Recently, a few people have asked me how I do my meal planning and grocery shopping. And because they asked so nicely, I will be happy to impart my wisdom upon you all.
First of all, like anything else, it's all in the planning. Part of why people hate cooking dinner and grocery shopping is because they don't know what they're shopping for because they don't know what they'll be cooking, and at 5:30 in the afternoon, they're trying to scrounge something up for dinner when they would rather relax and enjoy a meal.
I have a three-ring binder that is divided into 5 sections: appetizers and snacks, main courses, side dishes, desserts, and miscellaneous (this includes things like breakfast recipes, breads, drinks, etc.) In each section are recipes of things we have tried and liked and recipes that I want to try out. Also, at the beginning of each section is a page of a list of things we like but don't require a recipe (for instance hamburgers, beans, grilled meats, etc). About every 6 weeks or so I sit down with this book and make a spreadsheet of 5-6 meals for every week. I don't always cook all the meals because we will normally have leftovers at least once a week and eat out once. But if we don't, I always have a backup. Every week I open the spreadsheet and modify the weeks' meals (if I need to) according to what we have going on that week, and print out only the current week. Then I take that menu and make a shopping list.
Those of you with big freezers and lots of pantry space can shop well in advance and freeze and store everything but fresh produce, dairy products, and breads. We like to buy our meats and organic things like pancake and waffle mix, oatmeal, coffee beans, etc from Central Market because the quality and selection is better, but it's so far across town that it's hard to get over there as often as I would like. This is where a freezer and storage space would really come in handy.
Because you're shopping off a list, your grocery bill drops dramatically. I normally cook 4-5 dinners a week and even with things like cleaning stuff, toiletries, etc., my grocery bill never goes over $70 a week. But I don't buy diapers or formula anymore and there are special circumstances like today when I had to finish buying school supplies for both kids. It is normally only about $55 a week. If you have a freezer and buy meat and seafood when it goes on sale, it will drop even more.
Because you have your week's dinners planned out, all you have to do is take anything out of the freezer that needs to thaw first thing in the morning and you will be ready to cook by dinnertime. Also, I try to prepare what I can in advance. If we are having a salad, for instance, I will cut up any vegetables that I can earlier in the day and have them ready to add to a bag of salad.
Any questions? Does that help those of you who asked? Do you wish you had never asked?
*Note to add: this week's menu is up over in the sidebar. And per Stephanie's request I will try to publish photos along with any recipes. Because I aim to please.