March 11, 2022  

How I Meal Plan & Grocery Shop In Less Than An Hour A Week


Need help with your meal planning routine? Here’s my simplified approach to grocery shopping and meal planning for our family of four.

Emily standing with brown paper grocery bags

44 minutes. That’s all it took to avoid a week’s worth of stress figuring out what’s for dinner every night. Simple meal planning combined with curbside grocery pickup has changed my life as a busy mom.

I know meal planning is a huge source of stress for a lot of people (but one of the 6 must-have homemaking routines), so today I’m going to share how I personally do all of our meal planning and grocery shopping in less than an hour a week.

One thing you should know about me is that I prefer to keep things extra simple so you won’t find any over-complicated meal planning binders or systems here. Our meal planning routine is actually quite simple! And I think that’s key to sticking with meal planning–it needs to fit into your life even when things are crazy!

Now let’s dive in and I’ll walk you through my meal planning and grocery shopping routine.

Looking for more meal planning ideas? Take a look at these blog posts:

By the way, I go more in-depth on all things meal planning inside my online course, HomeSanity. We cover several meal planning methods and lots of ideas and strategies for simplifying meal planning and feeding your family.

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My Weekly Grocery Shopping & Meal planning Routine

1. How To Make Your Meal Plan

How often should you meal plan?

This meal planning routine can totally be adapted to fit any length of time you wish, but if you’re just getting started with meal planning then my advice is to start small and see if you can do it weekly.

I typically try to get groceries for a little over a week at a time which means I repeat this process every 7-10 days.

How many meals should include in your meal plan?

The very first thing you need to do is actually write down a meal plan. But don’t over-complicate it! Especially if you’re learning how to meal plan, I really recommend planning just one meal per day and keeping the rest of your meals pretty basic.

I really only plan our evening meals for the week. We keep the house stocked with cereal, bread, and bagels for quick breakfasts. And we stick with simple lunches, typically leftovers or cold meat sandwiches with fruit and chips. So I always make sure those things are added to our grocery order.

How do you physically create your meal plan?

There are so many ways to keep track of your meal plan! We currently use a big whiteboard in our kitchen and this works great for us as a central spot to keep a running grocery list and to jot down meal ideas.

You can also use a plain notebook, a meal planning notepad like these, a free meal planning printable, a note on your phone, etc. I also have a meal planning printable kit with 30+ pages to help you organize your meal plan and grocery list. Whatever you do, my advice is to keep it simple!

Related: Meal Planning Printable Kit

Emily writing on whiteboard

How do come up with meal ideas?

You can plan your meals a number of ways. Here’s how I generally approach it:

  1. Check the fridge, freezer, and pantry and come up with meal ideas using ingredients you already have (especially if there are any perishable foods nearing their expiration dates). Add all of these meals to your meal plan.
  2. Plan quick meals for your busiest days. For example, we have dance lessons on Tuesday nights so I always plan a really simple meal that’s quick to make.
  3. Fill in the gaps with other meal ideas. We keep a running list of meal ideas/requests on our whiteboard so I consult that when I’m making our meal plan. I also love having themed days for our meal plan because this really helps with brainstorming ideas–I talk all about meal planning with themed days here (and why it’s so helpful for beginners!)

Related: Meal Planning For Beginners Using Themed Days

whiteboard with meal plan

2. Compile Your Grocery List

One huge waste of time is making numerous trips to the grocery store in a week. It’s a big pet peeve of mine to make sure we buy everything for the week ahead in ONE grocery trip. We’re not always successful at this, but we can usually avoid extra grocery trips when we’ve taken the time to create a simple meal plan and thorough grocery list.

We keep our grocery list written on the whiteboard next to our meal plan, but you can use whatever method works best. In the past, we’ve used Evernote for a digital grocery list that my husband and I could both access. I also have a free printable grocery list you can print out and hang on the fridge.

Here’s our general process for creating a grocery list:

  1. We try to be good about adding to our grocery list throughout the week. When someone uses up a food or notices something getting low, we go ahead and write it down on the list. We’ll also add different food requests for lunches, snacks, etc.
  2. After you create your meal plan, add all needed ingredients to your grocery list. Take the time to check the fridge and pantry for the ingredients you’ll need for each meal and write down anything you’re missing.
  3. Spot check the pantry and fridge for anything that’s running low that you need to grab at the store. I always glance through our cereal and snacks and staples like bread and milk. One thing that helps me do this is having an organized pantry where everything has a designated spot in clear containers so i can quickly scan the shelves and see what’s low. I also have our fridge organized into zones so it’s easy to see what’s missing.

Related:

grocery list on whiteboard

3. Order Groceries Online

My grocery shopping routine typically involves ordering groceries when I’m at work on Monday mornings. We usually create our meal plan and grocery list on Sundays and then I’ll take a photo of our whiteboard so I can consult it while at the office on Monday. When I need a break at work, I’ll quickly place our online grocery order and schedule a pickup time for after work.

The ability to place an online order for your groceries is a game-changer in my opinion. Most grocery stores seem to be offering this service now and I highly recommend shopping at a store that does. All of the stores in our area allow you to place an online order for free curbside pickup with a minimum dollar amount ordered. This is such an incredible time saver!

Here are a few benefits to ordering your groceries online for curbside pickup or delivery:

  • It’s easy to go down your grocery list and add everything to your cart one by one. You’re much more likely to remember everything on your list this way as opposed to trying to check off a big shopping list when you’re physically in the store.
  • You’re also less likely to forget staples because you can reference your frequently purchased items. All of the stores I shop at have a tab that shows me my frequent or recent purchases and I’ll usually quickly scroll through that before I checkout to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything important.
  • You’ll have a much easier time sticking to your budget when you can see a running total in your cart before you check out. So if you have a strict grocery budget to stick to, this is super helpful and much easier than trying to tally up your total while shopping in the store.
  • And of course, online ordering saves you a significant amount of time! No walking through the entire store and retracing your steps back across the place when you almost forget something. No more taking cranky kids on an hour-long grocery shopping trip. Just order on your phone and the store will do all the shopping for you!
iPad with online grocery order pulled up

4. Pick Up Groceries

What a time to be alive when you don’t have to get out of the car on a cold, rainy day and drag your kids through the store after a long day of work! I simply pull up to the store on my drive home from the office and the grocery store loads everything into my car. It’s the best!

Of course, you can also arrange for grocery delivery if that’s an option or your preference. Our stores all charge a delivery fee and I’ve found it just as convenient to do the free curbside pickup option since I drive by the grocery store most days anyway.

5. Unload & Put Away Groceries

One of the keys to this whole routine is to actually unload and put away all of your groceries as soon as you get home. If you don’t put things away, you will not be prepared to follow your meal plan. Dinnertime is often super stressful so make it as easy on yourself as possible by neatly putting away groceries so you can quickly locate them when it’s time to cook.

If you’d like some inspiration for organizing your kitchen, here are some tips:

hand-pulling-clear-bin-of-snacks-out-of-pantry

Looking for more meal planning ideas? Take a look at these blog posts:

Have a fantastic day!

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About the author

Emily Counts is the founder of Small Stuff Counts, a home and organization blog she created in 2013. Her goal is to help moms make home life easier so they can create beautiful, organized, and thriving homes. She shares life at home as a working mom juggling two young kids, a corporate job, and all that goes into managing a home. The Iowa-based blogger lives in the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, two children, and rescue dog. Emily has collaborated with brands including The Container Store, Cricut, Command Brand, Bissell, Sam's Club and Rubbermaid.

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