How to Make the Best Grocery Shopping List (ever)!


Are you frustrated always forgetting the ONE item you needed on your grocery shopping list? It's happened to all of us. Really, we know what our "repeat" food purchases are. Many of us have been doing grocery shopping for years - yet we come home once again and find we forgot something. Maybe it's time... time to get that master grocery list created.

In a brilliant move, I decided I was going to save the family food dollars. By utilizing a master grocery shopping list, I could save time and money. Less trips to the store, more organized and systematic moving through the food aisles was going to be the way to go.

How to make your own master grocery list

A master grocery list contains pretty much everything you have routinely purchased in a grocery store. Making a grocery list is just a matter of recording your everyday purchases. Make your own master grocery list by following these simple steps:

  1. On a paper or online document, enter top food categories such as Dairy, Baking, Condiments, Frozen Foods, etc. - these can match the same sections as the aisles in your favorite grocery store.
  2. Under each category, fill in with the food products you already buy. This is as simple as opening kitchen cabinets or looking in the pantry and taking inventory.
  3. Look over the list to see if there is anything missing, and fill in.
  4. Keep the list as a "work in progress" over a couple of months. Add more items that come to mind.
  5. When you feel the list is fairly solid, print it out for future reference.

A master grocery list can be a check against your weekly scribbled list. Some people make copies of their master grocery list and tick off the boxes - this becomes the golden list that accompanies them to the grocery store. I have to say, this is a good guarantee that you're not going to forget anything!

Some seasoned grocery shopping veterans keep copies of favorite recipes with them. This helps them to remember key ingredients if last minute guests are expected.

Common questions when making your own grocery list

What is a master grocery list? A master grocery list contains all of the food you have ever shopped for or plan to use, ideally categorized in sections. Your master grocery list will be different that another person's grocery list based on budget, lifestyle, cultural food tastes, and health needs. Master grocery lists can include speciality items if you use them on a regular basis.

different types of grocery lists

What is a basic grocery list? A basic shopping list contains basic food items that are eaten regularly and don't include speciality or hard-to-find or seasonal ingredients. Again, this varies based on each person's unique tastes and lifestyle. Some might refer to this as a "staples" grocery list. Staples refer to "base" foods that are required to make other foods. Flour and sugar are part of a basic baking grocery list. In its' simplest form, a basic grocery list will include a protein, meats, vegetables, and a dairy food.

How to I make a category for my grocery list? Make a category that makes sense to you. However, for best efficiency, match up categories to the same grouping as your favorite grocery store aisles.

For example, "french fries" would be under Frozen Foods. "Toilet paper" would fall under the category of Paper Products. "Shampoo" could be found under Personal Products. The category of Condiments contains a wide variety of items, including salad dressing (the white stuff), mayo, assorted dressings for leaf salad, vinegars, barbeque sauces, soy sauce, etc.

The number one item I find the most difficult to find in a grocery store is lemon juice. You think it would be in the baking aisle or canned fruits aisle, but I have found it in the juice aisle. Your food store could categorize this differently. Having a pleasant shopping experience means it's easier to find things in the grocery store.

What should a grocery list include? An everyday grocery list includes the items you need to make meals you like, including ready-made pre-packaged food. Your list may be designed to follow a meal plan or planned recipe, or simply a list where you write down what food you are out of. Ideally, a food list should include a healthy and balanced diet. Make sure to add a protein source, fruits and vegetables, as well as dairy to your list.

mom and daughter grocery shopping

What is a meal plan? A meal plan consists of planned out meals usually each meal of the day, including snacks. The plan length can be as little as 1 week, 2 weeks, or a month. When utilizing a meal plan, it will have its own grocery list. The purpose of a meal plan is usually to adhere to a special food diet, to save money (if designing around food on sale), and/or to save time by removing the planning part of the decision making process. 

How do I manage my grocery list? You can manage your grocery list by keeping copies of a master list and only circling the food you need at the time and shopping accordingly. A more common technique is to keep a blank grocery list in a kitchen and writing down items you are out of or as you need on that list; this becomes your next shopping list. Some people prefer to use digital apps on smart phones where they can tick off boxes as the item is picked up.

I prefer to manage my shopping list with a simple blank paper in the kitchen. The master food list is kept as a reference. Cheap, stickable rectangular notes with lines from the dollar store work perfectly for my grocery list. I remove one sticky note and attach to my counter and place a pen near it.

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This "one sheet at a time" method is vital, otherwise my family will walk off with all the paper. I also take an extra step of attaching a string to my pen and taping that to the counter, because that will walk off as well! The paper is distinctive so I can find it swimming around in my purse. Folks, there is a method to the madness.

Are groceries only food? "Grocery" is defined as "food and other commodities sold by a grocer" - "grocer" is defined as "the owner or operator of a store that sells general food supplies and certain nonedible articles of household use, as soaps and paper products." Therefore, toilet paper and shampoo could be on a grocery list.

Is grocery shopping a chore? Some people consider grocery shopping a chore (an unpleasant or hard task). The act of grocery shopping doesn't just involve physically being in a food store. It requires, planning, making lists, clipping coupons, driving to the store, finding a parking spot, trying to locate food in the store, waiting in line, checking the food out (which many places are self-checkout now), loading the food into the car, unloading the food at home, and then putting the food away.

More work is involved if the food needs to be decanted (removed from the box or container to put into another container) or broken up into smaller sections if buying in bulk. Make no mistake, grocery shopping is work.

What am I forgetting on my grocery list?  Forgetting an item on your list is common. My best advice is to write something down on your kitchen grocery list as soon as you think of it, or a food item is out or nearly out. This way, you can feel more confident you are covering all your basis. Sometimes I forget to grab my grocery list and a family member will take a picture of my hand-written list and send it to me while I'm shopping.

Of course, keeping a list on your smart phone will assure that you always have it with you. Many grocery shopping apps let you keep a perpetual list of your most used items. When you are shopping, simply refer to your grocery app.

How you organize your grocery list is a personal choice. We want you to be successful, so choose the one you feel will most effective for you. For me, keeping it simple has served me well.

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About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is a former kitchen designer, home remodeling enthusiast (having lived through several DIY projects), and an Iowa farmwife. Renee is passionate about preparedness, garden skills, and knowing where her food comes from. Years of being a stay-at-home mom and supporting the family farm with hearty meals has been key to Renee's pantry readiness. She uses her professional IT background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life.

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