Meal Planning with Grocery Pickup

Rewind to a simpler time in the fall of 2018 with me.  I was newly a mom of two, and I was trying (and failing) to figure out how the heck to get groceries with two kids under 2 in tow. When you live 15-20 minutes from town, grocery trips take a little longer, so we’ve been only shopping once a week as long as I can remember. The problem was there just isn’t room in the cart for both kids and enough food for the week.  I also had no desire to hustle through the store hoping nobody pooped or cried more often.

I shopped with baby James in his infant carseat while big-brother Dominic was at daycare until my maternity leave was over.  After I returned to work, one miserable Saturday I took both boys to the store and pulled a stroller while I pushed a cart (or vice versa – it was too stressful to remember clearly). We made it, but once was definitely enough. Walmart had this relatively new service (at that time) called grocery pickup, so I texted a friend that I knew had used it.  She has four kids (a true professional), swore by it, and sent me a $10 off code, so I gave it a shot.  I spent 10 minutes at the grocery store and got enough food for the whole week.  IT WAS INCREDIBLE!!

In the last year and a half I’ve really refined my process, and with the recently expanded interest in eating meals at home as well as grocery pickup/delivery, I thought I’d share.  I work Monday through Friday, and during normal times, I spend a couple of hours a day commuting.  Sundays are usually busy with church and such, so Saturday mornings are my preferred time for errands.

My process:

On Friday night after the dishes are done, I browse the cabinets and refrigerator for staples that we’re low on, things that need eaten, and a general inventory of what we have on hand. Then I sit down on the couch, make a list of meals we’re planning to eat at home and start planning what to make for each of those meals.  Obviously, since I spend my Friday nights meal planning, we don’t get out a lot, so most weeks this includes seven dinners and a couple of lunches. I limit my planning to meals that we eat as a family. Instead of specifically planning breakfasts, snacks or weekday lunches, I just make sure we have things we like on hand (part of that inventorying process, and a pretty repetitive part of the list).  We also use a meal kit delivery service, and I do include those meals on my list so that we don’t have to eat pasta three nights in a row.

weekly meal plan
This week’s meal plan – transcribed from my post-it note via Instagram create.
Benefits of meal planning and grocery pickup in combination:
  • Saving Time: Although I arguably spend way more total time than when I aimlessly wandered the store, its time when my husband is finishing chores and my boys are sleeping.  Also, I can have a beverage while I meal plan on my couch, and I believe that is frowned upon while grocery shopping with small children (though I think it may help!)
  • Eating more variety:  I was notorious for buying the same ingredients week after week because I had no plan, and that’s what came to mind while I pushed my cart through the store.  Not only does that make mealtime boring, but I like exposing my kids to a lot of variety for nutritional reasons, too.  Planning ahead gives me an actual visual look at our meals to help make sure we get a variety of styles of meals, as well as different meats and veggies and grains throughout the week.
  • Saving Money: Meal planning in general saves money because you buy what you need and reduce waste.  Grocery pickup adds another layer to the savings by eliminating impulse buys due to momentary hunger or flashy advertising.  I haven’t put numbers to it, but I think our overall savings the past couple of years has been substantial.
  • Social Distancing: This is a new added benefit.  Walmart, at least, has made some improvements to the process to make it truly contact-free, and the associates loading your groceries wear masks.  I only made it my usual seven days this week, but at one point were able to stock up for about 10 days at a time.
Finally, a few “pro” tips:
  • Go in the morning if you can. I’ve seen lots of posts lately of 30-40 minute pickups.  It’s not been totally foolproof during COVID, but before 9 am I’ve had much better luck at spending under 15 minutes getting my groceries. I also think you probably get fewer substitutions because stores restock overnight.
  • Plan ahead.  Pre-COVID I would actually place my order Friday night.  Now to get my preferred time-slot, I do need to place my order Thursday night or Friday morning. This will vary by store.  At one point in early April, I had to reserve my slot 2-3 days in advance.  You can edit the order until pretty close to your day/time (at our store it’s usually 1:45 am for some reason), so I still spend Friday night finalizing things.
  • Allow substitutions.  You can always reject a substituted product, but sometimes you get the larger size or name brand item for the price of the smaller/generic one.  Not allowing substitutes just means you won’t get your item at all if it’s not available.
  • Pay attention to quantities and sizes. The largest can of Rotel you’ve ever seen looks almost exactly like the 10 oz. can, and the mini-muffin cups look a whole lot like the full size ones.  Please, learn from my mistakes!

Have you been meal planning or using grocery pickup for a while? Have you tried it recently due to stay-at-home orders or social distancing?  Any tips or benefits I missed?

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