CTGL Tip: Your grocery list is bound to fail, unless you do this

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Our Groceries app, THE app for organizing your food.

Our Groceries app, THE tool for organizing your food.

A frequent conversation in my world goes something like this, “Mona, I need some help with planning my meals. I never know what to buy, I run out of stuff, and I throw a lot of food away.”

“Tell me this, do you make a shopping list?”


“Well, that’s where I recommend you begin. A shopping list isn’t enough. Make a menu, THEN create a shopping list.

That person shoots me an evil look.

People get downright dismissive, upset or immediately call my credibility into question. It’s alright though, I understand. It’s extra work. And in today’s world, who has time for it? I do, because I’m less likely to eat poorly if I plan my meals. And because of my complete lack of self-control around any type of fried potato or cheese puffs, I have to avoid them altogether by never having them in my home.

If you hate throwing food away, then this is the task you must embrace. Because no matter how detailed your shopping list, you seem to run out of that one item, or have way too much of another that inevitably gets dumped in the garbage.

I learned this years ago as a waitress. Just picture organizing an enormous kitchen: multiple pantries, frozen and refrigerated walk-ins with hundreds of pounds of produce and meat. If the chef doesn’t plan properly, food will go bad, the restaurant will lose money, and they’ll be out of business soon enough. It’s an art form figuring out how to keep the right supplies stocked while keeping the menus fresh and interesting. When I used to wait tables at Ciudad Restaurant in downtown LA, I would study Chef Kasja Aljer with her inventory list, cookbook and notebook. She was fastidious, resembling a scientist preparing her kitchen/lab. And that’s when it hit me: no matter what size your kitchen, there’s no way you can operate without organization and a plan. Which is why I do it every week. Here’s how I take that leap:

  1. Make a list of the things I want to eat for the entire week. This includes the day of the week, or whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  2. Note which necessary foods and produce are already in my cupboard and fridge.
  3. Make some adjustments of our menu according to my own (or my husband’s) wishes.
  4. Sit down and figure out what ingredients are needed to complete the recipe. 
  5. Create a shopping list based on your findings from 1-4.
  6. Look at my budget.
  7. Go shopping.
  8. Place the menu on the fridge door so that I can see what the next meal is supposed to be.

I know it seems daunting. But count on your favorite repeats. You already know the regular items you like to keep handy, that you have Tacos on Tuesdays or a pot of chili on Wednesdays.  The hardest part is getting used to making the menu first, and sitting down to figure everything out. But you will see a difference in your wallet. Here’s my Sample Weekly Menu. And the accompanying Sample Weekly Shopping List to get you started.

And if you want to take your list/menu making ability into 2014, get these apps to streamline the process.  The Our Groceries app makes my methods seem as if they were created in 1999. It’s free, can be used on Apple and Android devices and is my favorite. I’ve also used the Out of Milk and Grocery IQ apps. Both are very good, but I’ve found that Our Groceries works best for my family. But test out the free ones and see if they’re good for your eating lifestyle.

As always, let me know if you have questions: mona (at) cookthisgetlaid (dot) com.


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About Mona

I'm a food writer and home cook that loves to talk about healthy food and romance.
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4 Responses to CTGL Tip: Your grocery list is bound to fail, unless you do this

  1. GiGi Eats says:

    I am the craziest creature of habit you will EVER MEET – so I always buy the same foods every time I go to the grocery store, so at this point, I don’t need a shopping list. My least favorite thing in life is wasting food – I am the QUEEN of the clean plate club, FYI… If you want to join, just ask and I will put you through a series of initiation tests! – so I never really veer off my usual foods out of fear that I just won’t eat the food! If I do veer off track, it’s typically of the frozen variety, which means – IT LASTS FOREVER! LOL!

    • Mona says:

      As a creature of habit, you probably run a close second to my husband – who RARELY ventures off his culinary course!

  2. Viane says:

    A menu, or meal ideas, is a must! I can’t say nothing ever goes to waste but very rarely. I went grocery shopping yesterday, is it sad that I’m excited to meal prep?