how to write a grocery list

It’s time to gather tools and prepare for the Grocery Store Battle. I kid. My grocery store is lovely and my family has befriended a half dozen of the employees, who are beyond kind, and will back me up when my children announce their plans to run freely through the parking lot, hands unheld.

First, I claim my portion of the dining room table and spread out my papers. I’ve got my notepad and pen. I’ve created my meal plan. I’ve sorted my recipes. My grocery store flyer has all my circles identifying items that may make the list.

I don’t need to buy every ingredient for each meal every week, because I’m not starting with an empty pantry, fridge or freezer. I need to buy the things that can spoil, like produce, some meats, dairy, and eggs or a special ingredient for a new meal that I’m trying. I do need to replenish some staples most weeks. I’ve been burned before, so I keep a notepad in the kitchen and write down anything as I use it up.

I write down everything I’ll need for the week’s dinners. But I can’t forget other meals and snacks! For breakfast we often have eggs, and cereal in the summer or oatmeal in the winter. Lunches are usually sandwiches or leftovers. With two kids, it’s pretty much Snack City over here. Fresh fruit, raisins, Larabars and cheese can appeal to all ages but we are also never without purée pouches and, of course, the ubiquitous Goldfish cracker. Right now we are on a rainbow Goldfish bender.

I carry my list around and double-check it against what’s already in my home. I tend to stock up when the store has a good sale, and often a recipe doesn’t use the entirety of a purchased ingredient. There’s often no need to buy another pound of ground beef, box of panko breadcrumbs, or bottle of Dijon mustard if I look in my cupboard, pantry, fridge or freezer.

Personally, I go crazy unless my list is organized by section. I’ll forget something, and then another thing, and then find myself having spent an extra 20 minutes trekking back and forth. At this point my kids will have realized it and I no longer have the upper hand. So after I know I’ve written everything I need and crossed off anything I don’t, organizing it is! I group items from the produce department, then dairy and eggs, baking supplies and spices, frozen foods, then pasta, rice, beans, and canned tomatoes, and finally, meats and seafood.

Some vegetables and proteins won’t last more than a couple of days, so I usually plan to pop into the grocery store closest to my work and pick up those crucial ingredients midweek. Those ingredients get copied to my kitchen notepad and I’ll add anything else I run out of throughout the week. Sometimes my grocery store has a really good deal on something like eggs, but they limit it to four units. When I go in midweek, I’ll grab a few more then.

I don’t often use coupons, because I find that many of them are for the packaged prepared foods that we rarely buy. But sometimes I want to stock up on an easy-to-grab treat for snacks on the go, or there’s a bargain to be had for our favorite cold cereal. I’ll paperclip these to the shopping list but still occasionally manage to forget to hand them over.

Often I’ll highlight or circle items that were on the grocery store’s sale flyer. I’m not committed to buying the featured items though, because sometimes it’s not the best deal. This helps me remember to look.

Then it’s off to the store! Preferably, with the list, and with my reusable shopping bags. Once I’m there, I stick to the list! It can be so easy to stray and pick up items I don’t need because I’m hungry and they look good.

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