5 Things Expert Meal Planners Do Before They Go to the Grocery Store

updated Jul 30, 2019
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Successful meal planning is broken down into three basic steps: selecting your recipes, grocery shopping, and then prepping and preparing. That’s the big picture. But each of these steps can be broken down into a bunch of different strategies for success.

Here, we’re taking a look at the important step that happens in between picking recipes and stepping into the store. If you’re already a pro at meal planning, consider these tips a refresher; if you’re a newbie, these strategies are the key to making meal planning the money-saving, stress-reducing home cooking technique everyone raves about.

1. They scout the fridge and freezer for food that needs to be used up.

Expert meal planners have a knack for seriously limiting food waste. Before heading to the store, they shop their fridge and freezer by scouting for food that needs to be used up. They work that lingering bunch of collard greens or pack of chicken thighs that was thawed but never used into their next meal plan. This prevents them from spending extra money, eliminates buying doubles, and helps them use what’s on hand before it spoils.

2. They make a back-up plan.

Do you have days when you’re just not feeling the dinner that’s in your meal plan? I’m sure you do. It happens to even the most seasoned meal planners. What sets them apart is that they always have a back-up plan in place for when this happens, in the form of back pocket meals. These are the super-simple, fallback meals you can make in a pinch, often without a recipe, like a frittata or pasta and sauce. To do that you need a stocked pantry.

Before going to the grocery store, expert meal planners make sure they have ingredients for back pocket meals, and, if not, they add those ingredients to their shopping list (more on that below!).

How I Organize My Pantry: Tracy Benjamin of Shutterbean (Image credit: Tracy Benjamin of Shutterbean)

3. They take an inventory of what’s on hand in the pantry.

Master meal planners love a stocked pantry, so there’s a good chance they already have staple ingredients they’ll need for the coming week’s recipes. Before finalizing the shopping list and heading to the store, they always double check their recipe’s ingredient lists with what’s already in the pantry.

Check out the weekly grocery deals online to see what pantry items are on sale. In addition to shopping for the weekly meal plan, master meal planners make a point to strategically stock the pantry by way of smart shopping.

4. They make a shopping list, organized by store layout.

Expert-level meal planners know not to hit the grocery store without a list in hand. But what sets these ultra-organized folks apart is that they write out their shopping list based on their store’s layout. Dry pantry goods in one column, produce in another, followed by the meat. It’s a smart tactic that helps them navigate the store quickly and efficiently, with less chance of forgetting something.

5. They pack reusable grocery bags and eat before they go to the grocery store.

Expert meal planners are always one step ahead of the game. These pros know the key to a happier and more successful trip to the grocery store means grabbing a bite to eat before they head out and packing the reusable grocery bags. This is important business because you don’t want that trip to the grocery store to be rushed. Nothing’s worse that doing all this planning, heading to the store, and forgetting five things on your list because you were distracted or hungry. Remove as many obstacles as you can before you head to the store, and don’t forget your bags!