I thought I'd blog about my "system" as far as meal planning/grocery list making/shopping goes. Over the years I've continued to perfect my system and it is still a work in progress. But I'd like to share what I've done with it so far. It is a long and tedious process, which some may think is way too much work, but my goal is to save money so I'm willing to put in some extra time if it means that we will stay within our food budget. I budget $500 a month for our family of five - my husband and I, a four year old and two year old who eat like teenagers, and a nursing infant who, while not yet eating solids, weighs 20 lbs at 4 months of age and causes his mother to have a voracious appetite. For July I only spent $492, which is an incredible accomplishment for me, so I was rather proud.
Every Friday night I write out my meal plans for the coming week (starting with Saturday and ending with Friday) and make my grocery list. Then I do my shopping on Saturday mornings while David is home with the kids.
Step 1: Coupons. I have a coupon holder where my coupons are organized by category. I go through these, throw out the expired ones, and look to see which ones are going to expire in the next week. I set those aside and then see if there are any sales where I can use them to actually save money (vs. buying the store brand or a cheaper brand, or nothing), which leads me to step 2.
Step 2: Store circulars. I gather the store circulars for the week and look through them for good deals. If one of my children has made them into a paper airplane, it's ok because they can also be found online.
Step 3: Inventory. I look through my freezers, refrigerators and pantry to find things that can be used in meals, and I write them down. For example, last week I found a ton of chicken about to hit its use-by date on clearance, and I bought all ~10 packages and froze them. This week's list looks like this:
frozen pork chops
frozen stew meat
Step 4: Meal Plans. Using the coupons, store circulars, and inventory list as my guide, I write out a meal plan for the week, keeping in mind anything we may have going on in the evenings during the week. For example, this Tuesday evening we are going to a play, so dinner will probably need to be something in the crockpot so that dinner prep doesn't make our getting ready to leave the house even more rushed. Also, I'm now doing meal plans for breakfast and lunch as well, although I'm a lot more flexible with those than I am with dinner.
So this is my meal plan for this week:
Sat: B - eggs and toast
L - lunch at Robin's house
D - Beef and Barley Soup with Beans
Sun: B - eggs and pancakes
L - chicken bowtie pasta salad
D - sandwiches
Mon: B - oatmeal
L - leftovers
D - Papa John's night (lg pizza for $5.99!), salad
Tues: B - oatmeal
L - egg salad sandwiches
D - Busy Day Italian Chicken (in crockpot), salad
Weds: B - oatmeal
L - egg salad sandwiches
D - Potato soup in crockpot
Thurs: B - oatmeal
L - Leftovers
D - Pork chops, mixed veggies, rice
Fri: B - oatmeal
L - Leftovers or sandwiches
D - Cheesy vegetable chowder and homemade bread
Snacks this week: homemade peanut butter cookies, homemade muffins, homemade granola bars, homemade pomegranate popsicles
And here is my grocery list for tomorrow:
Plums (on sale)
Green grapes (on sale)
Other cheap fresh fruit
7 Roma tomatoes (usually the cheapest kind per lb)
Coffee (free with coupon)
8 oz can crushed pineapple
2 cans evaporated milk
3-4 gallons of milk (depending on the dates; on sale)
I'll report back with the total amount I spend!