I was one of those weekly grocery store shoppers, I would make out my menu on Sunday night and then go grocery shopping on Monday- I pretty much always stuck to my list, but there was a lot of times when I would forget things for certain meals or forget that we were out of something random and have to run to the store later that week to grab it and yes spend a lot more than just getting that one item. I enjoy cooking most of the time and planning a menu wasn't my most dreaded domestic duty, but sometimes if monday morning came and I hadn't figured it out I started to stress, and to be honest sometimes I just didn't know what the heck to put on the menu so I would sit on pinterest forever trying to figure it out every week. Now this process of planning only happens once a month!
My simple plan is this- I do a monthly menu planning session and then I shop at 2 stores- Aldi & Walmart. Then because I love fresh food and its my weekly ritual, I go to the farmers market every Saturday morning where I never spend more than $25. So for those of you who were thinking this girl must not eat any fresh food- there's my solution. :) and here are the dirty details:
First I pull out all my cookbooks and go through them, what's the use of having them if I only cook recipes off of the internet?! I mark every recipe i'm going to use with post it notes and once I have gone through the cookbooks I'll then go to pinterest and fill in the gaps. I use three different lists when I start planning the menu, a print-out of our calendar with events on it, a master grocery shopping list, and a weekly list of what I will need at the farmers market.
I also label days of the week as different types of main proteins- for instance Monday is chicken, Tuesday is fish, Wednesday is beef, Thursday is vegetarian, Friday is pizza etc. this way it really helps me fill in the calendar as i'm looking at recipes and gives a variety in our diet. So for instance say I pick fresh tomato basil pasta and pop it into the third thursday of the month, then next thing I do is go through the ingredients add what we don't have to the master grocery list and if it calls for fresh produce (which it does, tomatoes) then I will add the tomatoes to week 3 of the farmers market list. I like making the farmers market list at the same time because I made the mistake of not doing it the first month and I had to go back through every single recipe every week before I went to the market to figure out what I needed for the upcoming week.
You can see in these examples how I planned for August. I blocked off the middle two weekends because I will be out of town and i wanted to plan freezer meals for my family. I also add the initials of the source where I found the recipe after the recipe title- so Black Bean & Mango Tostadas-JBF (means just between friends, a cookbook I have) This is important because i totally forget where things come from if i don't write it down (and going through a million different cookbooks to find out where those chicken enchiladas are at 5:00pm is so not fun)
Another thing I had to figure out was how much of the basics we use. My best advice is to carefully watch over the next 2 weeks how much bread/milk/eggs/cereal/yogurt etc. your family eats and then you will know how much to buy for a month. On my calendar I only plan out dinners and a few special lunch and breakfast items here and there, but mostly its dinners, so I had to plan in advance for a month of our normal breakfast and lunch items as well as basics like milk, bread & eggs. I have two small children so the four of us don't consume a ton of food like say a family of 8 might, so thankfully I have enough room in my fridge, freezer, pantry and chest freezer to store all that I need for the month. I love my chest freezer, its a lifesaver in this situation. For instance I freeze all my meat that won't be eaten in the first week, all my bread, and in the book I read that you can freeze milk- I haven't needed to do that yet because we use about 6 gallons in a month and they all fit in my fridge and the sell by dates are almost always a month out.
Once you have your menu figured out and shopping lists made you are ready. Go shopping! I always go on a day when my husband is home to stay with the kids. I can't imagine being able to focus and get as much stuff as I do with kids in the cart. I'm a fan of Aldi so I go there first and buy everything I can (other than milk, eggs & meat because I buy organic at walmart) and then I go to walmart to buy what Aldi doesn't carry. It takes me about 2 hours total, and then another hour or so to get home and put it all away.
After I plan on paper I input it into iCal just so I have it on my computer and not on a sheet of paper I would probably loose at some point.
I can't tell you how much I love the fact that I save so much time only doing this whole process one time a month! I found it so liberating having the entire month's dinners planned, and then even more so once all the groceries were bought and ingredients in my house. It feels like a weight lifted off my shoulders knowing that I don't have to stress about dinner because I have a months worth of dinners to choose from! Oh thats another thing, a lot of times I go exactly off what dinner is scheduled for what day but I also skip around if I feel like eating something thats scheduled for Friday on Monday. We're flexible around here.
You can download and print my grocery shopping lists to use HERE, If you have any questions feel free to contact me via email (there is a contact button up by my social media buttons) or leave a comment and i'll get back to you!