Disclaimer: I said meal planning and grocery shopping made easy. I didn't say fun. This is what works for me, but I'll admit up front that I am not a coupon shopper, nor do I go to multiple stores looking for the best deals.
(If you're in Columbus, Ohio, and you want to save money and have the time and energy to do the multiple-store thing, check out my friend's blog for great tips.)
My motto is: one store, once a week (plus Costco every week and a half).
Now for the tips:
1. Maintain your grocery lists on your smartphone. Here's the app I use and love: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/shopper-grocery-shopping-lists/id284776127?mt=8. I keep a number of different ongoing lists, including for stores that aren't grocery stores (Ikea, Michael's, Target). You can input your own items easily to their pre-made lists (although the categories they suggest are strictly grocery categories). Once you've used the app awhile, all your lists will be customized!
2. Plan your meals weekly. This is the best and worst hour you'll spend every week. Best, because it will take all the thought out of the looming question every day of, "What's for dinner?". Worst, because it's a grueling discipline, one you'll find every reason to avoid. But it's only an hour, and anything can be endured for an hour! (P.S., I keep all my recipes on MacGourmet, which is super smart and usable software for the kitchen!)
3. For your weekly meal planning, try using this spreadsheet (if you have excel). I keep on file a generic spreadsheet that I fill out each week. Then, as I do each week's meal plan, I save it with a different seasonal name: Winter 1, Winter 2, etc. If you made four winter meal plans, you could simply circulate through those all season long! Here is the generic meal plan along with an example of one I've used earlier this winter:
If you're not a spreadsheet kind of person, here are some other printable grocery lists/meal planning sheets that I've used in the past.
Also, if you're using MacGourmet, for an extra $10 or so, you can add their mealplan plug-in. You can use select from your recipes to make a meal plan, and then the software creates your own shopping list. This is super handy, especially if all your recipes are imported into MacGourmet. The drawback is that you'll be forced to input your favorite recipes from your cookbooks to MacGourmet if you want to use this option.
4. Try going to the grocery store only once a week. You'll save money and save time. But this requires you do your meal plan and make a very thorough list. No ifs, ands, or buts!
5. Two days before you shop, do your meal plan and make your list. Don't do this on the same day you shop or your entire day's activity will be groceries. Also, by making your list two days before, you're giving yourself some lead time for remembering the random items you've been missing from your pantry.
6. One day before you shop, clean our your fridge, toss the old leftovers, organize your pantry, and wipe down your refridgerator shelves. Also, inventory your staples.
7. Do not cook the day your grocery shop. That's your day to order pizza or pull a meal from the freezer. Nothing makes me grumpier than an entire morning of grocery shopping and then an entire afternoon making dinner. So generally, the day I shop is a day I don't cook. Or, if I'm at Costco, I pick up a rotisseries chicken along with my other grocery items and have that for dinner!
8. In your week's meal plan, make a soup as well as a pasta meal to double (and freeze). Soup leftovers makes for great lunches all week. And the meal you double and freeze will be great for last-minute company, a meal to take to a friend, or for next week's shopping day.
If you have some great tips on how you shop or meal plan, please add them in the comment section!
Happy shopping and eating this week! On the menu for us tonight? Beef enchiladas. Yum!