Grocery Shopping Tips & Meal Planning

I have heard from a few people that it is tough planning your weekly menu ahead of time and that when they go grocery shopping over the weekend, they end up buying a lot of stuff they don’t use. I know I don’t have a gaggle of kids to feed and I don’t claim to be an expert at money saving or planning at all, I just thought maybe if I gave you a glimpse into my trip to the grocery store that you would see you can work around a few staples and have dinner and lunch ideas for two weeks.
I do most of my shopping at my local Trader Joe’s. If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s, fear not. I am going to break this trip down into groups of similar items. I shop for two weeks at a time and usually pick up any weird random things if I absolutely have to or Trader Joe’s doesn’t carry that item, during the second week.
Alright so let’s start with the canned good staples.
These are items I always have in my pantry. Each two weeks, I am usually buying a few of these items because they make a great base for multiple dishes.
  • 28 Ounce Can of Crushed or Whole Peeled Plum Tomatoes: I usually keep two of these cans in my pantry at all times. A can of crushed tomatoes can be used as a base for tomato sauce for pasta or pizza, a crockpot meal, or a soup. Sometimes I buy whole peeled tomatoes, because they can be blended up and used just the same way.
  • Olive Oil: Duh! You need this for all types of cooking. Always have this in your pantry. Plus, if you aren’t in the mood for tomato sauce, you can always do an olive oil and garlic with lemon zest sauce.
  • Tomato Patse: Used to thicken up any sauce, soup, or broth.
  • Vegetable, Beef, or Chicken Stock: Use as a base for a soup, stew, or sauce. I usually buy vegetable stock because it kind of flows with whatever I am making.
  • Beans: I always buy at least one can of beans every grocery shopping trip. I use black beans for tacos or homemade black bean burgers and even in a salad! Kidney beans can be added to any chili or soup. Chickpeas and cannellini beans can be roasted and tossed with a salad or turned into hummus. I also buy refried black beans for enchildadas or tostadas.
  • 12 Ounce Can of Diced Tomatoes: I use these to make a quick pasta on days when I don’t have time to cook a whole marinara or meat sauce. These are also great with ground meat or soyrizo for a taco filling.
Look at how many ideas you have already and we haven’t even got to the meat or produce! Next, let’s head to the dry goods section and bread area.
Any of these items can either be a quick breakfast, an easy lunch, a dinner side dish, or even an entree!
  • Pasta: Baked pasta, macaroni and cheese, pasta salad, plain old spaghetti and meatballs,  minestrone, or even just simply tossed with vegetables and some oil and garlic. Noodels are versatile. You can have four different meals in two weeks and they don’t all have to be Italian!
  • Bread: I usually have a loaf, some kind of baguette, hot dog, and hamburger buns on hand or in the freezer. The freezer is your best friend when it comes to bread because it tends to go stale or mold quickly. You can make sandwiches, paninis, croutons, fancy salads, and hot dogs or sausages. Bread is for those days where you want something quick and easy!
  • Quinoa: Talk about the ultimate healthy side dish which can easily translate into an entree. A little goes a long way. Cook in stock and serve with a meat of your choice as a side or tossed with vegetables for a great salad.
  • Bran Flakes (or corn flakes): You may be asking yourself, why bran flakes? That’s understandable. I love bran flakes with honey on greek yogurt for breakfast, bran flakes with banana as a cereal, or… wait for it…. as a healthy, crispy breading for chicken breasts or tenders! Trust me, it is a staple to make healthy chicken tenders breaded with bran flakes at least once a week in my house.
  • Tortillas: Every week we have at least one Mexican night. It might be tacos, enchiladas, or even tostadas. Mexican food is very easy and can be switched up easily using the same ingredients. Also, when cooking taco meat, if you don’t want to worry about cooking when you get home, utilize your crock pot! Plus, weekend breakfast burritos or tacos are totes amaze!
I hope you are starting to feel better about making a menu for two weeks. The reason I do two weeks at a time is because it works with our pay schedule. That should make sense for a lot of folks! Alright, next section!
Snacks! Let’s be realistic; you need a little something to nosh on either as a side for a lunch or a snack to keep you awake while watching your weekly tv shows! Not that that’s us or anything…
  • Pop Chips: You can eat 26 of these chips and it is only about 100 calories! Done deal!
  • Hummus and Pita Chips: Great in a small amount. This is a good side for a work lunch. I also like hummus and chips instead of lunch. Hummus is also great on sandwiches!
  • Popcorn: I usually buy single serve bags, otherwise I would sit there and eat seven servings and not even notice.
Real talk: life is hard! Sometimes you need to unwind. Don’t worry I have budgeted for that!
Let’s talk produce. Good, fresh produce has the ability to transform a meal to something differnt every time!
  • Romaine: Better than iceberg. Romaine is great on sandwiches, as a base for a salad, a topping for Mexican fare, or even as a shell for a taco or wrap.
  • Lemons and Limes: I love fresh citrus! I use it’s juice and zest in mostly everything. I love limes when making chili, guacamole, or pico de gallo. Lemons are great on roasted vegetables, in salad dressings, or even simply zested over fresh pasta.
  • Basil (or any other fresh herb you like): Talk about amping up flavor! Basil is my favorite herb. You can top any crostini, appetizer, or pasta with it, and is also great as a pesto sauce. Rosemary lasts the longest of the fresh herbs and is great on roasted green beans or potatoes. Caprese Salad people!!!
  • Bell Peppers: These are great to add a lot of body to a dish. They are great added to salads, pasta, tacos, chili, soups, slow cooker meal,or even stuffed! They also have a great shelf life.
  • Onions: Shallots or onions are great to have on hand to grate into salad dressings, sautee as a base for a sauce or soup, roasted with a vegetable, or used as a topping for a salad. They are a part of the holy trinity! Which I hope you have, but in case you don’t, it’s carrots, celery, and onion. That is the base for most soups or sauces. Onions can also make up a whole dish!
  • Garlic: It is so cheap and adds so much extra flavor to salad dressings, vegetables, meats, and sauces!!! A must in my house!
  • Tomatoes: Right now, tomatoes are plentiful and cheap, so stock up. Slice them up for a salad or stuff them in chicken breasts with a little cheese. Here are 55 more ideas of things to do with tomatoes. This is one of my favorite chicken recipes  from the summer. If you are like me, eat one as a snack with a bit of salt!
  • Avocado: This might be kind of a luxury item. They don’t last long once they are ripe and can be a bit expensive. But, if you use them right away, you can add them to sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, even put a salad all up in it, or even serve them up as guacamole for a last minute get together!
  • Arugula: It lasts about as long as romaine. It is a great sandwich filler, a superb salad base, and an even better pizza topping! A bit of lemon juice along with a pinch of salt and pepper, and you have a simple salad ready to go!
Almost done! Now it is on to the cold items and then check out!
The deli section is the most logical stop for all of your quick, non-left-overs based lunch selection. It is fast and easy. Make a sandwich, kabob, or roll-up. I don’t even need to explain this any further!
Meat and poultry is up next. You can see that I gave you enough ideas for meals without meat already, but in case you live with a tried and true carnivore like I do, here are some more staples we usually have in our house.
  • Ground Turkey: Try and get the leanest possible! Use this for chili, taco meat, meatballs, or even for a meat sauce.
  • Chicken Breasts: Cut them into tenders, bread them in bran, and then bake them. Coat them in buffalo sauce too for all I care! Chicken can be a cool main dish, used to make sandwiches in the slow cooker, stuffed and baked, used for soup, chili, or even for Mexican fare.
  • Lean Ground Beef: For those nights when ground turkey isn’t going to cut it! I would suggegst using this for a burger on the grill/grill pan, in my all time favorite salad, or these great enchiladas. Somtimes you just can’t replace that flavor beef offers.
  • Turkey Burgers: Jennie-O Lean White Meat Turkey Burgers in the frozen section at your local grocery store are THE best turkey burger around! We eat them at least once a week smothered in cheese and buffalo or bbq sauce.
Last stop! Dairy section! I usually come out of Trader Joes’s with all of these things plus a few random fancy cheeses like goat cheese, blue cheese, or fresh mozzarella. It just depends on what mood I’m in.
  • Milk: Milk is for coffee, cereal, and maybe a cream sauce or mac and cheese. I normally get 2% or lower, unless I have a recipe that calls for whole milk, buttermilk, or heavy cream. I am a food blogger after all!
  • Sour Cream: This is good for topping chili or tacos, salad dressings, sauces, and dips. I am one of those wierdos that could eat plain spoonfuls of sour cream. You can ignore this one if you like!
  • Greek Yogurt: Get the plain non-fat version! I really like Chobani or Fage too. Use them instead of mayo or sour cream in dips or salad dressings. You can also have yogurt parfaits, yogurt in smoothies, or with some fruit and bran for breakfast. (You doubted my need for those bran flakes, didn’t you?)
  • Eggs: This is a basic staple for baking, breading, and making awesome breakfasts. What’s wrong with breakfast for dinner?
  • Shredded Cheese: In addition to the sliced cheese you picked up earlier, grab a few blends which make sense for you. I don’t always buy Mexican Blend, because normally shredded mozzarella will suffice. Shredded mozzarella is great for pizzas, pasta topping, chili topping, in salads, mac and cheese, in a grilled cheese or panini, or used as a tostada.
Alright, before we go, let’s talk about those things that get us off track–the sale items. We know we don’t really need them, but they are such a good deal! Here is what my side tracking items were:
  • Cheesy Hot Dogs: Grilling season is almost over, can you blame me? This is a great weekend food. It is quick and you can socialize around a grill with a beverage in hand.
  • Pre-Made Whole Wheat Pizza Dough: It doesn’t matter if it is on the grill or baked in the oven, pizza is always a huge hit! Dough can be used to make other great things besides pizza. You can even have it for breakfast! Plus, you save on the delivery fees!
  • Frozen Spinach: So what? I like a good frozen vegetable deal! Who are you to judge? They are flash frozen and still have a majority of their nutrients. They are great as a side with some garlic and onions, in a soup, or even in a pasta.
Well,  I hope you all feel more comfortable as you head out to the grocery stores around to do your weekly shopping. I also hope that you gained a lot of recipes from the links I supplied for the next week, maybe two, maybe even a whole month!
FYI some things that I failed to mention are that I always buy seasonal fruit, bacon, and way more cheese than I would like to admit! Have fun shopping!
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  1. says

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts regarding your biweekly grocery trip. I have my staples too, but proteins vary and it depends on the sale items in any given week. Lately, I’ve been coming home with a lot of chicken.

    Oh and you should make your own stock. I have chicken stock on my website I profiled a few months ago and I can refer you to a vegetable stock recipe. Once you make it, you’ll realize how over-priced the store bought stuff is…

  2. says

    What a great idea…I may have to steal it and do a post like this of my own some time. As more of a baker, it’s funny to see where our kitchen necessities differ and where they’re the same!

    Btw, you’re so sweet to link to me. Xoxo.

  3. says

    Ummmmmm… and sherbet are your bad day snacks?

    An entire bag of peanut butter cups, a pint of Haagen-Dasz, and a double fudge milkshake would have made more sense to me!

    hahahahahaha. 😉

    Thanks so much for sharing. Love your blog!

    • Stefanie says

      Hahaha! I live down the block from a 7-11 so if it’s a really really bad day I just head there and buy some Ben & Jerry’s and a bag of sour gummy worms.

  4. Heidi @foodiecrush says

    How much do I love this post, let me count the ways! Wait, I don’t hve enough fingers. What a terrific resource you’ve put together! Keeping a well stocked pantry is essential to efficient and economical meal planning and this list will be such a help to so many.Thank you, thank you!

  5. says

    Stef, I was so pleased to see this post! I love your creative cooking, and I was sure your grocery cart would be filled with exotic items I’d never think to purchase. But I was very pleased to see that what you buy is what we already have in our pantry, and replenish as needed. You’ve given me new energy to cook more creatively, and I thank you! Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend!


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