March 8, 2011

Back To Basics :: Menu & Grocery Planning

I'm not sure if this could really be considered a Back to Basics post in the sense of it being a "back to our roots" kind of thing. But I think it's a good practice that allows one to live a basic, simple, less hectic life more easily. My life runs so much smoother when dinner is already planned out.

One of the nice things about removing most of the internet from my life means getting back to the things that I really enjoy. In this case, menu and grocery planning. Yes, I actually do enjoy the planning. I figured I would share how I do it.

I shop on Wednesdays, which means planning happens some time on Tuesday (or maybe Monday if I'm feeling frisky.) Unfortunately, our grocery flyers come out on Wednesday, so it makes shopping the sales a little difficult, but it works out.

Here's the Short List, for those who don't want to read the long post:
  • Print out blank calendar and write menus on that.
  • Print out grocery list and use to mark weekly needs.
  • Review items needed for meals and mark things on list that we need, but don't have.
  • Mark unplanned essentials/staples on list like milk, eggs, flour, etc.
  • Total up price/estimated price of items to see if they meet budget for week.
  • Go to store! If there is room in the budget, get sale items, usually meat, to stock up.

Now, the long version.

I start out by printing a blank month's calendar from my email program at the beginning of the month. Just from the 1st to the last day of the month. In this case, it's March. I print it without the bills or other scheduled things, but leave birthdays and holidays on so I can plan for those. I have tried weekly one-sheet planners, but I have found that this works best for me. It allows me to see what we've had recently so I either don't repeat too often, or I can get inspiration from the past meals that we liked.

Also at the beginning of the month, I print out a few copies of my prefilled grocery list that I created. (It looks like that^.) It's a list of the things we use the most, or what I like to keep on hand. It stays on our fridge through the week and as we run out or need things, we mark them on the list. It comes up again later after I plan the menus for the week.

Then on Tuesdays I sit down, sometimes with the help of Ben, and write in our dinners for the coming week onto the calendar,  including any sides or special things I want to fix. Usually I'm planning for Wednesday to Wednesday. For example, tomorrow is Tacos, Thursday is Spaghetti, Friday is homemade pizza, etc.

I try to plan my menus with what I have on hand first. We've been having tacos a lot lately because I was able to get a mass of ground beef on sale. (And Ben loves tacos.) If I have chicken the in freezer I will plan meals with that, or pork, or whatever. My goal is to not only use what I have because it needs to be eaten, but it means a smaller grocery bill for the week.

Once my menu is filled out I go through, meal by meal, and mark on my grocery list what I don't have for the meal and I need to buy. This week, I have ground beef, tortillas and onions for tacos, but I need to get jalapenos so they go on the list. I also need to get a jar of spaghetti sauce for Thursday, and a package of cheese for pizza on Friday.

Then I go through the list and mark down any essentials we need, like milk, eggs, flour, sugar, snack produce, etc. I created the pre-filled list so that I wouldn't forget to check things. Rather than just writing on a blank page and getting back from the store and remembering I needed to get sugar.

Next to each item I've marked on the list I write the price if I know it, or the estimated price if I'm not sure. Then I total them all to see if I've met my budget, blown it, or am under. If I've met it, cool. If I'm under then I know I have room to grab a couple sales items and stock up - typically meat to use in the future. If I'm over I have the choice of either taking away superfluous items we don't need, or taking it out of next week's budget. I typically worry more about the month's total budget (which is all I get), rather than week to week since it can change depending on the meals.

And that's how I do it! It's a bit different than the "oh shop the sales and plan from that", but it works for us and I feel I stick better to the budget this way. It took me awhile to get to this system, so if you're trying to come up with the perfect strategy, just keep trying!

If you'd like a copy of my grocery list you can download it via Google Docs here:

Grocery Shopping List

Just select "download original" from the file menu in the top right corner if you'd like to change it. Once you've opened it in your word processor you can change the items to fit your family. Or, you can print it as is from Google using the "Print (PDF)" option in the file menu. Once printed it folds into fourths to accommodate fitting into a purse or pocket.

Happy shopping (and eating),


Allison said...

I am just about to play a game with my littlest girls before bed, but I thought... I wonder if Meg posts at all... so I checked and today... YOU DID! There must be some weird vibe that extends from Cali to Switz because today is the first day I thought I just couldn't live without you! ;)

While I was reading through this post I was thinking the whole time... "I wish I could get a copy of that list." And then bam! There you gave me the link. You're a lifesaver and the consciencious planner that I am not. :( I stopped by the market today and bought really important things such as: Oreos, Ritz, chocolate milk mix, beer (yikes, can I admit that? yeah, I checked... it's on your list :). I thought as I checked out for 150 dollars... "it'll be homemade potato-celery root soup tomorrow!".

All this to say... I'm glad you were there today. Hugs!

Kessie said...

We'll be in the store, and I love looking in people's baskets in the checkout and trying to figure out what kind of people they are. And it shocks me how many people shop without lists. They always buy tons and tons of groceries, too, and half of it is impulse-buy junk food.

I'm glad you don't quite shop the sales, either. I look over the sales flyers, but it's so much work to find what's on sale, figure out how to cook those things, and then drive from store to store to get the sale items. I imagine it might be fun once the kids are older, but right now, when I'm doing good to make a menu at all, I just can't face "shopping the sales".

Dawn said...

What great ideas for simplifying! If I could do even half of those things I think I'd feel a bit more sane. Thanks for all of days look easier already (and this is just in one of the departments of life;))

myletterstoemily said...

wow. i'm a bit speechless. you are an
organizational wizard. i wish i knew
you when i was raising my five kiddos.

William said...

I think MY life just got a little more organized from reading this!

Meg said...

Kess: Yeah I think it's all a bit over rated. My rule is if it's going to cost me more in gas to travel to a different store than I would save on the item(s), then it's not worth it.

Lea: You're so sweet! Thank you. Although I still feel like I'm just going along not really knowing what I'm doing. ;)

Will: Now you can shop for groceries! :P

From Beyond My Kitchen Window said...

I really admire how dedicated you are to your budget and grocery list. I am not very organized and therefore have huge grocery bills. I have tried to cut coupons and make lists but they never seem to come out like they should. Planning is the key I guess! I will try harder next week and let you know I did.

Farm Girl said...

I am so proud of you for doing this. I was always amazed how much simpler my life was with a menu. I really don't know how people live without one. You do it way better than me though.

Judy said...

Raising a large family, I had to have a plan...and that plan was to plan ahead with my meals like this. I kept my weekly meal plan on the refrigerator and still do to this day. Makes for an easier life, at least where making meals is concerned :)
I like the idea of the grocery list.

Allison said...

I'm just stopping by to say hello on this Friday morning. ;) Have a great day, Meg! Hugs!

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