Adventures in groceries

I could probably do the math on how many trips to the grocery store I’ve taken in my life, but math isn’t my thing and I don’t really feel like depressing myself right now, anyway. Groceries are one of my chores. If I need Otto to go, instead, I have to make a list, and I don’t do lists, so most of the time I just take care of it myself.

Of course, my version of “taking care of it” means that half the time I forget at least three items, and a good portion of the time I have done zero meal planning and have no idea what we need to get through the week.

Except milk. I always buy a couple of gallons of milk. That way, when the kids complain, “There’s nothing to eat!” I can lovingly respond with, “There’s a whole pantry full of food! Shut up and drink your milk!”

(I am TOTALLY a problem solver!)

Remember how jazzed I was when the kids started cooking for us? For most of the summer I was totally organized; the kids gave me shopping lists each week, Otto and I planned the remaining meals, and trips to the grocery store were well-organized and non-traumatic affairs.

Then, of course, everything started falling apart.

For one thing, about a month ago I put something in the freezer in the garage that didn’t quite fit. I checked—because I felt the pressure against the door as I shut it—to make sure it had closed and sealed against the large container, and it seemed fine. I went on my merry way. The next morning, Otto discovered that the door had popped back open, and I had just ruined an entire freezerful of food.

[Insert your favorite dramatic movie clip of someone falling to their knees and shrieking, “NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!” here.]

Losing the food in the freezer deeply traumatized my frugal self because of the waste involved, but it also completely threw off my grocery shopping, because before I could assume we had certain things on hand (chicken pieces! frozen veggies! hunks of beef from the side of cow we bought!), and now I would do things like shop and come home and say, “I’m going to make meatloaf tonight” only to discover that—oops!—we don’t actually have any meat. And no, I have not recovered enough from the trauma to just go replace the entire freezer’s worth of food, yet.

In addition to that particular tragedy, the kids went back to school. And while Monkey is still happy to cook (and has less time, but still time for it), Chickadee has approximately 3 free minutes every week which is not taken up by 1) school, 2) marching band, 3) homework, 4) the 57 other activities she picked right back up the moment school resumed, and 5) rolling her eyes at us because we are the stupidest stupidheaded parents in the entire world. First it was “I just need to switch my day to the weekend, because I don’t have time during the week” and then that became, “But I’m so tired and I have so much homework and if I’m cooking I vote we order pizza!”

It’s a hard battle to commit to having when I’ve been known to greet Otto at the end of the day with, “What are you making for dinner?” (Otto will then—very carefully, slowly—say, “I thought… are you… not making something…?”)

So my system is kind of jacked up, is my point.

And as we all know, I’m a rather delicate flower. So yesterday when I headed out for groceries, I had no idea who was cooking this week or what we were going to be eating or what I ever needed to buy. My official list looked like this:
2 gallons of milk
other stuff

It’s okay, though. A plan usually starts to form in my head as I see what looks good and what’s on sale and everything. So! I began my shopping. And then I ran into a parent of one of Chickie’s classmates whom I haven’t seen in a while. We ended up chatting for a bit and it wasn’t until this morning (when I was packing lunches) that I realized I forgot to grab several things in the aisle where we were talking, because apparently I can’t do two things at once.

I got a little nervous when I arrived at the checkout lane; a quick survey of my cart revealed that I likely didn’t have enough food to last us the week, but maybe I was subconsciously planning to use up multiple pantry items, I reassured myself. Yeah, that must be it.

So I commenced putting things up on the conveyer belt, and the nice young bagger guy came over to help me, and we exchanged pleasantries (it’s a small town; I shop at this store every week and know most of the employees), and then just as I was trying to figure out what I planned to make for dinner THAT NIGHT based upon what I was buying, we finished unloading and the bagger pushed the cart to the end of the checkout, passing me, and remarking, “Your hair smells really good.”

Okay. It’s true; my hair smells delightful, and because I am nothing if not a REAL GO-GETTER, as I shopped for groceries at 2:00 on Sunday afternoon I’d only been out of the shower for about half an hour or so, which meant my hair was still wet and probably fairly fragrant. Still.

The proper response of a 40-something suburban mom to a teenage grocery bagger when he says “Your hair smells really good” is:
Thank you.
B) Yes, it does.
E) Uhhh… thank you…?

I think you know which response I went with.

Eventually I escaped and arrived home with my milk, bananas, and other stuff. Otto watched me putting some beans into the crock pot to soak as we were unloading and said, “Is that for tonight?”

“No,” I said, “these have to soak overnight; this is for dinner tomorrow.”

“Oh,” he said. “So what’s for dinner tonight?”

Apparently “the alluring scent of my hair” was not a satisfactory answer.

We went out for pizza.


  1. diane

    Does it help that the mind-reading (or at least post-reading) magic ad generator had a sidebar ad for Peapod when I came here? Groceries, delivered to your door! But yes, everything costs more and there is a hefty delivery charge.

    I do the list thing, but often forget to make the dishes I planned when I made out the list. It’s just me, and sometimes, well, a lot of the time, I feel lazy.

  2. Otto

    I was totally unaware the alluring scent of your hair was an option. Could have saved $20 …


  3. Jenna

    It is no longer possible for me to shop without a list. I just cannot do it. If I forget or lose the list somewhere, I panic. My husband has more than once texted me the grocery list while I was in the parking lot waiting for it. Even with the list, I still manage to forget things.

  4. Mary Fran

    I am always amazed when I come home with $150 worth of groceries and have nothing at all with which to make dinner.

  5. dad

    You demonstrate a remarkable ability to weave together a tale the storyline of which is “last night we went out for pizza.”

    Somehow, your system makes it all seem more interesting and full of intrigue.
    What can I say? You were always a party animal.

  6. Liza

    Tonight I’m going to offer the children the alluring scent of my hair for dinner and see what they say. That and frozen pierogies.

  7. Julie

    I have completely given up attempting to purchase groceries for a week. I shop every day, and sometimes I still have to go back twice! Pathetic, I know.

  8. Beth

    My 6 year old has planned that one evening (or Saturday, he’s flexible) we will be having McDonald’s for lunch because he totally wants to get more of the McDonald’s toys.

    My husband is plotting to have pizza from a new place in town.

    I’m totally plotting to cook out of the freezer and pantry. Hoping to spend less than $30 on groceries for the week total.

    The 2 year old is just hoping I”ll make some more macaroni and cheese or possibly “cakes” (pancakes).

    That’s as far as our meal planning has gotten.

    And also, your hair is pretty too.

  9. bob

    so – not all of “us” know what response you went with.

  10. Tenessa

    OMG! THAT BAGGER BOY WILL BE MY SON SOME DAY! He sniffs EVERYTHING and can generally tell you what soaps/detergents you use or places you’ve been based on his olfactory sense experience. And this kid has a REALLY good memory.

    Did you ever watch “That 70’s Show”? Fes gets a job at a beauty salon washing hair because he loves the way women’s hair smells and feels. I think, that if you could mix that with video game playing, somehow, Chi (my son) would be all over that.

  11. Aimee

    Well, you have opened up a whole new world for me. From now on, when my husband asks what we’re having for dinner, I’m totally using that “alluring scent of my hair” thing as a response.

  12. Chuck

    I ordered a pizza for lunch last week because I hadn’t had it in a while. Then the same day at work, they ordered pizza for everyone. They also ordered pizza for us last night, but at least I hadn’t had leftover pizza for breakfast or anything. I actually got a credit for a free pizza because they screwed up my order, but I’m saving it for a while. I love pizza, but I need a break from it.

  13. Beth R

    @Julie – I do the same thing. Just assume I’ll be going to the grocery store multiple times. At least I walk to the store, so I can pretend it’s part of my exercise :)

  14. BethRD

    I am trying to get back on the meal planning bandwagon, because all of my damn teeth are cracking and falling out and it turns out dental insurance only pays for things that you could pay for yourself, and doesn’t actually insure you against anything expensive. And I’m still not making as much money as I was in 2006, and our day care has risen in price by 6% every year since then, compounding. So we need to do a lot less eating out and a lot more eating in, and if I don’t plan the only things I reliably remember to get at the store are milk, raisin bread, and Diet Coke.

  15. Em

    I had made a very serious September resolution that we would be doing all of our eating at home, starting this month on the account of how much crazy money I spend at pizza places and McDonalds and all of those place that are conveniently waiting with hot food at 6 o’clock when I realize I not only have no plan for dinner but bedtime is almost upon us. Then I remembered my birthday is in September and we always go out for breakfast the day we finally have all the kids back in school to catch up and find out what it was we were each trying to communicate over the din of three children trying to kill each other for entertainment. And a friend of ours in back in town, wouldn’t we really like to get together? So, yeah, my dinner plans fell apart before even getting as far as the grocery store and without so much as a sniff and a smile. You are definitely doing something right.

  16. The Mommy Therapy

    I’ve decided I am no longer allowed to go to the store without a serious list and meals planned for the week since I basically come home with fruit, yogurt, and eggs if I didn’t have a list. It is exhausting though, and next to impossible if there is anything out of the ordinary going on in my life.

    My oldest just started kindergarten…is it too early to make him prepare dinner one night? I love that idea!

  17. Lucinda

    I am a list maker and yet I still live at the grocery store. I have been know to go back 3 times in one day. It’s a small town. The checker noticed. We had a good laugh. So I get it.

  18. jen_alluisi

    I…I admit it. I am addicted to lists. Cannot do without. We currently order our groceries online through a local grocery shopping service that I adore and worship because they go to all the area farms and locally owned stores and bakeries and whatnot – groceries that would take me a full freakin’ day to collect myself instead now take me 15 minutes to order on the computer the night before and 5 minutes to pick up the next day. Slightly more expensive, but the convenience and sanity and do-gooder feeling from buying locally are well worth it. We make a list of meals on the dry-erase board on the fridge, order groceries to make those meals + buying staples like fruit, bread, milk, cereal, etc., and then make the meals when we feel like it. Groceries, we have down. Cleaning the house…..not so much.

  19. elz

    If a 20-something bagger told me my hair smelled nice, we’d be going out to pizza to celebrate!

    My husband works from home, so he makes dinner. What drives me crazy is his statement WHILE finishing up dinner- “Oh, we don’t have any _____(insert vegetables, sides, etc). What do you want to do?” Um, nothign NOW. Have you heard of a phone or a grocery store? Thankfully we never run out of meat as we have about 115 pounds of various game animals in our freezer at all times. Lest Ted Nugenty husband let any Texas wild game population get out of hand!

  20. MelissaB

    So… you didn’t ask for help or advice but I can’t help myself-I overshare that way. I have a solution that requires thinking only once! I came up with this because I was going nuts hearing “what’s for dinner?” 85 times a day! If you make up a meal plan that consists of 28 days worth of meals including sides, and write down the ingredients for those meals, you have ready made grocery lists. This also helps you to not have to know what to make for dinner each night because it was already decided and helps to ensure you don’t repeat the same meal or type of meal too often. We have lots of food allergies/aversions to work around and still came up with 28 pretty easily. We use themes to keep choices in a reasonable order. For instance, this week we are having Mexican Monday-Taco Salad, Italian Tuesday-Spaghetti w/meatballs, Whatever Wednesday-Creamy Cajun Chicken, Poultry Thursday-Turkey breast, Fast Food Friday-Chicken nuggets, Simple Saturday-Steak, Slow Cook Sunday-Chili. So the themes stay the same, but the actual meals repeat just every 4 weeks unless you like certain meals enough to add them in more than once, like lasagna and burgers for us. Then for groceries I just grab that week’s list, add the typical bread, milk, eggs, etc and whatever else we need. Lunches and breakfasts are so easy, it takes no time to add that stuff to the list. It was dinner that always stumped us. Not anymore! It has worked great for us for at least a year. If we find we do get bored with a meal-Hamburger Helper-blech!, just replace that one and all is fine. If you want more info, email me, but it’s so simple! The meal plan is on our calendar, so no one ever asks what’s for dinner anymore, they just look for themselves. It’s awesome!

  21. Tracy B

    Um, I’m not sure what your response to the teenage bagger was but I know what mine would have been. :o)~ What’s for supper? Beans and …..

  22. Little Bird

    Ah grocery shopping! It generally falls to me to do that for myself and my folks. And recently I was told we buy too much stuff. Well, neither of them will commit to anything that even vaguely resembles a meal plan, so it all tends to be me running to the store every day. In an attempt to thwart that I am using our last three jars of last years tomatoes to make pasta sauce and salsa. This also uses up a number of the veggies from the last two weeks of farmers market shopping. Of course, we have nothing to put either pasta sauce or salsa ON. So I will have to go to the store. Again.

  23. Scottsdale Girl

    I am forever thankful that I do not know how to make a SMALL amount of Spaghetti Sauce, therefore whenever I make it there are 2-3 dinner portions to go in the freezer. Which means we always have that option. HOWEVER this does not mean we always have NOODLES, and forget having break so someone has to grocery for that but still.

    We have only about 10 meals I make (that are good) and we got sick of nearly all of them REALLY QUICK. I need crockpot recipes!

  24. ramblin red

    Heheh…I’d have been a little bit skeeved out by the hair comment too, but I also know that I DID at church camp this summer, walk down the girls’ hallway after showers had been taken and announce, “Girls, we smell mmm-mmm-good!” because of all the various scented products in use that totally overpowered our area, so most likely he wasn’t leaning in for a sniff, but it truly stood out. And some boys notice these things but don’t have a filter….that whole thing about the frontal lobe not being fully developed until 21ish and thusly being unable to curb impulses.

  25. Daisy

    You might like the book “70 meals, one trip to the store” by Holly Donlea. She also has a website called “Organizing Dinner” – if you can get past any phobias about the word Organizing.

    While I don’t precisely use her lists, her philosophy saves time and money. Worth it! Totally worth it!

  26. Dr. Liz

    Now that I am done crying at the loss of the freezer food (because when I have No Idea What’s For Dinner, I immediately pull SOMETHING out of the freezer – which means we eat a lot of fish and chicken…), I can commiserate with the dinner thing. Except that I don’t even have kids onto whom I can pass off the responsibility (my parents did that to us, and when it was my night to cook, well, let’s just say I make a MEAN macaroni and cheese), and my husband doesn’t cook. So we either eat The Exact Same Thing for a week (amazingly, the husband is fine with this; II think because he can’t come up with ANYTHING he wants to eat when I am making a menu… hahaha) or we eat the same thing Every Other Night (because I’m creative like that). Oh, and we have a frozen pizza in the freezer for those “I have no idea what to eat, and I’ll be damned if we have ANOTHER salad or MORE cod…” nights. At least the dogs are easy to please – as long as a dish shows up at 5pm (on the dot) it’s good.

    -Dr. Liz (and not Fiona the dog, who, as previously mentioned, loves anything that comes out of an Iams can, as long as it’s in a dish on the floor at 5pm)

  27. Dr. Liz

    Ignore the above typos…. the other dog kept trying to help me type…. Anyhoo, Daisy convinced me – I’ve just ordered the ’70 meals, one trip to the store’ book; I can only eat so many salads and lemon-pepper cod before I break down and eat brownies for dinner! :-)

  28. Little Bird

    I forgot to mention that I ALSO made pesto today. And some time this week I am making noodles (LOVE that pasta roller machine thing-a-ma-bob). Thus is the life of trying to not have to actually BUY foods.

  29. pharmgirl

    Last year I got “I don’t usually like older women, but you’re funny and sort of cute” from my bagger. Now, I’m 47 and I have an extra 40 lbs on me – so flirting teenage boys are few and far between.

    I went with, “Thanks. Tell your Mom I said “hi”.

    The poor thing thought I actually knew her!

  30. Christine

    I just started using menus4moms, the site plans the menus based on your store’s sale items for the week and provides the grocery list. I think they have a gluten free option, but I prefer the alter the regular recipes to GF myself. I use the 365 days of slow cooking blog to add two more days worth of menus (the other just gives 5 days) and I’m set. I feel so much less stress now about meal time! As a bonus the menus always build in extra portions on at least one day as a way to stock the freezer with prepared meals for when you have no time to cook.

  31. Heather Cook

    You shop just like I do! :)

  32. Rinatta

    I have a system for grocery shopping. When I run out of items I put them on the list. I then transfer the list to evernote. I walk around the stores I shop in like a dork, checking my phone. And with all that, I still forget at least two or three essential items every time. It’s like a disease!

  33. Kira

    See now, I sit down once a week with the grocery ads and plan out my menus for the week and assemble my list, divided by category and store, because I generally hit at least three stores on my shopping trip. OH YES I DO. And I sort my coupons too.
    I am discomfited by finding something I am better at than you. That is simply not how this relationship works, missy. Get your list on.

  34. Reb

    There’s always my favorite fallback: take a heap of frozen veges, including fava beans for carbohydrate and protein. Spread sliced cheese on top. Sprinkle with cracked pepper. Microwave until cooked.

    It takes 5 seconds prep, it’s healthy and I really like it. Gourmet I ain’t.

  35. mamaspeak

    Reb – you’re considered a “health nut” in many circles. ;-)

    Mir – I hate the grocery shopping. I created a shopping list in my smart phone. I started it by typing in what we needed. As I added more things, I divided into categories; dairy, produce, etc… It’s in an app that allows me to check things off. When I purchase those things, I check them off. When we are out, I uncheck them in my phone list. If I’m at a place which isn’t actually a grocery store, but has grocery like products, (Target, Walmart…) I can purchase things on my list. I am never w/out my list, bc I always have my phone. I am able to go to the grocery store once a week; sometimes less if I”ve been to Target. I do try to meal plan (we get most of our meat from Costco.) So I can usually put something together w/out having a “hard” meal plan. And, if all else fails, the kids can have dino chicken nuggets or quesadillas.

  36. Kelly

    You aren’t supposed to crush my dreams of when my kids are in school I’ll be more organized and planned…. :)

    And weird on the boy commenting on hair…

  37. Amanda

    I consider our eating out doing my part in stimulating the local economy. I had good intentions once school started of meal planning since the kids have some sort of appointment almost every day of the week. The hurricane blew that when I didn’t get fresh foods last time I shopped. It’s only Tuesday, and we’re already on our 2nd night of eating out or delivery.

  38. Amy

    I love it!! My (male) student intern walked by me last week, paused, then came back and told me “hey, you smell good by the way.” I’m sure it was inappropriate on some level but it took me so much by surprise I didn’t even care.

    Also, I’m sure your hair did smell lovely!

  39. Maria

    I thought that the days you grocery shopped were supposed to be the days you went out to eat, right? Who wants to cook after you spent all that time and energy?

  40. diane

    A young man flirted with me all through lunch at Olive Garden this last Sunday…while he was chewing his teething ring. Lately, the only young men I can get to flirt with me are under 9 months old.

    Even a borderline inappropriate comment would be sort of welcome…

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