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Friday, May 4, 2012

Let's Get Organized! - Menu Planning & Grocery Shopping

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Happy Friday! Today I am going to share some things that have helped me with menu planning and grocery shopping. Before I begin I just want to say that the most important thing to be successful with this is to have a plan. I've tried shopping without a list or making a menu and can most definitely tell you that it does make a difference in how prepared you are and how much money you spend.Se here's a few ways you can make the most of your menu planning and shopping...

1. Take inventory of what you have. 
It is important to know what you already have in your pantry, fridge and freezer before you start a menu or grocery shopping list so that you can plan those into your menu. This will also give you a better idea of what you may need. Some people suggest to have a written inventory but I just take a few minutes to look through my cupboards to see what's there.

2. Plan a menu
There was a time that I hated the idea of a menu because I didn't want to be forced to make something on a specific day. I used to shop with some ideas of what I would make but inevitably ran out of options way too quickly. I then started to make a list of meals I could make and put together a shopping list from there. This was a big improvement from having no plan but once I started an actual menu it became much easier to plan what I would make for dinner and what I needed to shop for.
 When menu planning I try to think of things that I could make first with what I have on hand then think about what is on sale or what I could get a good deal on. After that, I decide what meals I will make and write out a list of them. From that I plug it into the menu. I recently discovered this menu plan from Nourishing Home and it has been a huge help for me. The site also has a lot of great tips about meal planning. Check that out here.
I also like to have the menu displayed so I can see what I have planned for the week. I created a weekly menu and put it in a picture frame which is displayed in the wall in my kitchen. Each week I use a dry erase marker to write in what's for dinner each day.

Not sure what to even put on the menu? Find some good recipe websites or cookbooks or go to the library and find some cookbooks there. Keep track of the recipes that you have used and start to build a collection of your favorites. Also be willing to try something different. You may hate it but who knows you might just have a new favorite. See Tuesday's dinner up there? I was hesitant to make it the first time because it sounded a little weird but it is my absolute favorite dish now. I don't even need the recipe to make it anymore! Want the recipe too? Get it from eating well here: Skillet Gnocchi.

Here's a few of my favorite recipe resources on the internet: www.allrecipes.com, www.tasteofhome.com, www.eatingwell.com, www.dashingdish.com, www.melskitchencafe.com or checkout my recipe pinterest board - http://pinterest.com/ashleyrr/recipes.

Here are some cookbooks that I like: The New Betty Crocker Cookbook, The Bridal Edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, The Taste of Home Cookbook. I also have some of those good ol church cookbooks that hold many of my family favorites from growing up. 

3: Write out a shopping list
It is very important to have a list when shopping or you will inevitably buy more than you need and probably forget something as well, or is that just me? To start, take your list of meals and write in anything you will need to get to make those. I keep a dry erase board on my refrigerator that I write down things that I am running out of or know I will need soon and transfer those to my shopping list as well. Then add any other things you will need such as milk, bread, toilet paper or makeup (you get the idea). Below is a document that I created to use as my shopping list. I like having the different categories because it helps me to not miss something while I am walking around the store.

4. Use sales and coupons to save some money 
I do my best to save money when shopping and try not to buy anything unless I can get it on sale or it is something that I need with the exception of produce as it rarely goes on sale. To do this I first look through the stores weekly ad (online) to see what they have on sale that week. Since I usually shop on Fridays, I also look through the preview ad which I get through my e-mail to see what will be on sale the next week. Sometimes I hold off on buying something because I know I'll be able to get it on sale a few days later if I stop by on my way home from church.
I do also use coupons but am definitely not a crazy coupon lady. I get the coupons from the Sunday papers for free from my in-laws but wouldn't pay for the paper just for that. I also print some coupons from the internet (www.coupons.com) and use www.couponmom.com which tells me what the best deals are at different stores. My local grocery store also has a digital coupon program that allows me to clip coupons online and type in a code on the keypad at checkout to get those deals applied to my order. Target also has coupons that you can print from their website to use. It is an even bigger bonus if you can use a coupon on something that is on sale. Some stores even let you combine a store coupon with a manufacturers coupon which will save you even more. I don't think couponing is for everyone but you can save money with a little time and a few coupons. I typically save anywhere from $10-$50 on my grocery bill with sales and coupons.
A few cautions about coupons: Keep in mind that just because you have a coupon does not mean that you are getting the best price. A similar item in a different brand may still be cheaper. Also, I realize that many coupons are for prepackaged or pre-made items which is why I don't typically use that many coupons. I have discovered that it is healthier and can even be cheaper to make things fresh or from scratch which I try to do as often as possible. Also if you decide to use coupons it helps to keep them organized. Below are a few pictures of my coupon folder. I have sections labeled and then each one has different envelopes with sub-categories. The third picture shows the categories in my health & beauty section. This is helpful because if I am looking for a shampoo coupon for instance I can pull out just the 'hair care' envelope instead of looking through all my health & beauty coupons.



I hope this was able to give you some ideas about how to better organize your menu and shopping!

I leave you with a picture of my cat Jax. He has nothing to do with this post other than he curled up next to me as I was taking pictures earlier today. I guess he wanted me to take his picture too so I thought I would share! He says 'hello'!



Joyfully,
       Ashley


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