How I make my grocery list

A reader (Molly, I think!) asked a while back if I could share how I make my grocery lists, and I am finally getting around to it. Thanks for your patience, Molly. :) I don’t think my method is very earth-shaking, but here it is.

I make my grocery list in conjunction with my menu planning. I wrote a post before about how I plan my menu, so I won’t bore you with that. And there are more posts about menu planning in the menu planning category.

Since I shop at Aldi and Weis, I take a plain piece of paper (usually the back of some discarded artwork or the back of a junk mail letter, since I do love to re-use paper) and draw a line down the middle. One side of the paper is for a Weis list and one is for Aldi.

When I’m planning my menu, I’ve got my cookbooks and recipe pages out on the table, and I look over the ingredients for each of the meals I’m planning for the next two weeks. When I come across an ingredient I need, I just add it to the list. If I can get it at Aldi, I almost always do…and what I can’t buy at Aldi goes on the Weis side of the shopping list.

I write items on the lists in a way that reflects the way the store is arranged. For instance, the dried fruits and nuts are near the entrance of my Aldi, so I put those things first on the list. And the frozen fruit is almost at the end of the store, so that goes near the end of my list.

I usually look back over the meal plan twice just to make sure I didn’t forget to add anything to the list.

Of course, I also sometimes need to buy items that don’t appear on my menu plan. If I were more organized, I’d keep a running list on the fridge of those things (and sometimes I do, but not very faithfully!). Mostly I keep a running list in my head, but that’s not as reliable as a fridge list. Fortunately, I usually make my list a day before I actually go shopping, and over the course of that day, I tend to remember the things we need.

I don’t do a lot of deal shopping simply because Aldi’s everyday low prices are so good, but I do take a look at the sale flier for Weis, and if I see a good deal on something I don’t really need that week, I sometimes will add it to my list. Buying items when they’re cheap keeps me from having to buy them when they’re not on sale.

And I don’t do a lot of couponing either, but if I see a good sale price on an item like cereal, I usually check coupons.comto see if there’s a printable coupon to use with the sale (I am a affiliate, but I signed up because I already use more than any other printable coupon site, and so I feel comfortable recommending it).

My lists aren’t very detailed, and if I were sending Mr. FG to the store instead of myself, I’d definitely need to clean up my method a bit. But, I can read my chicken scratch (most of the time. There have been occasions where something on my list has stumped even me!), and my very unofficial looking list works for me.

That was kinda rambly, so here are my basic suggestions in a list form.

1. Plan a menu. Going to the store without a basic idea of what you’re going to be cooking is a recipe for over-spending and over-buying (which often leads to food waste)

2. Keep it simple. A pen and plain piece of paper can work quite well. If you make your system too elaborate, you might not get around to using it.

3. Use your menu plan to help you make a specific list. If you know your list is specific and comprehensive, you won’t be tempted to buy extra stuff “just in case”.

4. Keep a running list of items you need. I haven’t personally managed to apply this one very well, but I do keep trying! ;)

How do you make your shopping list? Any tips to add to mine?


Today’s 365 post: Remember when I didn’t snap the grain grinder lid on tightly?

Joshua’s 365 post: And now, a guest post from Lisey


  1. says

    My system is similar:
    1-Menu planning using a freebie calandar that I post inside a kitchen cabinet (no more “what’s for dinner?”). I start with my anticipated ingredients from Angel Food, add entree ingredients from the chest freezer, fill in the sides with what’s on hand.
    2-I shop also at 3 stores (Aldi once a month when I get AF; then Xpect/Marc’s discount grocery store, Stop and shop (Giant eagle elsewhere)). Sometimes I shop at other stores, based on loss leaders/sales. I do use cpns, most stores double up to $1 here.
    3-I keep a running list of needs on the side of the fridge. Grab the last X, write it down or I won’t buy it.
    4-The Friday before AF pickup/Aldi’s run, I review the pantry shelves, cellar shelves, spare fridge, kit fridge, chest freezer for what’s on hand to avoid missing something
    5-I create a list for Aldi, and another for the sale items at the other stores.

    This system has saved me a ton of $. My monthly grocery (food, paper goods, cleaning products, personal care & health/beauty aides but no pet supplies) is $500 for 6, including 4 teens.

  2. Chelsea says

    I do pretty much the same as you – I plan my menu, check my fridge/freezer/pantry for what I already have (I usually do a ‘stocktake’ when planning the menu too but usually just to see what meat etc we have) and then I do a quick wander around the hosue and check levels of cleaning products, toiletries & other items. I am not as methodical as to do my list in order of where things are located in the store but I do try to group items together so when I’m in the dairy section for example if I need milk & sour cream I can see that I need both of them. I only go to one supermarket though so just have the one list.

  3. Coraniaid says

    I plan my menu every 2 weeks but since it’s just myself & the boyfriend I don’t plan breakfast or lunches they can be made up from leftovers or things that we try to keep ‘in stock’ at our home.

    I use a spreadsheet and plan 10 meals (the bf is responsible for the other 4) and then make a grocery list off of the ingredients needed for those. After that I double check my pantry & around the house for anything I already have or need and go fix the list. I email it to the boyfriend & he checks it & sends it back & I make one final check of it & then go shopping.

    I use the spreadsheet because it’s easier for me to track what recipes I’m making frequently, what changes I’m making, what I’m buying too much of or not enough of and what are my current ‘staples’ because they change seasonally for me I’ve noticed.

  4. Susan says

    Best app ever: GroceryIQ. Best thing ever! Helps you keep running lists on your phone, and keeps a history of what you buy at stores, so you can re-add them to your list. You can even find coupons, scan all your items, and if you put in items correctly, it will guide you around the store to find them in the correct order. You can even e mail/text your lists to spouse/roommates, whomever. Dream come true. I used to be a paper list person, but would leave the house without it. And now I always have it on my phone! You can manage online too.

  5. Erika says

    My method is pretty similar to yours, the only difference is that I like to make my list in Excel. Column A is used for department (produce, meat, dairy, deli, etc) and column B is for the product. Then when I’m done I sort by column A values and the whole thing is sorted by department for me!

  6. says

    Something that has helped me to menu plan is to have a “recipe inventory.” I wrote down all my favorite recipes in a Word file (using the notebook layout) and also the ones I want to try. I have them organized by categories (meat, pizza, breakfast, pasta, etc…). When it’s time to plan meals for the week, I open up my Word file and I can see all of my recipes at a glance (I also write down which cookbook they are in and what page they are on so it’s easy to look up ingredients).

    I LOVE to cook and have so many recipes in tons of different cookbooks so it’s really hard to keep track of everything. If I don’t have them all listed in one location then I tend to just make the same things and I forget about the incredible meals I tried 6 months ago =)

    • WilliamB says

      I’m in the same boat as Heidi about too many cookbooks & recipes to try, and problems remembering which recipe is in which cookbook. If I had a nickle for each time I searched my 6 favorite Chinese cookbooks for that leek & napa cabbage recipe…

      Then I made an excel spreadsheet and now it’s much easier to find new recipes that use existing ingredients, or peruse old favorites.

      When I get a new cookbook I read it and mark the recipes I’m interested in by writing a 2-4 word recipe title on a Post-It tab (“chix w leeks & kale”). This is the time-consuming part but since I do the work when I get a cookbook, it’s done gradually – and reading cookbooks is a treat for me. Recently I entered the Post-It’ed titles into the spreadsheet, along with book title and category (I have only a half dozen categories, the rest of the distinguishing information is in the recipe title). Doing this for about 80 cookbooks and 8-900 recipes took only about an hour. I do something similar with Cook’s Illustrated recipes.

  7. says

    I use the back-of-a-piece-of-paper method, too. I’m usually very organized, but I don’t see the sense of complicating a process that at it’s very basics is merely a list. I don’t need a pretty piece of paper for a list I will inevitably be throwing away with a couple of days. I also feel like the process of writing my list out (as opposed to printing it) helps me to remember things I need, and I do the same cookbook-recipe thing that you do. The only LAST thing I do that you don’t mention is try to make sure the ingredients I’m buying will get used up. For example, if I’m buying cilantro for a dish, I also decide we’ll make salsa that week or use cilantro on our pizza or whatever. I try to incorporate anything leftover into the next dish.

    • says

      Rachel, I really like at idea of making sure a tricky ingredient like cilantro is included in something else on your menu for the week. Particularly cilantro. Hmmm…the wheels are turning and thoughts are churning. Thanks for the tip.

      • Vee says

        I know this is late but you could also freeze items like cilantro. When I see a sale on seasonings, I chop it very fine and place a spooonful or two into each little ice tray cube. Then add a little water and freeze. Once frozen, add to a ziploc bag or freezable box with a label. Now I have cilantro for the next few meals.

        • Sophie says

          Vee, I do the same thing as you, but I found a tip on pinterest that I like better. Put the herbs in the ice cube tray then cover with olive oil and freeze. :)

  8. Rebecca Kipe says

    my process is similar to those above as well. Something I’ve done that I can recommend is mounting an erasable board to the front of the fridge (mine is a fun green color!)….I keep running lists there for different stores: walmart, sans club, aldis etc. I also use it for to do lists as well or if I have something coming up that I need to plan for like company coming or a birthday party or potluck – I’ll jot down dishes I want to make or things to buy.

  9. Cheryl says

    The only thing I would add is that I use the store circulars each week to check for staples/dry goods that are on sale. If there is a good sale I will stock up on a year’s worth (depending on best used by dates). I save a ton of money this way. Example: My teenagers favorite soup for a quick meal or snack is $1.85 a can. I will stock up on 24-30 cans when I can get it for 50-80 cents each…

  10. says

    This is exactly how I make mine!
    Except for two stores, I have 4 since I need to go to Costco and the health food store as well as my two standbys.
    I also do the same with reading the store’s flyers when I get there. I know they are available online but I would rather spend that computer time on something else and it’s just as quick to flip through it at the store. I’ll check out that online coupon source though. Thanks for the recommendation!
    I’m also thinking a two week menu would be just as easy for me to plan as a one week menu :)

  11. WilliamB says

    Funny – I think that writing down something when I use the last one is a piece of cake, but planning meals (especially taking sales into consideration) is hard, and more work than I care to do.

    • says

      I agree! I’ve just started this cooking thing (moved into a house recently and actually have a kitchen!), and the planning is extremely difficult for me.

      Hubby and I are starting with a health coach on Sat, and she’s willing to help with meal planning… I’m hoping that will help. With an 8:30-5:00 Mon-Fri work schedule — not counting travel to and from — I’d love to have less evenings that look like the following: get home, sort through the fridge and pantry, realize I have X but not Y or Z in order to be able to make dinner, running to the store to pick up Y and Z, getting home and making dinner, and then falling into bed once everything is done.

      • WilliamB says

        So you’re learning to cook at the same time you’re learning to plan? I can see why you’d find that challenging. Allow me to offer one tip: stick to learning one cuisine at a time. Whatever it is – Italian, French, Thai, Senegalese – the techniques will be similar and many of the ingredients the same.

        OK, I lied. I have a few more tips:
        – I learned a ton from “365 Ways to Cook Chicken.” It’s geared toward beginning cooks, with simple instructions and lots of shortcuts such as frozen veggies.
        – Soup! Soup is easy to make ahead, can accommodate lots of random bits (once you’ve learned how to combine random bits without making it unpleasant), can be frozen and reheated easily, and can be quite cheap. I learned from “A Feast of Soups” but there are many, many good cookbooks out there.
        – For leftovers, I like “Half A Can of Tomato Paste,” which is designed to use up some of this or a little of that. Each chapter is a food that is commonly leftover, such as cream or tomato paste, as one of the big ingredients and the index includes all the book’s recipes that use, say, cottage cheese.
        – Get a handful of fallback recipes that you can make from things you keep at hand, with little notice. My all-time emergency meal is bean dip: 1 can refries + 1 jar good salsa heated in the microwave, with chips or veggies or tortillas. Quick, cheap, possibly quite healthy.

        It will probably get harder before it gets easier, as you learn to cook. Being able to pull together something quick becomes automatic, but only once you have some experience under your belt. Expect a few (hopefully amusing) disasters first.

    • Melissa Z says

      I find it’s easier just to stock up on items (non-perishable) that I know I’ll use as they go on sale, regardless of whether they are on my menu plan. Then my pantry is usually stocked and I don’t have to worry about trying to plan a menu around both sales & what I want to eat. If I run out of something & I need it for a meal, then I’ll just buy it- but only enough for one meal.

  12. Debbie Flowers says

    I have my grocery list (arranged according to store layout) typed in Word as well as the days of the week in a separate file. I generally shop at one store unless I pick up loss leaders here and there. Every 5-6 weeks I print these two files, front and back on same piece of paper, and use for my weekly menu and shopping planning. This keeps me from having to write the same items repeatedly, as well as being easier to circle an item when I need to buy it. Also, I have found that having my menu with me enables me to make changes to it when I find a better deal on meat/main ingredient, etc while shopping. Menu planning is a must. Our current budget for food, cleaning, and beauty products for 4 (2 teenage girls) plus a cat and a dog is $500 a month. I usually am just barely over so am trying to tweak my methods to stay in the budget.

  13. Molly says

    Thank you! I was thinking about this just today, and how so many times I walk out of the store and realize I don’t have tortillas.. which you’d think I’d remember, because we eat them every day.

    • Diane says

      I thought I’d check the other comments before I chimed in and lo and behold, here’s another regular reader with the same tip! I buy mine at Costco and I think it’s even less. It was $3 off in a recent circular and I bought a two-year supply. It’s called Aller-tec and it’s about $16 for 365 once-a-day tablets. Great minds think alike. I suspect that our Kristen may have used the term “Claritin” to remind herself to pick up the GENERIC equivalent!

  14. Ruth says

    I also have a grocery list in Word which I print front and back which is laid out the way our store is laid out. I list all the things I typically keep on hand in columns with a little blank line in front of each item to allow me to add “how many” of that item I want. I have blank lines to add new or unusual items. My husband shops for me, so this helps with clarity and makes it easier for him to find things.

  15. frances says

    Did your mom make a menu?? I think that she imparted more wisdom to you than just where to hide the scissors!!! You are such a wise and fruitful person!!!!!! And a great mentor!!!!

  16. Shawna says

    I used to make my shopping list on paper too. However about half the time I would get to the store and my list would still be on the fridge!! I have an iPhone which is always with me. It has a notebook app on it. I have an aldi and a walmart list on there at all times. This way I know I will have my list with me. This doesn’t mean I haven’t forgotten to out somethingnon my list though.

  17. says

    One thing I also do is plan my menu for the week according to things that are on sale at my local grocery store, Publix. They often have great deals on meats, in-season produce, etc. If Publix has chicken on sale, for example, I will make sure that my weekly menu includes chicken dishes.

  18. Kristin says

    I do a monthly meal plan. I know it sounds crazy to plan that far in advance but it has really works for my family. I use one or two sources for our meals. For example this month and next month are blog recipes that I have wanted to try. I clip each recipe with my monthly meal plan so I am not scrambling to find them. After I make them we decide is it really a keeper or just average. If it is just average the recipe goes in the garbage and I cross if off the menu. If it is a keeper I immediately note any changes to the recipe put it in a plastic sleeve and into my recipe binder. Works like a charm. I make my grocery list for the 2 weeks just on a piece of paper and do one big shop then on the off week I just buy the fresh produce we need. This practice has made my life so much less crazy and complicated. I also keep my monthly meal plan in a binder so that a year from now I can see what my meal plan was in March and if I want to use any of the recipes. If I find a good sale when I go to the store I will alter my plan to make a meal with what is on sale.

  19. HeatherS says

    This looks very similar to my process. I write my lists on used envelopes and then put any coupons I plan to use inside the envelope. I keep two magnetic dry erase boards on my fridge (great deal at Staples at back to school time) and use one to keep a running list of things I run out of and the other to write down the dinner menu plan for the week.

  20. EngineerMom says

    When we got old enough to all reach the freezer part of the fridge, my mom installed a white board up there. The instructions were for us to write down when we used the last of something (opened the last bundle of toilet paper, opened the last gallon of milk, used the last can of peaches or whatever, got low on shampoo, etc.).

    This system really helped my mom when when she was making her list every week, since she wasn’t going to go around checking everyone’s shampoo bottles, and since we kids cleaned our own bathroom, she almost never went in there and wouldn’t know if we were running low on toilet paper.

    I use the same system in my own home now, since it’s hard for me to tell when my husband is getting low on deodorant (I don’t use it every day, he does!), and he gets our son ready for bed, so I don’t always know when son’s overnight diapers or Aquafor are starting to run low. It’s been very helpful in maintaining marital harmony – if it’s not on the list, I don’t know to buy it, so don’t give me grief!

  21. Janknitz says

    Someone gave us a gift of a pad of about 50 preprinted grocery shopping lists with check off boxes called “All Out Of” and it’s comprehensive enough to work well. Things are arranged by category (“frozen”, “canned goods”, “dairy” etc), and if the item isn’t at our usual store we mark where to get it (i.e. Trader Joe’s). We put our menu plan for the week on the back and post it on the fridge .

    The pad is kind of pricey, but I do admit to buying a new one when we ran out because it’s really helpful in organizing shopping. Next time we run out I plan to lay two checklists side by side on the scanner so we can print them out ourselves.

    My husband does most of the shopping and cooking. We all have to contribute at least one dinner idea each week and then he makes up a shopping list for the requested meals, household items, and any lunch and breakfast staples needed. Our family rule is that if it’s not on the list, it doesn’t get purchased, so if our kids want something it must go on the list. ” It does help them get a little more organized about what they want–cuts down on those “Oh, by the way, I need 2 dozen cupcakes for school tomorrow” moments too.

  22. Sarah says

    I admire your hard work and dedication. You really are Super Mom and I am going to try more of your methods. You have a good brain in your head.

  23. Lorraine says

    A few years ago I tried making a master list in Word and then checking off what I needed but I couldn’t keep it up long term. So I write a fresh list every week which works for me. It is in the general order of how the store is arranged which does save time.

    For me, it works best if I estimate the cost of items and write it next to each item on the list. Then I keep a running total while I shop on the same list. These two practices have done done wonders in helping me keep to my budget. If I am making my list and find that I am reaching my budget threshold before I am even close to writing down all of the ingredients I need, then I know it is time to reconsider the menu and maybe pick a dish or two with less expensive or already on hand ingredients.

    I like to cook and subscribe to several cooking magazines. As I read through them, I tear out the pages of recipes I would like to try (or print them off the net) and then put them in a binder of recipes to try. If they are a hit, they go into a binder of “keepers.” If I come across a recipe I would particularly like to try, I put it in a folder of recipes for the very next week and use these to build my menu.

  24. says

    I am in the process of getting a new system. I used to have a running list organized by aisle — but then the store was redone and it all went down the tubes!

    Lately I’ve been making the menu plan and then putting the list on the same page so I could take one last look at the menu before getting in the checkout line. I am experimenting with using different highlighters for different sections (produce, dry goods, etc) but last week it didn’t work very well!

  25. shelly says

    Hi there, I have 194.00 a month for grocerys and 300 cookbooks. would like some more interesting tips on menus. I’m cooking for myself. Can I do this with variety. I prefer frozen veggys, like pasta and fish and chicken. beef is good too. Love soup and salads, but nothing too spicy. Eggs are good too!
    shelly PS. Thank You waiting for response

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