Grocery Shopping for a Big Group

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Shopping for a large group can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. I have actually been given this task twice now. A few years ago it was for a girls weekend with ten of my best girl friends from college. This last time it was for my husband’s family reunion, when fifteen of us would be staying in a beach house together for one week. I am proud to say that with both trips ended with very little food leftover, and each person paid 40% less than we had originally budgeted. Big win there! Make no mistake though – grocery shopping for a large group is a CRAZY BIG job! If you are thinking about taking on such a task, do yourself a favor and break it into smaller tasks —

  1. Organize and assign meals. Most likely you will not be eating out every meal. So plan out your meals! Decide which meals you will eat out, which meals will be sit down family-style, and which meals will be “on your own” style. Then divvy up the meals among individuals or teams. Each team is responsible for planning the meal and preparing their meal. Tell them to send you their grocery lists of items by a set date. I am always sure to include a line like, “Please be sure to send me a grocery list of all of the ingredients you need for your meal by September 7th. Please do not send me your recipe. It is your job to figure out how many times you need to multiply your recipe in order to fit our size group and then to figure out how much of each ingredient you need.”
  2. Plan the “on your own” meals. By this, I’m referring to lunches, for example, which may mean that there is a ton of sandwich stuff in the fridge and people are responsible for making their own sandwiches. What I found to be helpful was first to survey the group and find out sandwich likes and dislikes. Then I calculated (and guesstimated) how much of each item we would need if each person had a turkey and swiss sandwich each day. Thankfully, I was then advised to halve that number, at least to begin with. The thought was twofold – 1. People always eat less than you think, partly because you need to factor in leftovers, and 2. If we need more later in the week, we can do a grocery run mid-week. Of course, if you are some place remote, then this may be more difficult. Still if you are preparing big dinners, count on leftovers!
  3. Decide on snacks. There are two major snack times – mid-morning and mid-afternoon. I don’t think you need to assign a snack per day, but just account for people wanting to grab something between meals. This may look like grabbing extra apples and bananas to leave in the fruit basket. It will probably also include humus and pita chips to be set out one afternoon. If you overbuy on snacks, here’s an easy solution – start setting them out. People will eat anything sitting out on the counter!
  4. Then compile a list. When making a list, I found it helpful to copy and paste people’s lists that had been sent to me onto my document. I actually did a page break in between each list and another one before the big grocery list which I compiled. The reason I have chosen to have these lists in print, before the grocery list is for two reasons… 1. From experience, people forget how many, say tomatoes, that they asked for and may use more, which then cuts into someone else’s meal ingredients. 2. When I am at the store, if I have a question about an item, I can see who it is that needs that item and contact them about it. Now as for actually compiling the list, this part is tedious, but just go through and write out every ingredient (and amount) needed.
  5. Section off your list. Itemize groceries by dairy, produce, meat, baking, etc. Again, this may seem tedious, but it will save you time in the grocery store! My sister-in-law and I bought food for a week long trip for fifteen people, and we were in Walmart for two full hours! Thankfully our list was sectioned off – can you imagine how long we’d be there if it wasn’t!?
  6. Shop! If you have the patience, use coupons and/or price match. But if not, just head to Walmart! My last piece of advice I’ll add here – Respect the fact that not everyone may want to pay top dollar for an organic item (and vice versa). When we shopped on our most recent trip, we bought almost all conventional, aside from milk and eggs. It’s not what I would have bought at home, but it was one week. And that seemed like the best way to honor everyone else’s pocketbooks.
  7. Organize, and be flexible. It’s pretty much inevitable with a big group that someone will accidentally eat an ingredient for someone else’s meal. You may need to make a run to the corner store every so often because of this, or hopefully you can make due without the item. For fridge ingredients, I have found it hard to really sort items. So the best thing to do is to have a group meeting at the beginning of the week and explain, “A list of the ingredients each team wanted for their meal is taped to the fridge. Please refer to it when preparing your meal, so as not to dip into someone else’s ingredients. Also many of the things in the fridge are meal ingredients, we bought {xyz} for sandwiches each day and {abc} for snacks.”

Like I said this is a huge job, check out these pics of our grocery shopping!

Here’s a photo of our big group!

Have you shopped for a big group before? What’s your two-cents?

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