Plan Before You Shop

Planning the meals and snacks your family will eat for the next week will save you time and money. Once you have your meal plan, make a shopping list of ingredients you will need. Using that shopping list can help you save money by only buying the things you need. It can also help you save time and gas by not making extra trips to the store. 

Before you go to the store: 

  • Take inventory of your fridge and pantry. Note the items you need to use quickly before they spoil. Plan meals that will use these ingredients.
  • If you have access to, or use a food pantry, think about the food items you can get there. If possible, visit your local food pantry before going to the store. 
  • Build flexibility into your week by planning to purchase foods that can be used in multiple ways. For example, canned tomatoes, beans, and whole grain pasta can all be used for several different recipes. Having these kind of ingredients in your pantry will allow you to make lots of different healthy, affordable, and filling meals.  
  • Recipes are great tools to help you feed your family but using recipes can sometimes feel limiting if you don’t have every ingredient on hand. Here are some common substitutions to use in recipes:
  • Making meals big enough for leftovers can also save you extra cooking time.
  • Make a list for the week. Think about the foods your family enjoys and what ingredients you will need to make meals for the week. Not sure where to start? Below are some staple grocery items: 


Milk, yogurt, block cheese, eggs, peanut butter, beans (canned or dried), rice, pasta, tortillas, bread, oatmeal. Fruits and veggies could be fresh, frozen, or canned: broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onion, carrots, celery, tomatoes, apples, bananas.  

Go to Food Group Tips

Strategies While You Shop

  • Compare unit prices on similar items to find the best price. Learn more about unit price here:
  • Consider buying store brands, for an option that is just as good and usually cheaper.
  • Buy in bulk when possible. Generally, larger quantities of items mean you pay less per unit. Compare the unit price of various sizes to make sure you are getting the best deal. Keep in mind you’re only saving money if you can use it all before it goes bad, so check expiration dates and buy the amount that works for your family. Yogurt and oatmeal are great examples of items that are easy to buy in larger bulk containers.
  • In-season fresh fruits and vegetables are typically less expensive and more flavorful.
  • Buying beverages can put a serious dent in your food budget. Avoid buying bottled water unless you need to. If you do have to buy bottled water, go for gallon sized or larger to save money. 
  • Skip sugar sweetened beverages. Sugary drinks offer little to no nutritional value. If you have a beverage habit, try cutting back by mixing half your regular beverage (soda or juice) with sparkling water or tap water. As your tastes adjust, mix less of the soda or juice and more water.
  • Bottled coffee and tea can be high in sugar. Try brewing your own at home. 


Ready-Made Meal Plans has a variety of ready-made meal plans, including kid-friendly, crockpot, and very quick meal plans.

Search ready-made meal plans (including kid-friendly meals)

Making a Meal Plan walks through the steps of making a meal plan and includes a calendar template to fill out. 

Create your own meal plan

Smart Shopping for Veggies & Fruits

One-page USDA document with 10 low-cost tips for fruit and vegetable shopping. (Spanish version: La Buena Compra de Vegetales y Frutas

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Tips for Every Aisle provides budget-friendly tips to keep in mind while shopping for each food group.

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Save More at the Store

One-page USDA document with 10 tips on couponing (Spanish version also available: Ahorre Más en el Supermercado)

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