Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping

Food. For many Australians it accounts for the second or third biggest chunk out of their budget, after housing and/or transport. Poor food choices are also leading to an increase of “lifestyle” diseases, such as Type II diabetes and heart disease.

Four Australian personal finance bloggers (Enough Time To, All About Balance, FIRE By Thirty-Five and yours truly) decided to get together and offer an in-depth look at how we all “do” food in our households.

It doesn’t matter whether you like to plan or just wing it, whether you have gourmet tastes or enjoy simple food, or whether you love or hate cooking; we’re sure you’ll find some tips and tricks to eat more healthily and find ways to save.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about our grocery shopping. In that post, I detailed the groceries we’d bought in a given week, as well as the tips we have for keeping costs down. I received some confused questions in the comments section and via email.

People were struggling to see how we were able to make a full week of meals from what we’d bought. I explained to many that we already had other things in the cupboard that allowed us to make our meals, but this still didn’t provide a great deal of context for people.

So, back in April and the beginning of May, I tracked our meal planning and grocery shopping for the entire month. I hope this provides more context for readers and allows you to get a getter idea of what we eat and how we shop.

Breakfast and Lunch

We don’t meal plan our breakfast or lunch. Every weekday, we have porridge (oats to those in North America). Poopsie makes this in the microwave each morning. I have a little bit of milk and a drizzle of honey on mine. Poopsie has a scoop of protein powder, some chopped nuts and half a banana on his.

On weekends, we usually have an omelette, again prepared by Poopsie. This usually includes some cheese and some left over tomatoes or salad greens.

We take our lunch to work every day and unless we make a salad the night before, we always take leftovers. We freeze our leftovers so always have plenty in the freezer to quickly grab of a morning and take to work. Many of the meals you see that we cooked during the month of April would have also been eaten for lunch in the following weeks and months.

14-20 April

Each Friday afternoon, I sit down and construct our meal plan. I do this by looking in the fridge and pantry for what we have that needs to be used, and by consulting a list I keep on my phone of our go-to meals. I printed off my meal plan template and laminated it at work so it could be reused week after week.

This was the first week of my tracking. As you can see, on Saturday night, we went to my parent’s place for dinner. Anything that has (fr) after it means it was a meal we got out of the freezer.

Once I make this plan, I do a shopping list up for Poopsie which he puts into his phone in the order in which the store is laid out. Here’s what we bought this week:

At the time I did this tracking, our aim was to spend about $400 a month on groceries. This week we came very slightly over budget, but nothing much to worry about.

21-27 April

First of all, please excuse the messy writing on this menu plan. I don’t remember why, but Poopsie wrote this one out. Hopefully you can all read it…

During this week, ANZAC Day occurred. If you follow us on Instagram, you may have seen that we attended a pretty unique event that night.

Poopsie’s father is a member of the Freemasons. A special service was held at the Grand Lodge in Brisbane and Poopsie’s parents invited us along. We had dinner with them at their house beforehand, so we didn’t make a meal plan for that night.

The service was quite amazing to see. Before meeting Poopsie, I didn’t know much about the Freemasons (except what I’d read in Dan Brown novels). It was really interesting to see a ceremony and see the traditions they uphold. I also really enjoyed belting out a few hymns.

Anyway, back to meal planning. Here’s our grocery spending for this week:

This week we started having a green smoothie with our breakfast most mornings. Poopsie whips these up in the NutriBullet, usually with spinach or kale, a banana and pineapple. Whenever we have a banana start to go bad, we put it in the freezer and they’re perfect for a smoothie. We often have a lot of frozen bananas in our freezer, as I’m a bit funny once the skin starts to discolour.

This was a very low spend week, as we had a lot of leftover veggies from the week before. Sometimes that happens, but it’s not particularly common.

This must also have been the week I got a bad blister.

28 April – 4 May

While I didn’t put an (fr) next to it, the fish from this week’s menu was already in the freezer. We often buy a 1kg bag of New Zealand Hoki at Aldi for a little under $10. It lasts us quite a while.

Here’s the shopping list for the week:

For a couple of people who very rarely eat meat, this was a heavy meat week. The cooked chicken was for our weekend lunch- we love chicken and avocado rolls. Poopsie also had an intense craving for hamburgers, so we made our own. I have no idea why we bought two lots of rolls at two different shops- bizarre.

I baked a Lemon pie for next week’s menu, but needed to buy the ingredients this week (eggs, butter and condensed milk), as it requires a couple of days to set. We served this pie at next week’s Mother’s Day Dinner.

Despite the extra meat, this was another relatively cheap week.

5-11 May

My parents were headed overseas on the Monday, so we had an early Mother’s Day dinner for my mum. She requested roast, so it was another meat week for us. I also made a lemon pie for dessert which we served with cream. Poopsie made his famous zucchini and halloumi entree.

We also went camping. I didn’t add the camping meals in but from memory they were fried rice and soup from the freezer. We ended up coming home early due to the weather, so just made the fried rice at home instead.

The shopping list for the week:

The tuna was used for salads at work and the chocolate, Doritos and grapes were special treats to take camping.

This was our most expensive shop of this experiment, largely due to the roast beef we bought.

Summary

This was a fairly typical month for us. We eat the majority of our meals at home, prepared mostly by Poopsie with ingredients we bought that week. Occasionally, we enjoy meals at the homes of friends or family, and even more rarely we eat out for dinner.

While this experiment spanned over two seperate months, it still indicates a four week period. In this period, we spent $351.86. That is actually under budget for us, but not by too much. We find it all evens out in the end.

We find meal planning so much better than the old method we used to use- in which we’d come home from work, open the fridge and try and figure out what to make for dinner. Meal planning ensures we always know what we’re going to have, we always have the ingredients on hand and we almost never waste any food.

Hopefully, if you were one of those people curious after reading our grocery post, this has provided more detail and evidence about our meal planning and grocery spending.

Do you meal plan? How do you do it? We would love to hear your methods in the comments below!

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15 Responses to Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping

  1. Miss Balance says:

    Lots of eggs and veggies, great to see! I might need to hear more about this famous zucchini and Halloumi starter and also those veggie fritters! Eating more vegetarian meals is definitely something I’d like to do more of.
    Well done for staying under budget. $200/person per month is a reasonable amount and you are eating good quality (and by the sound of it delicious!) foods.
    P.s. I saw a lot of avocados on that list

  2. Mrs. ETT says:

    Eggs on hash brown – brilliant! I’m a total sucker for hash browns, so I’m definitely going to steal this as a meal. Also, can you please send me the recipe for turkey soup? Sounds delicious.

    Having the laminated board for your meal plan is a great idea that I’ve decided to promptly steal. It would make things easier when we shift meals around in a week as well.

    (You’re mean about Poopsie’s handwriting!)

    I’m guessing you find the frozen hoki just fine? We don’t eat nearly enough fish, and I was disappointed that Aldi doesn’t sell any fresh (which is how I usually buy it). I need to try to remember to meal plan with it more. At the moment I don’t have enough freezer space to keep a large bag, but when we fix that in the future I will consider it.

    You have nice, simple, mostly vegetable-based meals. I can see that we could cut down our bill even further if we ate more vegetarian. Thanks for the detail, I’m sure I’ll have more questions later down the track (but please, can I have the turkey soup recipe?)

    • Poopsie asked me to point out to you that these are not hash browns from the frozen section of the supermarket, these are hash browns he made from a potato. He feels the healthy/cheap benefits would be lost if brought from the supermarket ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I’m so glad you like the laminated idea! It was so handy, and made us waste a lot less paper. I am a bit of a neat freak, so I like things nice and neat (hence my disdain for Poopsie’s handwriting).

      The frozen hoki is great. Honestly, I have been very impressed by it. I have used it for some recipes that would not usually use Hoki, and they’ve still worked out great. I definitely recommend it if you’re buying frozen fish. We just have it in the freezer and use it maybe once a week (we are trying to remember to increase this). The bag isn’t actually that big, it’s about the same size as a frozen veggies packet, and there is a fair bit of air in it. Another option is to buy the bag and then seperate two pieces (or however many you two would eat) into individual freezer bags. They could then be put in the freezer a bit easier, you can squeeze them into smaller places.

      I haven’t forgotten about the turkey soup recipe! I am seeing my mother-in-law this week (it’s her recipe), so will ask her then!

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  4. Pia says:

    Ah this was so interesting to read! I love these insights into somebody else’s life. Whether it’s because I’m a busybody, or whether it’s because I love the motivation it gives me, I’m not sure. Hah! That goal of $400 a month of groceries is a great one too, I think I will be stealing that.

  5. LadyFIRE says:

    We have a similar approach to the laminated sheet – we use a whiteboard. But to be honest it’s generally empty because.. I’m super lazy :p Blank spots generally mean ‘grab something easy from the freezer’ and I just fill in the days I actually need to cook.

    Your Aldi numbers actually look pretty good – every other time I’ve seen someones Aldi shopping I haven’t been overly impressed. I might actually poke around the Aldi near our place one day. Unfortunately it’s in the wrong direction and a place we pretty much never go to :/

    • We have found we definitely save money with Aldi. It may not work for all variations of shopping/eating, but it does for us ๐Ÿ™‚

      • LadyFIRE says:

        I didn’t think Aldi was going to be worthwhile for us – but it turns out their milk is pretty good. And it made great yoghurt! 3L of milk for $3, and hour of lurking in my kitchen checking the milk temperature and then leaving it to culture overnight – easiest cheapest yoghurt ever ๐Ÿ˜€

  6. Great to see a meal plan/shopping post. You two seem super organised and your food budget is very reasonable. Just a couple days ago I made a spreadsheet that I’d like to use with a handful of template meals/snacks and shopping list. I’m hoping it will help me eat healthier, save time / energy thinking about what to eat, cut down on extra trips to the store and maybe, *maybe* reduce my food bill!

    • Good plan, Wealth from Thirty. We keep a list of “go to” meals because sometimes, we seriously have a mental blank and just can’t think of anything. So it’s always good to have yourself some sort of list. Would love to see a post from you about how this is working after a few months.

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  8. I remember being one of those confused people who couldn’t get my head around how you guys bought so little in a weekly shop haha.

    Chicken and avocado rolls – I think you just set off a craving, delicious. We bought one of those Coles chickens last weekend to eat for lunch – they had just put the discount stickers on – sealed the deal and we just had to have it..

    I still am a bit mind boggled by how little you guys spend but not eating much meat must play quite a big factor. I am a massive advocate for the meal planning sheet –
    great to see yours and also love seeing those familiar Aldi brands in your photo :).

    Mrs DDU

    • I do think not eating meat is the key. We have eaten a little bit of meat the last two months (for a variety of reasons), and you can definitely see it in the cost variation! Groceries have been a lot higher. Even the meat we have been eating though, has been once, maybe twice a week, so still a lot less than the average. I think most people would be shocked how much they would save if they didn’t eat meat. Certainly being vegetarian is not for everyone, but the cost and health benefits of reducing meat a little are definitely there!

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