benefit of learning to cook using your OHI. All you have to do is choose proteins and veggies, then replenish your starches, spices, and pantry items. As long as you have a basic idea of the meal plan for each day, you can easily adjust based on what you have on hand. You can adjust this process to fit your needs and lifestyle. If you aren’t as concerned about cost, you save yourself time on coupons and can focus more on trying new recipes. If cost is more of an issue, you have the opportunity to flex your creativity muscle by using cheaper ingredients in new and interesting ways.

Click HERE for a step-by-step checklist to make your own organized, thoughtful shopping list!

Quick Tip: Price Comparison in Store

Being thrifty sometimes means simply paying attention to labels in store,  particularly in the produce section.

Today I had garlic on my list, but I only needed a small head as I still have some at home. I started to grab a small one, as they are usually priced per pound.
That is, until I noticed the signage :

image

2/$1 means no matter what size, it’s going to be the same price. I put back the small one and grabbed a bigger one.

Similarly, there was a pre-packaged 4-pack of kiwis for $2.50. The a la carte kiwis were 4/$2. I don’t always have time to do this, but out of curiosity I put 4 in a bag and weighed them. They came in JUST under 1lb. There’s a $.50 savings right there. It may not seem like a big deal, but when you pay attention to each item on your list this way, you can see big savings in the long run!

5 Tips to Offset the Price of Buying Organic & Natural

1. Know your budget. I almost forgot to include this; but being aware of and sticking to a predetermined budget is the first step to maximizing your savings. Having even an approximate amount in mind will keep you from overspending unnecessarily.

2. Plan your meals based on sales. Most grocery stores put out a weekly ad – even the more popular produce stores, like Whole Foods or Mariano’s – and if you don’t get it in the mail, you can view it easily online. I usually base dinners around a protein, and buy the family size packs so I can either separate into 2 meals or make a Second Meal from the leftovers. The protein (fish, poultry, pork, beef, etc.) will usually be most expensive, so consider this first before looking at other specials. Then check out the produce sales. We shop at Meijer, and their store brand organic often goes on sale. This is how I decide what to buy that week. Same goes for their Meijer Naturals grocery products. If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, check out the Clean 15 & Dirty Dozen lists. If you’re only buying a few items organic, you might want to choose items on the Dirty Dozen list to reduce the chance of pesticides.
*Note: If you’re just starting out, it might take awhile to understand what a good sale price is. Don’t stress. Just do the best you can for now, and eventually it’ll be second nature to know when an item is overpriced, when it’s an average buy, and when it’s at a DEEP discount price.

3. Make a list and stick to it. Write down everything you plan to buy based on the ad. Double check your meal plan for the week, cross check your pantry, and add any missing ingredients to your list if necessary. If you’re on a really tight budget, estimate the cost of each item and get an approximate total, adjusting your list if necessary.
Then, when you get to the store, STICK TO YOUR LIST. I know the lure of the produce section… you suddenly get the urge to try a blood orange for the first time… or to buy an exotic root vegetable you’ve never used before. THIS. IS. BAD. Not only will it put you over your carefully constructed budget, but if you don’t have a recipe or specific use in mind for that item, chances are you will end up tossing it anyway, or wasting another item you bought. Reducing your waste (Read: the stuff you throw away because it’s gone bad) is a huge way to save money. If you were really deliberate about your list, you should have just enough produce to make it through each meal of each day for the week. Resist the urge to impulse buy; if you see something new you want to try, make a note of it, search recipes when you get home, and put it on the list for next week.

4. Check for coupons before you go. Part of the reason I love Meijer is because of their mPerks. Not only are there coupons for name brand products, but also for their store brand – which as I said, has great organic and natural products. So when I find a coupon that matches with a weekly sale, it’s a home run! or a 3 pointer! or a touchdown! (insert your favorite sport term here.) So check your favorite grocery store’s website for store coupons on generic items, including produce. Some stores have rewards programs; others have digital coupons you can load to a loyalty card. A little research goes a long way.
And if you are buying a specific brand name, check your local newspaper inserts. In our area, the best website for this is www.coupontom.com. It references an extensive catalog of all the current paper and printable coupons. When you search an item (by brand name or item name) it will pull up any coupons available and where to find them.

5. Enroll in rewards programs. As I said earlier, research if your favorite store(s) has a rewards program. A lot of stores have a point system connected to a loyalty card – and the points can then be converted to savings later. Some stores have a quantity requirement program (Buy 10, get the 11th free). Other stores give stickers based on your total spent within a qualifying time period, which can be returned at the end for products. Meijer has a great one they’ve recently instituted – you choose one reward in each of three categories. (For example, Spend $60 in produce, Get $5 off.) This is cumulative for the entire month. Once you reach the goal amount, you can ‘clip’ your reward to your mPerks account, and it is applied toward your total basket on your next trip. You can work towards 3 different rewards at a time, and if you finish a goal before the end of the month, you can choose another one. Again, check your favorite store’s website, or ask an associate next time you’re in store.

By investing a little time and research, buying healthier, natural, and organic food can be realistic for even the smallest budgets!

Maximize your Time & Minimize your Waste in the Kitchen

I have never been one of those people that could have a marathon cooking day once a week and freeze meals in advance. I just don’t think I’m organized enough for that. Honestly, I don’t usually have that much time carved out in one day either.

But today I probably got the closest I ever will to that concept. (And it felt AWESOME!)

You know if you read the blog frequently that I almost always make substitutions on recipes from my OHI (On Hand Ingredients), for two main reasons:
1. To use up an OHI before it goes bad
2. To prevent purchasing an ingredient solely for the purpose of one dish, thus increasing savings

I have a hard time buying fresh herbs for this reason; I generally don’t need an entire bunch of a particular herb for a recipe – it usually only calls for 1-2 sprigs, or a handful of leaves, etc. And then I throw the rest away once it has been sitting in my fridge long enough that it goes bad.

But – with proper meal planning, and by beginning to make more things from scratch, I think I’ve begun to master the art of using all parts of every ingredient.

Prepping station!

Prepping station!

With just a few hours in the kitchen today, I made:
*Grilled Chuck Steak
*Chimichurri
*Quinoa with celery, corn, and parsley
*Creamed spinach
*Prepped veggies for chicken noodle soup
*Prepped veggies for homemade vegetable stock
*Celery sticks for snacking

From left: Veggie Stock ingredients, Veggies for chicken soup, chimichurri, quinoa, steak

From left: Veggie Stock ingredients, Veggies for chicken soup, chimichurri, quinoa, steak

Not only does this save me time for tomorrow because I did all the prep work at once, but I used up every part of the celery and parsley and used almost every other ingredient in more than one way.

Here’s the meal and prep plan.

DINNER, NIGHT 1:
Grilled Steak (cut and season)
Chimichurri (parsley, cilantro, garlic, EVOO, RW vinegar, jalapeno, oregano, S&P)
Quinoa (corn, parsley, celery, lemon juice, EVOO, mozzarella, salt)
Creamed Spinach (frozen chopped spinach, cream cheese, half and half)
Avocado (I like it with my steak – it cuts the saltiness of the chimichurri)
wpid-IMG_20140226_175022.jpg

OVERNIGHT STOCK:
Onion
Carrots
Celery
Parsley
Garlic
Asparagus (which was almost ready to be thrown out)
*Stock to cook in crock pot overnight

LUNCH, DAY 2:
Steak wraps with chimichurri, cheddar, lime, avocado, tomato
I might even try the leftover quinoa IN the wrap… I’ll let you know how that goes


DINNER, NIGHT 2
:
Homemade stock (from crock pot)
Chicken
Prepped veggies (carrot, parsley, celery, onion)
Homemade whole wheat bread
*Soup to cook in crock pot all day, after straining veggies out of stock

So, when you’re doing your meal planning, think about multiple uses for each item you’re buying – especially produce, since this expires quickest.

The steps below outline my thought process for meal planning to maximize your time and minimize your waste. Give it a try and let me know if it works for you!

1. Choose one night to try a new recipe and/or a new ingredient.
2. Think of other ways to use the ingredients in that recipe, or a different way to use that new ingredient. Implement meals according to those thoughts.
3. Always keep in mind ideas for leftovers so you’re not just reheating old meals, but you’re also not throwing things away.
4. Do prep all at once, as much as possible.
5. Research ways to use the ‘throwaway’ parts of produce and protein.

Coupon Codes: Children’s Place, JoAnn Fabric, Yankee Candle &more 1/29-2/1

CHILDREN’S PLACE:  Site-wide sale. Ends TODAY 1/29. FREE SHIPPING on all items. COUPON CODES:
40% off = SAVEFORTY
30%off $60 or more = N6HT30EM
25%off Everything = G7HT25EM
*Remember you also get 5% off if you have and use your PLACEcard.

ORIENTAL TRADING CO: 
COUPON CODE: WCE4286
Good for…
FREE SHIPPING and $5 off orders of $59 or more OR
FREE SHIPPING and $10 off orders of $79 or more

JoAnn Fabric:
Lots of sales including 60% off frames (ONLY today 1/29), 50% off drapery hardware, 50% off Swarovski beads/crystals, 50% off stamping supplies.
COUPON CODES:
50% off one regular priced item = VKPB032 (good thru 2/1)
FREE SHIPPING with $50+ order = EQCU030 (good thru 1/30)
*cannot combine offers*

FAMILY CHRISTIAN STORES: 50% off select books
COUPON CODE: 131194317 = 25% off entire purchase regular priced items (good thru 2/16)

YANKEE CANDLE is also running their Buy 2 Large, Get 1 Free sale. Honestly I’ve seen better (like last month’s Buy 2 get 2 – which was also for any size!), but if you are planning on getting a few as gifts, you can get one free for yourself while you’re at it. You do need a coupon for this sale, which you will get if you are signed up for their email list. (Sale thru 2/26)

OLD NAVY 20% off sale ends today. COUPON CODE: TAKE20