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How to Menu Plan and Grocery Shop for the Week

I received an email today from one of our law school friends asking for advice on how to avoid eating out and finding the motivation to cook at home on the weeknights. If you read my food blog then you know how much a believe in the power of menu planning. When someone asks for advice on cooking and how to find time to cook, my first suggestion is always planning your menu for the week and making a weekly grocery trip.

Growing up, my dad always planned the menu for the week and posted it on the fridge. I usually tagged along on his weekly grocery trips and learned many shopping skills from him. Mainly, shopping store specials, picking out the best meat and produce and always checking expiration dates.

Ever since Brandon and I moved in together after college, I have adhered to my dad’s menu planning and weekly shopping. I can’t even begin to tell you how much easier it makes life. Sometimes due to travel or a busy schedule I’m not able to stick to my planning/shopping routine so I know how frustrating it is  to try to figure out what you’re going to cook every night after work and go to the store every day. It’s exhausting…and miserable! By the time I finish my workout, I don’t get home most nights until around 7 p.m. I totally understand the temptation to not cook and just grab dinner out but when you’ve already planned your menu and have the groceries on hand, it’s simple and you have no excuse not to cook. And it’s so much more budget friendly to cook at home and make one trip for the week.

Here are a few of my favorite tips on how to make cooking at home work for you:

  • Create a menu and make one grocery trip each week. As discussed above, this saves time and money and reduces the temptation to eat out.
  • Check the store specials. Most stores now offer their weekly specials online which makes it easy to plan your menu around them. Your grocery budget will thank you!
  • Make a list. Do NOT go to the store without a list. You will end up buying things you don’t need, spending more money and come home with a bunch of random things that don’t make a meal. Section out your list by department and make sure you’re covering breakfast, lunch and dinners.
  • Eat seasonally. Sometimes I find that I’m much more excited about cooking when I’m making dishes inspired by the season. Check out your local farmers markets on the weekends and pick up some produce for the week.
  • Plan a mix of easy and more involved dinners. My schedule stays pretty much the same week-to-week so I know what nights I need to plan easier dinners and what nights I have time to spend a little longer on dinner. Dinner can be as easy as throwing together a salad and topping it with a protein, making homemade pizzas or soup and sandwich. It doesn’t have to be a fancy dinner every night!
  • Pre-work prep. Take advantage of the time you have before work or before bed the night before to put together marinades or throw dinner in the crock pot. There are tons of good and healthy crock pot recipes these days and nothing beats coming home and dinner being ready!
  • Find inspiration. It’s no fun to eat the same thing over and over. While it’s great to have standby dinners, you won’t be inspired to eat at home if you’re always making the same thing. For me, I get tons of inspirations from the great food bloggers I follow. Some people really like magazines and others like watching food shows. Find some new sources of inspiration and expand your horizons!
  • HAVE FUN! I know cooking seems like a chore for many people but it doesn’t have to be. Like I mentioned above, you don’t have to make involved, time-consuming dinners every night. There are tons of healthy, flavorful things that can be ready in under 20 minutes. Also, mix it up. Try new ingredients, new cuisines, new techniques. Just have fun with it and remember that even the best cooks have failures from time-to-time!

I hope this information is helpful! Please let me know if you have any questions or would like me to go more in depth about anything.

And now for today’s activities and eats. I was up bright and early this morning to teach BodyPump. It was definitely a bit of a struggle to get out of bed at 5 a.m. this morning after my big weekend but class was great. Seeing all of the members there so early and committed to getting their workout in just makes me happy and inspired! 🙂

Breakfast was the return of banana oats. Haven’t had any since last Thursday and I definitely missed my oats last weekend! I packed my lunch to take to work with me today since I left a little early on Thursday.

I made a sandwich on whole wheat with hummus, cucumber, artichokes, sprouted peas, tomato and baby greens. I also packed carrots and Trader Joe’s wheat thins. I have had bad luck with sandwiches lately – this one was terrible. It got soooo soggy. The bread was complete mush by the time I ate my sandwich. Yuck. I ended up throwing it out and just eating the carrots and wheat thins. Then I was feeling sorry for myself and this guy popped into the picture.

Oops. 😳

Later this afternoon I started feeling hunger pangs as a result of my lackluster lunch so I had an Apple Pie Larabar for snack.

This hit the spot and held me over until dinner. Again, I love Larabars!

Dinner tonight was a repeat of one of our favorite dinners from my 68 Days of Gourmet project – Island Pork Tenderloin.

Roasted sweet potatoes and green beans on the side. A great dinner! Brandon and I both had a small bowl of Blue Bunny Light Vanilla Ice Cream with a little Dark Chocolate Dreams for dessert with a cup of chamomile tea.

Bed is calling!

Do you menu plan? Are you good about eating dinner at home during the week or do you go out a lot?

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • brannyboilsover May 25, 2010, 10:36 am

    I menu plan and what I try to do is choose one meal from 5 or so genres to keep our menu varied and our eating exciting: 1 meal Asian, 1 meal American, 1 meal Italian, 1 meal Indian, 1 meal Mexican.

  • Anna Menser May 25, 2010, 12:46 pm

    Ahh! You are the only other person my age I know that makes a weekly menu!! I cant live without it during the week 🙂

  • Natalie (The Sweets Life) May 25, 2010, 2:30 pm

    Great post! I follow a lot of those same tips and can’t imagine grocery shopping without a list or a menu plan. Seriously, the thought stresses me out 🙂 I grocery shop on Monday after I’ve had a chance to see what’s on special for the week. I plan out my meals based on that and what we have on hand…it makes the week go much smoother (and saves us a ton of money). Plus, when we do go out (1-2 times a month) it’s a special treat!

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