Grocery Challenge: Wrap Up


The All You Grocery Challenge ended on Monday and I am sure those of you who participated are glad it’s over.  not glad about participating but the work in tracking expenses right?  I know that part takes time and that’s the reason I apologize for not sharing last week.  However, I have rounded up my receipts and totaled my expenses and am sharing to share my totals with you.

Week 4

Walmart $33.64
Pick N Save $24.2
Thai Take Out $40
Jimmy Johns $7.34
Starbucks $4.15
Total $109.33

Week 5

Walmart:$57.44 (this actually includes food that we are still using this week)
Pick N Save: $10.46
McDonalds: $8.83 (from visit to my OB 40 miles away, no joke)
Costco: $15.60

Challenge total:

Groceries: $208.75
Eating Out:$199.55

Lessons Learned:

  • Eating out is a budget buster.  I am sure that doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone.  Half of the expense to feed my family was from eating out and I will be honest and admit that we did make an effort to be “good.”  So why is this realization important for you?  If you are not including eating out as part of the cost of feeding your family every week you are deluding yourself.  If you are only counting the $50 or whatever you spend at the grocery store as part of your “feeding your family” budget then you are underestimating your expenses.
  • A pantry is a big blessing and you need to use what you have in there.  I am so happy my family is able to enjoy of a well stocked pantry.  Using a lot of what we have in the pantry allowed us not only to keep grocery costs down but also helped us find quick meal solutions instead of ordering take out.  But you also need to make sure you use what you have there.  I am ashamed to say that I found some expired food in there or that I kept buying items I had plenty of already (cereal, anyone?).  I hope you have had a chance to explore to help you find organization solutions and ideas to use those items you have in the pantry.  I still owe you a giveaway sponsored by them, I am sorry.  I am trying to get through the Back to School giveaways before focusing on this one.  It’s coming, and it’s huge!
  • I am not good a meal planning.  I think my failure as a meal planner comes from not seeing meal planning as the flexible tool it is.  I sometimes feel that if my plan says I must cook “X” on Tuesday, if I don’t get around doing it I feel like I have failed the whole week.  Do you have any tips on how you make meal planning work for you?  I could use them.

Thank you everyone who signed up for this challenge and participated alongside me.  I am really crossing my fingers and hoping to hear it was one of my readers who won this challenge.  If you participated, how did you do?

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  • Katherine D.

    As far as meal planning goes, I used to make out a menu that said we will have “X meal” on “X day”. I’ve found it’s easier now to just come up with 7 meals that we will have, not assign them to a specific day, and cook what we feel like eating/have time to make from that list. (Obviously if a meal uses a specific fresh ingredient, I’ll make that as one of the first meals of the week).

    It’s a lot more flexible, and I’ve found that we’re far less likely to go out if we still have choices.

  • tyree

    I missed their deadline to enter my info and was sad about that, but was very pleased with how little I spent. We went out to eat twice and still averaged about $50 a week for a family of five. I bought over 10lbs of blueberries, a 1/3 flat of raspberries, articokes, etc. We ate good and didn’t miss out on a thing and even went out to dinner as a family once that month and me and the girls went to McDonalds for a quick lunch after hitting some very good grocery sales. We got some amazing sales last month (inclueding over 30 pints of bryers for less than $5.) I’ve only couponed for about 3-4 monthes and already had such an amazing stockpile. I didn’t have to buy meat all month (we had a bunch frozen–bought an 1/8 a cow earlier this year and forgot it was in the freezer til’ the chalenge. 🙂 Anyway even though I sadly didn’t get to offically enter the challenge it was a good experience. Thanks for you blog.

  • As far as the meal planning goes, I do something similar to Kathernine. I make a list of the things we can have that week and scratch it off the list after I make it. Nothing is assigned a specific date. I usually take inventory of the pantry and freezer, and make a list around that. I usually include about nine meals for dinner as well as a variety of breakfast and lunch ideas.

    We also have a little tradition at our house called Mix Match. My kids (11,8 and 2) love it! It’s where they are allowed to get/make whatever they want (within reason, my eight year old son has tried to get by with potato chips, cracker and cookies as a meal). They often hit the leftovers, warm up heat and serve meals, make sandwiches, or have cans of soup. It’s not big deal but it’s a HUGE treat for them and it gives me a night to NOT think about dinner without going out to eat. I don’t know the age of your kids…this probably will only work with older kids (my 11 year old helps the 2 year old). We have a a Mix Match night once a week! 😀

  • Delores

    We too do the “make it yourself” meal. My kids love it. And I am glad they do. I don’t know why they do, but I am just thankful for it. I am not that great at meal planning and just sort of think like this: okay, main dish for dinners for 5 nights (ham, beef, what’s in our freezer, etc); okay, potatoes and rice (do I need to buy some? we have a wheat and corn intolerant boy so avoid those); veg for 5 meals (means lots of fresh veg); snacks (lots of fresh fruit); anything on sale? (ice cream). We buy bulk oatmeal for breakfast. And I try to keep cheese/peanut butter on hand for snacks. Plus we have chickens and fresh eggs so that usually is a meal for lunch or dinner (we homeschool). I know this is not really a menu planning, but it comes from a long time of actual writing out menus and just knowing what we need on hand. Then I just really, really, really try to use what we have. There are no decent grocery stores nearby (who wants to go grocery shopping in a store that smells like cigarette smoke?) and I am too cheap to spend the gas for a trip for 2 items. Oh, and we have powdered milk on hand that I use for baking. I don’t know if that all helped, but it is what we do. We managed, for a family of 8, to average out to about $100 a week. I think if the challenge were longer we would have averaged more because we had just bought a lot of pork and had slaughtered a couple of chickens just before it started. But I did pay for the bulk oatmeal and rice during the first week of the challenge. So, in reality I think we average about $150/week.

  • I can relate to your meal planning struggles. I was in the same boat until I realized that meal planning wasn’t a stiffling plan to limit my creativity or desires. You should see my menu at the end of the month, there are so many arrows, where I’ve switched around meals. The thing that helped me was to have a variety of foods planned each week and a variety amounts of time to prepare them. I try to have 1-2 quick meals that can be thrown together in a hurry if things come up. I always try to plan at least 1 crockpot meal a week for those crazy days when all I have time to do is dump things into the crockpot in the mornings.

    But even though meal planning is a great tool, you have to make it work for you. I hope you’ll be able to figure out a way to make it work. I love your site and check it everyday.

  • Megan J

    When I meal plan I do so like the others have mentioned: I write a list of 5-6 meals for the week according to the grocery store ads and then make them up as we feel like it. Usually, though, I just scour the grocery ads and buy any loss-leaders that we need and then fill in with manager’s special items in the store and an Aldi run. Then I plug various ingredients into or pull out my “how to cook everything” cookbook (Mark Bitman – genius!) to find something new and interesting (tomorrow is zucchini, corn and tomato soup).

  • Lisa

    I, too, am terrible at meal planning. I try to take inventory of what I have and cook around that, but like the other responses, don’t assign specific dishes to specific nights of the week. I also try to “cook ahead” if I can. For instance, if I am making a chicken and have some leftovers, I prepare that (next) dish that night. Same with ground beef- browning 2 lbs. of beef gives me 1 lb. that I can put in a freezer proof dish for another night. (what a wonderful timesaver!) Last night, my kids shucked like half a million ears of corn (ok, not that much), but we ate some, and I cut the kernels off the others and made a corn casserole that I’ll bake tonight. I find that if I know I have something in the fridge ready to go, or in the freezer that thaws relatively quickly, then we are less inclined to eat out. My checkbook thanks me every time!

  • my meal planning strategy involves planning 3 or 4 specific meals a week and not assigning them to any particular day. it gives me the flexibility i need along with the structure of a meal plan to guide my grocery shopping.

  • I really don’t have much else to add to what the previous posters have said, just to agree that I come up with 5-6 meals per week. I generally assign them to a day, but am very flexible with that, just cook whichever meal we feel like having. We also usually have one “leftover” day and then eat out one day a week. I make my menus based off the sale ad and what we have in the pantry/freezer.

  • Marla

    We meal plan for the month, then it is done. I buy the nonperishable stuff all at once and have it done with. Then like others above I swap day for day and cross off what we eat.
    I try to balance as well, once a week on pork, once a week on beef, etc. That way we are eating beans and non meat meals in balance.

  • Months ago I found someone’s blog where she told how to interview your family to get down on paper every single meal they like. She meant all the dishes for each dinner, not just the main dish. Then you divide those meals up into two categories: everyday meals and expensive meals to use for special occasions. After that, you spread them across several weeks, with the goal of having the chicken, the beef, the pork, the meatless, etc balanced throughout the weeks.

    It was a bit of work at first, but I did this, and I got eight weeks of menus, six days a week. We always plan a roast for Sunday, so I don’t need to write that down every time. I put each week’s menus on a separate piece of paper. I numbered each week, one through eight, and then I just rotate them. I also don’t assign the meals to specific days; I just choose whichever one I want to make that day. I have done this for about eight months now, and it’s working very, very well.

    A very surprising thing that’s happened as I shop for what I need each week is that I find so much of what I need on sale the week I need it or the week before. I also know what will be coming up eventually, such as needing frozen snow peas one week, or tortilla chips another week. So I can watch for them.

    Over the months I have made a few changes to some of our menus, but I don’t have to re-invent the wheel, so to speak, every single week. And eight weeks is plenty of time for a complete rotation before the same menus come up again. We haven’t gotten bored yet.

    One last note: sometimes as I begin to pull out ingredients for a particular dish, I suddenly feel like eating something else not on the week’s menus. So I make it instead. It actually happened tonight. I was going to make chicken and dumplings, but I didn’t feel like making gravy. Then I thought of poppy seed chicken and it sounded more appealing so I made it instead.

  • I meal plan, but only because it makes it easier on me in the long run. I don’t have to try and think what to make that day and I can go grocery shopping once for the week. I only meal plan dinners and keep things on hand for breakfast and lunch. My kids are little and usually eat scrambled Eggs or pancakes for breakfast. The pancakes I make up a double or triple batch for the week and freeze. I also sneak in some pureed sweet potatoes to make them a bit healthier. Lunches are usually sandwiches, wraps, chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, etc. So breakfast and lunches are easily covered without making an actual meal plan.

    Dinners I do assign a meal to a day depending on what we have going on that week. I make sure I have a couple of quickie meals on the menu as well as at least one that doesn’t have to be made at all. Like something using meat from the freezer or pasta/sauce that can also keep. That allows for if something comes up of if you find yourself at the end of the week with a lot of leftovers that need to be eaten. Sometimes, if I know the meals that week are going to generate quite a bit of leftovers, I’ll actually assign “leftovers” to one day. And I switch my days around a lot. Example, last nigth we were supposed to have peppersteak in the crockpot. I had a dentist appt in the morning and then got busy with other stuff, completely forgot it was a crockpot meal until I glanced to see what I was making for dinner. So we had spaghetti instead (which was supposed to be Friday) and will have the peppersteak tonight. Which reminds me…I better go get that started. 🙂

  • I DID participate in the ALL YOU grocery challenge for our family of 6 and kept track on my blog. You can see our menu plans and spending all here:

    One thing I felt I did differently is that we didn’t skimp on eating out. Hubby and I had a date night at Outback, we celebrated my daughter’s birthday at Red Robin, we were on vacation for the first week, etc. So I had fun showing that you can still splurge without breaking the bank!

    Here are the grand totals, which include eating out:
    Week 4 Total: $62.92
    Week 3 Total: $57.31
    Week 2 Total: $89.52
    Week 1 Total: $63.74
    TOTAL for the month (groceries and eating out): $273.49 for a family of 6 (our All You “allowance” was $600)

    I resisted meal-planning for a long time, and have only started to come around the last several months. I realized it is one less thing to worry about, and I don’t stress about switching days. I type up a month at a time on the computer, and can switch out a few things here and there and just print it off each month with a few changes. I operate a lot like most of the previous commenters mentioned, switching days or crossing off things as we go. No biggee!

  • I am finding that I need both flexibility and rigidity in my meal planning! I make sure we have ingredients for 5-6 dinners a week and then use leftovers/pantry items to make 1-2. We take leftovers to eat for lunch at work. Sometimes I don’t feel like the meal I planned, so I’ll chose another one on the plan and make the originally planned meal later. Sometimes, though, I’m so tired when I get home from work it’s nice to not have to think about what to cook. If I don’t make all the meals I’ve planned for (if we eat at a friend’s house or cave and go out) they go on next week’s plan.

  • I too just keep a running list of meals that I have all the ingredients for, instead of planning specific days. But I found the key thing for me was to take 5 minutes after dinner and dishes to take whatever I need for the next day out of the freezer and put it to thaw in the refrigerator. If I don’t do that, I’m scrambling the next day! That small detail has really made the difference. Small and simple, but key!