When I first got married, I had no idea how to grocery shop. I shopped like I had a family of five, and as a result, we threw away a lot of food. I wanted to get better at grocery shopping and avoid all that food waste, but I didn’t know how.
It took me a years to learn how to meal plan and grocery shop in a way that I didn’t hate. I felt like I was doing it wrong–after all, everyone else was going grocery shopping every week.
Everyone else was meal planning every weekend, and everyone else was cooking dinner every night. Or so Pinterest would have me believe.
It took me several years to stop trying to do what I thought I should be doing.
Eventually, I started to do what worked for me. I stopped cooking every night. Instead, we ate more leftovers.
I made a monthly meal plan, and went on a monthly shopping trip. It took me several years to truly perfect it, but now I have it down to a science. Related: 3 Meal Planning Mistakes that are Keeping You from Meal Planning Success
I’ve developed a system to my planning that helps avoid any food waste. So here are the concepts you need to know about effectively planning your meals for a monthly grocery trip.
Tip #1: Prioritize Your Recipes to Minimize Food Waste
When I sit down to do my meal planning, there is a required order to my planning.
Fresh herbs go bad the fastest (unless you have a herb garden), so I plan those meals within a week of my grocery shopping. For us, these “Week 1” meals are most often Pesto Chicken Pasta and Mexican dishes that call for cilantro.
Cruciferous vegetables typically go bad quickly too, but they aren’t the only vegetables that do. Here is a list of vegetables (from my own experience) that go bad quickly and how soon they should be used or frozen. Check out this guide from the Kitchn on storing fruits and veggies to get the most out of your produce.
- Asparagus: 2 days
- Celery: 2-3 days
- Romaine Lettuce: 2-3 days
- Pre-Packaged Salad Mix: 3-5 days
- Broccoli: 1 week
- Brussel Sprouts: 1 week
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. For example, most leafy greens go bad within a week, but baby spinach stays good for up to 3 weeks.
If you have recipes that call for any of these vegetables, you have two choices. If you prefer to use them fresh, make sure you plan that meal within the desired time-frame.
Otherwise, you can either buy it from the frozen section, or freeze it yourself at home until you have the chance to use it. You can also avoid food waste by buying it canned, especially if you’re not sure when you’ll use it.
Tip #2: Utilize Your Freezer to Avoid Food Waste
As mentioned above, you can freeze produce at home until you have a chance to use it. Knowing how to freeze a multitude of items has so many benefits:
- You are able to freeze fruit and vegetables that you can’t find in the frozen section.
- If your meal plan changes and you know you won’t have time to use that produce before it goes bad, you can freeze it!
- You have the ability to easily preserve any garden produce you grow or are given.
- Freeze leftovers for healthy, budget-friendly convenience meals.
Every month, I always freeze at least two items: bananas and celery.
We use bananas a lot–in smoothies. However, only name brands sell frozen bananas and the price-hike for the mere act of freezing is simply ridiculous. So I buy 15-20 lbs of bananas, wait a few days for them to go bad, and then peel and freeze on a cookie sheet.
I freeze celery because I have exactly one recipe that calls for it–chicken noodle soup. However, I never use the whole bundle of celery for the soup. So instead of letting it go bad, I chop and freeze the rest for use in future soups.
Are there any fruit or vegetables that regularly go bad in your fridge? Is your family slow in eating leftovers? Don’t let that food go to waste! Instead, save your hard-earned money and utilize your freezer.
Tip #3: Use Plenty of Root Vegetables
Root vegetables are cheap, flavorful, nutritious, and long-lasting. They are also incredibly versatile. Together, all of these factors make them the perfect addition to your monthly meal plan and your monthly grocery shopping trip.
In fact, I use potatoes, carrots, and onions so often that I purposefully buy extra. I like to keep them on-hand, just in case I get the desire to cook something that isn’t on the meal plan. And because they last so long, I’m able to avoid wasting them.
Need a few recipe ideas for your root vegetables? Check these ones out, they are all favorites in my house!
- Honey Garlic Chicken Stir Fry (carrots)
- Egg Roll in a Bowl (carrots and onions)
- Freezer Breakfast Burritos (potatoes and onions)
- Egg Drop Soup (potatoes and onions)
Tip #4: Plan for the Mid-Month “Basics Trip”
Between fridge space and expiration dates (on dairy, mostly), I find this trip to be inevitable for our family. About two or 3 weeks into the month, we hit the grocery store for a quick run.
We grab milk, eggs, and maybe bread if we didn’t stock up enough at the beginning of the month.
Maybe you’re asking yourself, So why go grocery shopping for the month if I just have to go again?
However, the basics trip is not a regular grocery trip. The basics trip is stress-free. The meal plan is already written, the ingredients are already bought.
If you have a larger family, keep in mind you may need to make more than one “basics trip.” But there is still peace of mind knowing all your dinner ingredients for the month are taken care of!
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