Learning to stock up for the long term is a valuable skill in the best of times. It saves time, it saves money, it saves fuel, it prevents waste and it means that if there is an emergency, you won’t be tempted to jump on the panic buy bandwagon because you’re already stocked and, if you’re not, you know exactly how to get there with a minimum amount of fuss.

If you do buy 10 (or 20 or 30) days worth of food in one go, don’t return to the store until the allotted time is passed unless you really miscalculated and are totally out of food. A couple of days subsisting on the dregs of the pantry will teach you to plan better next time. The grocery stores really can’t handle people doing long term shopping on a short term schedule. Get your stuff, go home, don’t come back soon.


You begin by establishing exactly how much you need. This will require some notetaking and observation. There are things like toilet paper that you might only buy when you’re running low on without much thought as to how long a roll lasts or how many rolls you need for, say, a month. A bit of observation will sort this out. Our family of four uses about six rolls in a month. We also don’t buy a lot of paper products, so our TP gets used to wipe noses and pick up cat puke on occasion too. So how much TP do you really need? How about soap, shampoo, dish soap? Buy enough for a month. If you want to buy enough for a year, that’s fine. Wait till the crisis situation is over and stock up. Right now its important everyone has enough.

It is easier to decide how much food you need because it’s pretty easy to predict what you’ll eat in a day. You have three meals, usually, and a couple of snacks. So all you have to do is plan your meals and snacks and make a shopping list based on that. Then follow your plan, so all that food doesn’t go to waste.

Making The Plan

Begin by making a list. I like to open up a notebook and lay it flat. On one page I number 1-10 down the side and list Dinner, Lunch, Breakfast/Snack across the top. On the second page, I divide it up into headings Produce, Meat, Dairy, Dry Goods, Bakery and NonFood.

On one page you list 10 days worth of food. Starting with dinner is easiest for me and then I move on to the other meals from there and improvise. This week, I got a huge ham for less than $10 (We rarely have ham, I don’t care for it but the boys like it and I make them eat squash) so I’m going to start with the ham. You’ll notice I listed several things that included ham. Planning for leftovers is a very useful habit. You don’t need as many breakfasts and lunches as you do dinners, because you can double up on them, so it’s quite likely you’ll get to the end of this menu plan and have a few odds and ends left over and some wiggle room before you have to hit the grocery store again.

On the first page I write 1. Dinner- Ham, Sweet Potatoes, brussels sprouts, baked apples. Then I think about lunches and breakfasts that I can make with that leftover ham. Under lunches I add- Ham sandwiches with pineapple slices and Split Pea soup. Two lunches down. Breakfast- Ham and cheese omelet with toast. Snack- Since I am already buying apples for the baked apples, apples and peanut butter. I could also do ham and cheese and crackers and put ham on the pizza, but we prefer beef summer sausage for these and if I eat that much ham I’ll be sick. Anything leftover after this will get diced and put in the freezer to add flavor to potato-based casseroles and bean dishes later on.

Once I have my meal plan, I list the ingredients on the second page. I don’t have to write down ham because I have it. Under produce, I write Sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, apples, carrots, and potatoes (for the soup). Under dry goods, I would write split peas raisins, cinnamon, brown sugar, walnuts(for the baked apples), and peanut butter. Under bakery, I’ll write bread and under dairy cheese and butter. Of course, I have cinnamon and brown sugar, so there’s really no need to write those down, but I could write them down and cross them out. Later, as I add more items, if I find I need more of the same thing, I’ll just put a hash mark next to it, so I know to buy extra.

my meal planning notebood
A two-week meal plan and shopping list using this method. It will be tidied up later.

Meal Planning

Just list 10 meals you know your family likes. Then come up with 10 lunches, preferably those you can make from leftovers or elements of the meals. If you make a rice dish, you can toss together a quick bowl of fried rice for lunch the next day. Next, come up with five breakfasts and five snacks. It’s okay to throw a little junk food into the mix. Finally, think about your beverages. Do you need to buy water? Does your family drink milk? Juice? I am not even going to talk about soda but … wine? My family mostly drinks water, but we do enjoy milk and juice. I find if I don’t buy cereal, a gallon of milk lasts my family just under a week, so in this scenario, I would buy three gallons of milk and as much juice plus two canisters of coffee and box of tea.

Day Dinner Lunch Breakfast/Snacks
1 Ham, Sweet Potatoes, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Baked Apples with raisins and walnuts Quesadillas with roasted red pepper soup Blueberry Muffins
2 Tacos with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, avocados, and refried beans, salsa, and sour cream Split pea soup with homemade bread Ham and cheese scrambled eggs with toast
3 Chickpea and cauliflower curry with brown rice Fried Rice Oatmeal with raisins and walnuts
4 Macaroni and Cheese casserole with cauliflower. Cucumber and beet salad. Pesto pasta salad with chickpeas, olives, blanched broccoli Avocado and Mango salad
5 Pan-fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy and green beans Potato salad and baked beans Waffles with fruit
6 Grilled salmon with baked potatoes and sour cream and asparagus or broccoli Ham sandwiches with pineapple Hash browns and eggs (or sausage) (or both)
7 Pizza with salad Potato salad and baked beans Bagels with cream cheese
8 Quiche with beet and cucumber salad Ham sandwiches with fruit Monkeybread
9 Spaghetti with steamed broccoli Chili Mac Cookies
10 Noodle casserole (Can be made with tuna, turkey, ground beef, chicken or no meat) with mushrooms and peas Bean burritos Ice Cream Also Yogurt
Beverages Water, Wine Juice Coffee, Milk, Tea

Now that you’ve got a loose meal plan, you can make your shopping list. Just section out your other page with grocery categories and plug your ingredients in. This will give you an organized list that will allow you to shop by sections in the store.

Your list might not look like mine. I don’t have eggs on my list because my pets give me all I could ever use. I don’t have a pizza crust on here because I really like making my own. I will make muffins from scratch as well, though you can buy them and freeze them or get a baking mix if you prefer. I will buy all the noodles, even though I should make most of them (I can’t do elbows, but the eggs need using up and long noodles is a good way to do it.). Sometimes I just don’t have time or energy for making noodles and I don’t want to let that mess up my meal plan. I do have a frozen pie crust on the list because I really don’t enjoy making my own and the quiche will never happen if I have to. I do me and you do you.

Produce Dry Goods Dairy
Sweet Potatoes
Brussels Sprouts
Cauliflower II
Bell Pepper II
Poblano Pepper
Broccoli II
Mushrooms II
Canned Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Canned diced tomatoes II
Baking powder
Taco Shells
Dried beans- pinto, garbanzo, red
Split Peas
Canned Salsa
Brown Rice II
Coconut Milk
Curry Powder
Assorted Canned Fruit IIII
Canned pineapple
Canned Baked Beans
Canned Olives
Noodles- Spaghetti, Elbow, Twisty, Egg noodles
Pesto Sauce
Spaghetti Sauce
Canned Tuna II
Can of Cream of Mushroom Soup
Maple syrup
Milk III
Cheddar Cheese III
Sour Cream
Cream Cheese II
Mozzarella Cheese
Parmesan Cheese
Meat Bakery Frozen
Ground beef or
turkey or soy crumbles
Bread II
Green beans
Assorted fruit/berries
Pie Crust
Ice Cream
Frozen Waffles
Beverages Toiletries Other
Juice II
Coffee II
Shampoo A hose

The Shopping Trip

Now that you have your list you can plan your trip. You want to get in, get your stuff and get out with as little fuss as possible. Here are some tips.

  1. Go alone. It may seem like such a large shopping trip requires assistance, but I assure you that one person can handle it. Extra people just serve as distractions that cause you to spend more time in the store and stray from your list. Your companions also contribute to the overcrowding that grocery stores are currently experiencing. If you are physically unable to go to the store alone, send your assistant alone and keep yourself at home.
  2. If your store has an app, use it. You might be able to get the prices of all of your items in advance so you can tweak your list to suit your budget. It may also tell you which aisle everything is in, allowing you to strategically plan your trip to get in and out fast. Best of all, your store’s app may have a shop and scan feature, which allows you to scan your items as you place them in your cart so you can check out quickly and nobody has to touch your stuff but you.
  3. Bring your bags and plan to bag your own stuff. If your store offers Shop and Scan, set your bags up in the cart right away when you arrive. That way you can bag as you go. If it doesn’t, set up your bags in your cart after you put your items on the belt and tell your cashier you will bag your own. This will get you out quickly and ensure everything is organized the way you want it. Don’t worry, you won’t offend your cashier by bagging your own. We aren’t allowed to touch your bags right now anyway. If you don’t have your own bags, paper bags stand up nicely in the cart (plastic bags are just a pain in the butt outside their specially designed holder/dispenser) Do not attempt to scan your purchases through the 20 items or less self-checkout on this trip. It is incredibly rude to tie up a self-checkout with a huge order like this. Those checkouts are also not designed for the long haul. It will take forever and you will end up with a sore back. In addition, the more items you have, the more likely the self-checkout attendant will have to assist you and it is very difficult to social distance under those circumstances.
  4. Go Early – Most stores in my area have limited their hours, so 24-hour stores are no longer a thing. We’re stocking and cleaning overnight so the stores are nice and clean and well-stocked when we open in the morning. We also have huge lines waiting for us when we open up, so be prepared for that. I don’t see any point in getting in the line unless you are going to race to the toilet paper and buy it all before anybody else? You might as well wait in the car and go over your list. Or you could spend your line time setting up your bags in your cart.

Making the Plan Work

You can buy all this stuff and still find yourself struggling. Much of this food is perishable and subject to being wasted if it isn’t handled properly. If your housemates aren’t on board, they could start eating stuff and mess you all up.

  1. Unpack and start prepping right away. Wash and dry your produce and chop it up just like it needs to be for your meals. Parsley and green onions will last a good while cut up and sealed in a jar in the fridge. You can chop up onions and peppers and freeze them for cooking later. Large packages of meat can be broken down into smaller amounts suitable for single meals and the extra can be frozen.
  2. Finalize your meal plan. Now is the time to attach days to your meal planning. Plan to eat the things that will go bad quickly (like lettuce) early. Plan more complicated meals on days you’ll have the time and simpler meals on those days that you have other things to do. Plan for leftovers- make extra rice for stir fry to use in a casserole or fried rice later for example. Go ahead and post your menu on the fridge for all to see if you feel inspired to do so.
  3. Make a place for snacks. Have a cupboard and a shelf in your fridge that is designated for snacks and perhaps breakfast items. Let your housemates know that the items placed there are available to eat whenever they like but ask that they don’t touch anything else because you have meal plans for it. Put leftovers in the snack area if you don’t have plans for them.
  4. Clean your fridge out once a week. Do not give things time to spoil. Clean out your fridge at least once a week to remind yourself of what you have and rescue anything that needs eating before it goes bad.
  5. Take inventory before your next shop. Buying large amounts at one time makes it easy to lose track of what you have and that can lead to expired and wasted food. Before returning to the store to stock up again, check your pantry, cupboards, and freezer. Build your new meal plan around what you’ve got left from the last one and if you really don’t want to, ask yourself why you bought that stuff in the first place and stop doing that. Donate it and

But Wait, I Need More

Ten days not enough? Are you stocking up for 20 or 30 days? Shopping monthly is a good habit that I endorse, especially now. I choose 10 days as a base because it is pretty easy to rattle off 10 meals off the top of your head and work from there. (If you find 10 hard, then just start with five. You’ll think of 10 eventually) If you want to stock up for 20 days or 30, just repeat the process. Don’t be afraid to double up on favorite meals (like spaghetti) and focus on items that will store a long time or double or triple everything in your first plan except the perishable produce. Replace each of these with something frozen, like frozen cauliflower or something canned, like vegetable-rich soups (1 per person) in place of salad greens. If you don’t have the freezer space, lean more heavily on cans. Both powdered and canned milk is fine for recipes and fresh milk can be frozen.

If you are stocking up for the long haul, make sure you’ve set aside the time to properly prepare and store all that food. Just getting it home is going to take a few hours and then it should be unloaded and safely stored immediately to ensure that nothing is wasted. This job could take a few days!

A Budget Meal Plan for People Who Don’t Have Time to Cook

The following menu features cheap, quick food including take-along meals for people who take their lunches to work or school that can be eaten cold (yes, pea soup is good cold). It is carb-heavy, but that is the nature of cheap food. Make the effort to include a few cans of nourishing vegetable soups and some fruit for dessert.

Day Dinner Lunch Breakfast/Snacks
1 Macaroni and Cheese and steamed broccoli Tuna sandwich, carrot sticks, apples Assorted Muffins
2 Ramen with mushrooms and green onions Homemade Lunchables: Cheese, crackers, summer sausage or ham, fruit More Muffins
3 Chicken and Rice Fried Rice Oatmeal with raisins and walnuts
4 Noodle Casserole with peas Pesto pasta salad with chickpeas, olives, blanched broccoli Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
5 Chicken and dumplings Potato salad and baked beans Waffles with fruit
6 Spaghetti with sausages and steamed broccoli Ham sandwiches or ham and cheese wrap with pineapple slices Apples, bananas, oranges
7 Pizza with salad Bean burritos Bagels with cream cheese
8 Ravioli with crusty bread Egg salad sandwich with cucumber salad Pudding
9 Spaghetti with steamed broccoli Bean or Pea Soup Cookies
10 Baked chicken with baked potatoes and green beans Veggies and hummus Yogurt
Beverages Water Juice Coffee, Milk, Tea
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