There are many great ways to save money at the grocery. One of the ways I have learned to utilize is meal planning.
Meal planning is an excellent tool for the homemaker and has several benefits. First of all, it allows for conscious, planned purchases at the grocery. Grocery shopping can be a crazy event when you have little ones, so having your purchases planned out is a great benefit. Secondly, you can plan your meals around sales. That can be a whole post in itself, maybe I'll get around to it one day in all my spare time :o) Thirdly, pre-dinner time is often one of the most frustrating, hectic times of the day when you have little sweeties running around, so not having to decide what to do makes things go much more smoothly. I can tell such a difference in the quality of our meals when I actually take the time to plan them out in advance.
Depending on how much time you have and want to commit to meal planning, there are several ways you can utilize meal planning. Some people just have a running list (in their head or written down) and can just decide what they are going to have each night, create their list and go to the grocery. Some moms I know have a different theme for each night, such as Monday~Mexican, Tuesday~Italian, Wednesday~Casserole, etc. This method can be good as it is predictable amd kind of helps direct your thoughts. I would like to try this method at some point, but right now I mostly just plan around sales and what I have in my freezer. I am a big fan of bulk cooking and pantry stocking, so I generally just pull from that.
A great resource for the meal-planning-challenged, or really just anyone who wants someone else to work it out for them (the easier the better is a great motto!), is Menus 4 Moms. It is wonderful. Every week, a pre-determined menu is provided, along with recipes and a grocery list! It can't get much easier than that. Right now, I still have a freezer full of pre-prepared/pre-cooked meals that I mostly pull from, but I also plan on adding some of the menus 4 moms meals in now that Haven is two months old and life is settling down to more of a predictable routine (whatever a predictable routine looks like with a newborn :o) anyway.
Here is the menu plan for this week:
Monday - Recipes
Taco Mac Salad
Yogurt With Berries
Taco Mac Salad
Yogurt With Berries
Tuesday - Recipes
Chicken Ham and Rice Casserole
Fruit of Your Choice
Wednesday - Recipes
Homemade Pesto with Angel Hair Pasta
Thursday - Recipes
Easy Feta Chicken Bake
Zucchini Herb Casserole
Italian Bread dipped in Olive Oil with Pesto sauce
Friday - Recipes
With the recipe links are also plans for buying extra to use for later meals that week or the following. Such as, if you are browning meat for a taco salad, you may also be browning meat to freeze and use the following week in an Italian dish. It is extremely helpful and easy. And it is free! You can either subscribe to the emails, or just go to the site. I do my meal planning on either Thursday or Friday as I go to the grocery on Saturday. Again, the grocery list (including the extra amounts for future recipes or stockpiling) is included. Two weeks of menus are given at a time, but they also have all the archives from the past several years, so there are a wealth of recipes and ideas. There are also links to many other helpful resources.
Depending on your families health and taste preferences, you may or may not be able to use all of them. That is why it is good to have a running list of meals that you commonly prepare. Then, prior to going grocery shopping, you can sit down and plan your meals out (I plan "whatever days" and left over days, too), make your list, and make your life a little easier.
Implementing this, along with several other things I do regarding meals, has made my life enormously easier. Some of the other things I do are bulk cooking, coupon clipping (not necessarily easier, but definatley money saving), pairing coupons with sales, along with sometimes purchasing extra coupons to go along with sales, keeping a stocked pantry by stocking up when there is a sale, keeping prepped veggies/ground beef/cooked chicken/etc. in the freezer, and having a list of meals and side dishes I can easily reference on those crazy days. Most of these things I do have some sort of method behind them, and many have books and/or online resources that I glean from. Some of those are The Coupon Clippers, The Grocery Game, Don't Panic Dinner's In The Freezer, and I've learned many wonderful tips from my MOMYS group.
In addition to all this, my reality is that I like to and prefer to plan meals in advance, but I do not alway do it. This is where having my stocked pantry and freezer along with my meal/side-dish list comes in handy. If I have a week (or two or three) where I do not pre-plan, I always have a list I can pull from, and pre-prepared main dishes (casseroles, marinated chicken, ground beef, etc.) in my freezer, along with ingredients for sides in my pantry.
Are any of those of any interest to anyone? I greatly enjoy planning things out and organizing, and have really learned a lot in the past year or so that has streamlined meals in the Hutchison house. I would like to post on some of them, so let me know what sounds interesting to you.