I mentioned before that EVERYTHING goes on the family calendar. Including what we're going to eat for dinner every night (and where the recipe is located). Because my least favorite question in the world is "What's for dinner?" (In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's my most hated question!)
When I don't have an answer right away, the first thing out of Toben's mouth is "Let's go out for dinner!" And while I enjoy eating food someone else has made, it gets expensive awfully fast. And it just doesn't work on school nights very well.
My mom taught me to plan menus and make grocery lists. Her advice, "Never buy something that's not on the list." That and don't go to the grocery store if you're hungry!
I try to plan menus for the upcoming week on Saturdays, making my grocery list as I go along. That way it's all ready to go on Monday, which is the day I shop. (I also have a wipe board on the fridge--for keeping track of random things I run out of like lemon pepper or dijon mustard.)
I don't usually plan for breakfast and lunch. During the summer when we're all home, I will come up with lunch options--and make up a list that everyone can choose from each day. But during the school year, I just keep things like yogurt and string cheese and fruit and crackers on hand.
Mostly I sit down with a pile of cookbooks and flip through until something sounds good. I also ask everyone if there's something they're really craving. Then it goes on the calendar.
I put all the ingredients on my list--unless I know for sure I have what I need. If I'm not sure, it goes on the list. The last step is checking the pantry, freezer, fridge and taking off those things I have that I wasn't sure about.
As I plan, I take into account what's going on during the week. For example, on Monday, we have an all-school Girl Scout meeting and I know I won't be home until at least 5:00. I will be tired and I won't want to cook. So that's a good night for something quick and easy or a crockpot meal. Not the night to try anything complicated or something like risotto that requires, say, constant stirring and standing at the stove for an hour.
I also try to vary what we eat. Beef, chicken, pasta, soup. As well as kinds of food. Asian, Italian, French.
And I take into account what we already have on hand. Since our beef was delivered (thank you, Kurt and Sharon!) on Wednesday, that means we have plenty of beef available. And since I just went to Costco and stocked up on chicken, we have lots of that too.
When I first started planning menus, I went so far as to have a set schedule. Monday was chicken. Tuesday was pasta. Wednesday was soup. Thursday was beef. Friday was seafood. And so on. While I don't stick to that anymore, I will go back to that periodically--especially when NOTHING sounds good to me as I flip through cookbooks!
In addition to putting the main course on the menu, I plan side dishes. Rice, potatoes, salad, vegetables. I keep sides really simple and try to be as specific as possible, though sometimes I'll just put "vegetable" and wait to see what's on sale at the store or what looks good. (I hate it when I plan on asparagus and then the stuff at the store isn't very nice looking!) So sometimes the grocery list has something like "vegetable to go with roast chicken" on it.
I don't know about you, but I shop at the same store every week. (Costco is a once-a-month trip around here.) I don't really care if another store has something I need on a better sale. It takes me too long to find everything else I need to be worth it!
Because I know where everything is at my store, I organize my list according to the path I take, grouping like items together. And since my list is on the computer, I can cut and paste pretty quickly. But even when I used a paper list, I'd rewrite the list because it saves so much time.
So fruits and vegetables are always listed first, followed by deli items, dry goods, canned goods, and so on until I get to the milk. That way I avoid walking back seven aisles for something I forgot. (Well, most of the time anyway!)
I organize my cart as I shop too. Something that caused Toben to mock me incessantly last Monday when he went with me. Ya'll think he's nice, but he was so awful that he's now banned from going to the store with me. Forever. And ever.
Anyway, I keep like items together in the cart so they get bagged together. That makes putting everything away much easier and faster. (Have to say, I sure wish they'd teach the baggers at the store how to do that and not put my eggs on top of my lettuce, or the bag of canned goods on top of my produce bags. I'm always happy when there aren't enough baggers and I get to bag my own groceries!)
I know some of you have blogged about how you do this and there are all kinds of resources out there for menu planning and shopping. What works for you? And if you've blogged about it, be sure to put a link to your post in the comments.