Friday, October 16, 2009

Grocery Shopping Basics-making a menu

I can honestly tell you that this part is not easy for me. Making the menu and grocery list ahead of time is critical to saving the most money at the grocery store. In theory it doesn't have to take that long, maybe an hour at the most. For some reason, this is always a struggle for me each week. I am always trying to make sure that we are not eating the same thing we had last week and I tweek the list a lot to ensure that it is as cost effective as can be. Part of the reason I was excited about doing this blog was in order to stimulate conversation with others to get fun new meal ideas. I appreciate the tips that some of you have shared with me.

There is no one way to make a list and menu, but here is how I do it. I start by listing the days of the week in the top right hand corner. Then, I put the meal next to each corresponding night. That way I can tear off this portion and hang it on the fridge as a reference for the week. By listing the days out this way I can easily check my calendar and see what is going on each night. Often times we may have a family dinner or something else going on where a meal is not needed.

Next, I try to take an inventory of what food I already have on hand that I can work with. I try to keep my freezer stocked with chicken breasts and at least one other kind of meat. Often times there will be one meal that sounds really good and then I will work out from there. Example, last week I made the pork loin with mustard sauce. The sauce required green onions so I still have several left over. So, I took that into consideration this week and I tried to come up with one or two meals that I could use the green onions I already had (baked potato soup and spinach enchiladas). This is a key to saving money. I try to avoid buying special ingredients that I will only use for one meal. If I do that for each meal of the week I will be spending a lot of money and probably end up throwing extras away.

Along with reusing ingredients I also try to re-invent our leftovers. I like to call this make-overs, not left-overs. Sticking with the pork loin example, we had that last night and I still have pork left over along with some sauce. I will get some kaiser rolls today and make that into sandwiches with homemade oven fries (I will get a bag of potatoes for the soup and use some of them for the fries) for Saturday night.

Finally, I always have my Kroger circular handy when planning my menu as well. If there is a certain vegetable or meat on sale I may try to incorporate that into our menu. I also have coupons nearby to compare with the sale items of the week. I don't use a lot of coupons, but there are some that save a good bit of money. Cereal has become expensive over the last few years. I always check the circular for which brand of cereal is on sale. Usually, I will have a coupon for that brand of cereal and so I will stock up. Depending on the sale, there have been times when I have purchased 3 or 4 boxes at a time and then I don't need to worry about cereal for a couple weeks.

I watch the prices on the items I buy most often and so I usually have an estimate of how much I will be spending before I even get to the store. Sometimes, I will jot the estimated price (rounding up to the next whole number) next to each item on my list. This is helpful when my list is long and I am worried about going over my budget.

Yes, all this does take some time and planning on the front end, but it is so worth it. I am able to get in and out of the grocery store in less than 30 minutes because I know exactly what I need. Also, I am only buying what I need so I am saving money.

Happy shopping!

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