How I Simplified Grocery Shopping and Cooking for our Family of 4

I used to be that mom that went to three different grocery stores to try and snag the best deals and healthiest options for our family. At the time I thought it was so convenient that Costco, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods were all in a mile’s radius of each other — and only a 20 minute drive from my house. Barf. I did this every week, you guys! What a crazy person. Thankfully, now I have learned to value my time and seek out convenience in everything I do. This doesn’t mean I started sacrificing our budget or our family’s health. Instead, I have found ways to benefit from the convinces available to me. I do this by shopping and cooking smarter. Here’s the breakdown of how I stick to a budget, make healthy meals for my family and grocery shop way less!

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Set the budget for the month

The best thing you can do to help you stay on track and avoid over-spending is to set a solid grocery budget for the month. Doing this has even helped us stay on a $100 per week grocery plan for our family of 5!

However, if you are not used to setting a budget for your grocery spending, here is the quick rundown of how to start.

How to start budgeting:

  • Review your spending from last month to get a good idea of how much you spend on groceries
  • Set a budgeting limit based on this number
  • Track your spending
  • Adjust your budget each month if necessary

Setting a budget can be so helpful in allowing you to stay on track financially and shop more intentionally.

Also, as you’ll see I set a few mini-budgets throughout the grocery shopping process as well. The first mini budget I set is for our bulk order.

Get help with meal planning

A big part of my shopping strategy involves strategically planning meals in order to maximize my budget. I will do my best to walk you through my strategy for meal planning, however, I understand this isn’t a strength for everyone.

That being said, there are place like $5 Meal Plan where you can get pre-made meals and grocery lists customized to your family’s needs! These meal plans were made by a buy mother of 4 and fit a variety of dietary needs as well as help you stay on budget. Click here to get 2 weeks of $5 Meal Plan for free.

Shop your pantry first!

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to get really familiar with your pantry and the foods that are already in your fridge, pantry and cupboards.

Before you start your grocery shopping for the month, do a quick scan of the leftover food you still have on hand. This way you can begin to gather ideas for what to purchase based on what you already have to work with. Read: How to Shop Your Pantry

Start with bulk buying

If you are in the habit of always bulk buying, or never bulk buying, I’m telling you one of the best ways our family has managed to save money every month is to strategically shop in bulk once a month. (Sometimes more.)

Best bulk buy practices

When it comes to strategically bulk buying, consider the items that you repeatedly buy throughout the month or the things that are usually the staple parts of your meals.

Staple foods:

  • Bread
  • Eggs (Costco has such affordable eggs!)
  • Meat
  • Quick-grab snacks
  • Mixed greens
  • Fruit

By buying these things in bulk, you can not only reduce the amount you spend, but can also cut back on the amount of times you are running to the store. Try bulk buying FREE with Instacart and save $10!

Check out our family's plan for grocery shopping less, saving money and still eating healthy even when our schedule is busy!

Your bulk budget

I like to try to stick to a $200 budget when it comes to buying in bulk. Things like toilet paper or cleaners will often raise this price, which is why I set a goal for $200. (This includes tipping our Instacart driver.)

The amount I budget for our bulk buying has varied throughout the years, but it is always good to set a budget that you know won’t put you in the red for the month.

Tips to avoid overspending:

  • Add your purchases as you go
  • Order online or through Instacart so you can make changes if necessary
  • Have pre-planned routine items, so you already know the price

Build meals around the bulk

Once you have purchased your bulk items, plan the rest of your meals around the bulk.

Take a look at the things you purchased in bulk (like meats, breads, eggs,) and come up with a few staple meal ideas that you can make using these items since you will have an ample amount of them.

The more you do this, the more you will adapt to a “basic menu” that you can stick to. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Example of meal planning:

Chicken

(I prefer using meals with shredded chicken instead of as a full breast. This usually allows us to get more meals out of less chicken.)

  • Teriyaki lettuce wraps
  • Chicken tacos
  • Veggie pasta with chicken

Frozen brocoli

  • Combine with chicken and veggie pasta
  • Add with rice and ground turkey
  • Use on the side of a quick-pick up rotisserie chicken (I love to plan for “slacker days” when I don’t feel like cooking but still want to eat kind of healthy)

Ground turkey

  • Sweetish meatballs
  • Broccoli and rice stir fry
  • Use in spaghetti

More meal prep ideas

When bulk buying goes bad

Here is a general rule for what you should be buying in bulk: Buy only what you are going to be able to work through in a month!

For example: I can get a massive amount of rolled oats at Costco for $12 on Instacart. However, this amount of oats is more than we need for the month. In order to stay on budget, and still have enough food, I will opt for the $2 oats at the local grocery store.

Yes, the bulk purchase might be saving me money in the long run but my game is to stick to a healthy monthly budget and provide my family with healthy meals. Avoiding over-buying things in bulk is one of the best ways to help me stay on track with both of these things.

Check out our family's plan for grocery shopping less, saving money and still eating healthy even when our schedule is busy!

Fill in the gaps

Once you make a basic plan for meals that you can make that center around your bulk buys, the next step is to fill in the gaps. In other words, make a plan to go to the store for the other items that you need.

At this point a wise idea is to shop weekly especially if you like having fresh produce on hand like we do.

During your weekly trips you can keep it simple since you’ve already gotten the big items you will need for your meals throughout the month.

Based on the meals I planned above, here are some of the things I know I’ll need to get to fill in the gaps for at least one week.

  • Quick-grab snacks
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Salsa stuff for tacos
  • Avocados for guac
  • Rice noodles for pasta
  • Rice
  • Spaghetti sauce

Because I pre-planned based off my bulk order, my smaller shopping has been made easier and more affordable!

Always plan for leftovers

Another basic rule of thumb in our house is that when we make dinner we try to make enough to last an additional day or two. This is helpful not in the sense that I save money, but I save on time, which is super important for me as well. Read: 7 Things to Declutter to Get More Time Back in Your Day

When the kids are in sports and we are always running around, we like to make dinners easy and quick so we aren’t tempted to opt for fast food.

This means I try to plan cooking days for the days when we don’t have sports.

Sticking to this method of planning our monthly food and budget has been so helpful (and way easier than it used to be!)

Check out our family's plan for grocery shopping less, saving money and still eating healthy even when our schedule is busy!