How to Buy Two Weeks of Food When You Don’t Want to Meal Plan

How to Buy Two Weeks of Food When You Don’t Want to Meal Plan

We’re all learning how to grocery shop less frequently these days, but grocery shopping for two weeks at a time is not as straightforward as it may seem. Here we’ll share our best tips for how to plan your groceries even if you don’t want to plan all your meals in advance. 

  • By Leila Kalmbach
  • April 29, 2020

The current guidelines for grocery shopping during the coronavirus pandemic recommend shopping just once every two weeks. For those of us who are used to popping over to the store any time we’re running low on food, this is a massive shift in thinking — and if you’re not aware of exactly how much food you eat in a day, shopping (or ordering online) for two whole weeks can seem like a big guessing game . . . especially if you just don’t want to plan out every meal you’ll eat weeks in advance.

With a few tips, however, grocery shopping for two weeks at a time is very doable, and can even save you some money. To make it easier, we’re offering our favorite ways to figure out how much food you and your family will realistically eat in two weeks. 

But first, let’s get the easiest method out of the way: If you’re used to shopping for one week of groceries at a time and you don’t mind eating the same thing twice, just buy twice as much of each ingredient as you normally would. This assumes that you know roughly how much food your family goes through in a week, and that you can make reasonable adjustments if you’re eating more at home right now. 

Not sure that’s the strategy for you? Keep reading for how to break it down!

Must-Have Items

If you don’t have time to meal plan, making a list of “Must-Have Items” will still be helpful to keep around for future trips to the grocery store. Once you make this list, you won’t have to make it again, and instead, just add or remove items as needed. You can keep this tacked onto your fridge or saved in your phone for easy reference.

These “must-have items” are foods that you and your family keep around at all times. This can be specific breakfast items, snacks, or basic cooking essentials. To get started, think about your family’s consumption on a typical day and make a list of everything you and your family eat on an average day. Make sure this list reflects your family’s own preferences and habits — the stuff that a universal grocery list could never accurately capture. Some ideas include:

Breakfast

  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Coffee
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Peanut butter
  • Yogurt

Snacks

  • Applesauce
  • Carrot sticks
  • Chips (tortilla, potato, lentil)
  • Chocolate bars
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Dehydrated or freeze-dried fruit
  • Fruits
  • Popcorn
  • Trail mix / nuts / seeds

Cooking Essentials

  • Butter
  • Garlic
  • Lemons 
  • Limes
  • Onions
  • Stock (chicken, beef, vegetable)

So for a two-week grocery haul, if you know that your family goes through a quart of milk and a jar of peanut butter every week, you simply have to double up.

Also, if there are any meals or dishes you know you want before doing your shopping, be sure to include those ingredients in your “must-haves” list. For example, if you’d like to make biscuits but wouldn’t normally buy buttermilk when you get to the dairy section of the store, add buttermilk to your “must-haves” up front. Many ingredients and meals can be improvised, but you just can’t make lasagna without lasagna noodles, chowder without cream, or banana splits without bananas.

Time-Saving Tip:

Keep a notepad or list handy in your kitchen to jot down “must-haves” that are almost out. That way, you’ll know to replenish those items on your next grocery run without having to dig through the fridge and pantry to check what you need to buy.

Proteins

Meat and Seafood

When it comes to meat and seafood, some simple math will go a long way. If you know your family goes through roughly two average-sized packages of chicken, fish, or beef per week, you’ll know you need to buy four packages for two weeks (and freeze three of them). But if you’re walking into a store without a specific list, keep some guidelines in mind. These may vary for each family, but in general, 1 lb. of meat = 4 servings. So if you are cooking for four, 1 lb. of chicken would equal one meal.

Some stores are short on meat at the moment or have limits on the amount you can buy. If there aren’t enough meat options to meet your family’s needs, make up for those servings by opting for vegetarian sources of protein, canned tuna, or faux meat alternatives. (If you’re new to meat alternatives, some can be found in the meat section, while others will be in the frozen or fridge health food sections of your store.) Similarly, if you don’t see what you need in the refrigerated section, don’t forget to check the freezer aisle!

Vegetarian Proteins

These tend to be easier to store because they’re often shelf-stable, so just buy a little more than you think you’ll need to ensure you have enough. Options include:

  • Beans (dry or canned)
  • Edamame (frozen)
  • Quinoa
  • Lentils (dry or canned)
  • Seitan
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu (can be frozen to extend shelf life)

Dairy is also a good source of vegetarian protein. Unopened, many dairy products will last a few weeks in the fridge, so it’s not a problem to have extras as long as you have storage space for them. Note, though, that quantities of these items may be limited by your grocery store. This subcategory includes: 

  • Eggs
  • Cheese (shredded or sliced)
  • Milk 

Fruits & Vegetables

Here’s where you really need to count, both to make sure you have enough and to make sure you won’t let any produce go to waste. If you’re a family of 4 and know that you eat about 5 servings of produce per day per family member (be realistic here, not idealistic!), that’s 280 servings of produce for 2 weeks (5 servings x 4 people x 14 days). This may seem like a ton of servings, but you can reach this number faster than you think.

As a general rule, one serving of produce is about the size of your fist. Some single-serving fruits and vegetables include: 

  • Apple
  • Banana
  • Bell pepper
  • Carrot
  • Corn, one ear
  • Orange
  • Pear
  • Portobello mushroom
  • Potato
  • Sweet potato
  • Tomato
  • Turnip
  • Zucchini

To make estimating easy, we like to count a bag or head of produce as four servings. For example, we count all of these as four each: 

  • Asparagus, one bunch
  • Avocado, one large (an exception to the “size of your fist” rule)
  • Broccoli, one large head
  • Butternut squash
  • Button mushrooms, 1 lb. package
  • Cabbage, one head
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower, one head
  • Green beans, one standard-sized bag
  • Frozen fruit or vegetables, one standard-sized bag
  • Kale, one bunch
  • Lettuce, one head
  • Spinach, one standard-sized bag

Aim for about half of this produce to be those that have a short shelf life that will need to be consumed within the week, such as leafy greens, citrus fruits, broccoli, bananas, pears, avocados, and tomatoes. The other half should be a mix of both longer-lasting produce such as potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, cabbage, parsnips, rutabagas, and winter squash, along with frozen fruits and vegetables.

As you are picking out your fruits and veggies, count up the approximate number of servings in your cart — whether physical or virtual — and keep adding more until you’ve reached your target number. If you know that you / your family really like a particular ingredient, check to see if there are pre-bagged options available, like for apples, oranges, potatoes, and carrots. You can easily grab a bag, knowing it will last a week or so and that they will get eaten.

Quarantine Smarts:

Grab a couple extra bags of frozen produce, canned vegetables, a few extra long-lasting root vegetables, and / or a few extra dehydrated or freeze-dried fruits or vegetables — just to be sure you have enough.

Carbohydrates

Most grains don’t require refrigerator or freezer space, so feel free to grab a few extra bags to be sure you don’t run out. On the other hand, if you do have extra space in your freezer, foods like bread and leftover cooked rice freeze well and make later meals a snap to put together. Foods in this category include:

  • Bread (sliced sandwich bread, pita, ciabatta, dinner rolls, bagels)
  • Noodles (soba, vermicelli, udon, ramen)
  • Pasta (spaghetti, linguine, elbow macaroni, couscous)
  • Rice (white, brown, basmati, wild)
  • Tortillas

Pantry & Nonperishables

Many grains are also considered pantry and nonperishable items, but here we’re focusing on everything else in the dry goods aisles not covered above. We recommend adding items like the following to your cart, just in case you do run out of food before two weeks is up:

  • Beans, dried or canned
  • Canned fruits and vegetables (or jarred)
  • Canned tomatoes (diced, crushed, sauce)
  • Canned tuna
  • Dehydrated meals or soup kits (instant ramen, boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, Pad Thai kits, freeze-dried vegetable soups, etc.)
  • Quinoa
  • Salsa

This category also includes pantry staples you’re probably not buying every shopping trip. Make sure to double-check whether you need these ingredients before going to the store:

  • Baking soda / baking powder
  • Black pepper
  • Cooking oil
  • Cornstarch
  • Hot sauce
  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Soy sauce
  • Spices
  • Sugar
  • Vinegars

Getting extra of these items doesn’t mean going wild — it just means getting enough that you won’t have to worry about running out before your next grocery run or order. Do you use a jar of marinara sauce every couple of weeks? Get two jars. Do you go through a can of beans per week? Buy three or four cans. A bag of rice a month? Get one to spare.

Keep in mind that if you’re ordering food online for delivery or curbside pickup, stores may be out of some of the more popular items such as rice and flour. This is another reason to purchase a little more than you normally would; if an item doesn’t make it into your order, you still want to have enough to eat.

The idea here is to buy foods you normally eat, but just buy them in slightly larger quantities. That way, if you need them, they’re there; if you don’t need them, you’ll still eat them later. What you don’t want is to end up with a pantry chock-full of items you don’t enjoy and will never use. 

Bonus Tips

Save Your List 

Whether you prefer to shop with only your “Must-Haves” list and wing it for veggies and proteins, or you want to develop a complete master list you can use in the future, you’ve put some work into this shopping trip. Don’t throw it all away and start from scratch next time! 

Chances are you’ll want to buy most of the same recurring must-have items again the next time you shop, so at the very least save your list of Must-Haves. You may want to save your grocery receipt as well, which can be turned into a specific shopping list. You can adjust up or (more likely) down once you have a buffer of grains and other nonperishable items to last you a while, and the formula for fresh produce, proteins, and dairy will always be roughly the same. By following this list, you’ll be able to create a wide variety of meals without much advance planning, knowing that you have all your food groups covered.

If you’re doing this for the first time, don’t get bummed if you ended up with less or more food. It’s all a learning process, and you’ll get a feel for it as you understand your and your family’s needs.

Freezer Meals & Leftovers

One way to make cooking and shopping easier is to choose meals that will freeze well and make double batches of everything. In other words, salads and tacos are out (unless you freeze just certain elements), but soups, stews, casseroles, enchiladas, veggie patties, pierogies, pizza, and fajitas are in. Then you’ll alternate cooking weeks, where you eat half of what you make and fill up your freezer with the other half, and leftover weeks, where you repeat the previous week’s meals as you empty the freezer. Just make sure all the veggies you buy can be frozen. 

The drawback to this method is that you need enough freezer space to store a week’s worth of meals. For a less freezer-intensive option, just alternate cooking days with leftover days once you choose your meals.

Quarantine Smarts:

Make freezing food easy with our printable All-in-One Freezer Guide and our tips on freezer meals.

Back-Pocket Recipes

Back-pocket recipes are go-to meals that you can easily whip up in no time. You know all the ingredients that go into the recipe, so they are great to turn to whether you’re grocery shopping or reaching the end of two weeks and your fresh produce is nearly gone. Here are our top back-pocket recipe tips:

  • Use an app – Save these recipes’ ingredient lists on your phone, so you can easily consult them when you’re shopping, or access them quickly when writing out your “Must-Haves” list.
  • Pantry recipes – Make sure 4 to 6 of these back-pocket recipes utilize many pantry ingredients, so you can easily make them with things you already have on hand.
  • Save the recipes in one place – Storing these pockets in one place will make them easier to access. With our meal plan service, you can build a collection of recipes like our Pantry Recipe Collection. Or, if you know your back-pocket recipe by memory, simply jot them down on a piece of paper and stick it on the fridge.

Everything we mentioned here will help you grocery shop if you don’t have time to meal plan. However, if you do need help deciding what’s for dinner, try our meal plan service free for 30 days! We offer ingredient substitutions, and it’s easy to adjust the number of servings up or down. Plus, once you’ve chosen your meals for the week, creating a grocery list involves just a single click!


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How to Buy Two Weeks of Healthy Food When You Don’t Want to Meal Plan | Cook SmartsHow to Buy Two Weeks of Healthy Food When You Don’t Want to Meal Plan | Cook SmartsHow to Buy Two Weeks of Healthy Food When You Don’t Want to Meal Plan | Cook Smarts

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