Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What's the Plan, Stan?

Whoops..I have been MIA from this blog for way too long, not sure if any friends or family are even still reading! I apologize for disappearing for two months, and I promise to blog more regularly. Life just somehow got way too crazy, and I inadvertantly neglected Healthy Eating on a Dime. So, if anyone is still there, here goes nothing.

For me, weekly grocery shopping and meal planning go hand in hand. I compile my grocery list using the weekly sales circular for my local grocery store. I typically do my grocery shopping for the week on Sundays.  Prior to heading to the store, I sit down and plan a tentative list of meals for each night. Meal planning is an important part of both saving money and healthy eating.  

I have several go to recipes, but I am a big fan of trying new recipes. Every week I always seem to come across new recipes I can't wait to cook. I use an excel spreadsheet to type up my shopping list. This keeps my list very organized, and I have it set to auto sum my spending totals to save me time doing calculations. Here is the step by step for how I plan my weekly grocery shop.

My favorite page of the sales flyer--the fresh produce, yum!
(Sorry for the poor picture quality...I had to use my phone because my camera is currently MIA)

1) Skim through sales flyer and circle deals that I think I want to add to my grocery list.
2) Use a coupon website such as The Krazy Coupon Lady or I Heart Publix to help me save time matching up coupons to the weekly deals I plan to take advantage of in my grocery store sales flyer.
3) Then in my excel spreadsheet, I type up the following headings: item, # to buy, price each (for each item), price (total price before coupons--may be different from each price if buying multiple of one item), coupons (this is where I list any corresponding coupons that I will be using), and final price (this is the price after coupons for that item). This makes it really easy to keep track of what I will be buying and what I will be spending.
4) The first items I add to my excel spreadsheet are always sales promotions I don't want to miss out on. These are not necessarily items I will be using this week. They are items I want to stock up on for another week because I can get a good deal on them either with or without a coupon. This might be something along the lines of frozen or canned vegetables, frozen fruit, cereal, oatmeal, fish, chicken, lean beef etc. Also note, when I say stocking up, I do NOT mean in the style of TLC's Extreme Couponing. Since Publix does a lot of buy one, get one free promotions, I typically stock up on 2 or 4 of a particular item depending on how good the deal is and how frequently we use the item.
5) The next set of items I add to my list are fresh fruit. Opting for in season fruits can help you save on your grocery bill. I try to stick to the fruits listed on sale in my grocery flyer each week, which are usually fruits that are in season. Since the sale fruits will differ from week to week, I never find that I get bored of my fruit choices. In fact, in the past, I had always bought pretty much the same favorite fruits from week to week, but now I find that I incorporate a lot more variety in to my fruit choices!
6) At this point, I would now make my meal plan list for the week. When choosing recipes, I try to choose recipes that incorporate mostly ingredients that are on sale. I especially focus on the vegetables and meats or fish that are on sale, as these items can put a dent in your grocery bill. Again, I try to stock up each week when foods I enjoy are on sale to allow for more variety in my meal plans.
7) Once I add the ingredients for my meal plan to my excel spreadsheet, I give the sales flyer one last look to make sure I have not missed anything. Then I gather any coupons together and I am ready to shop!

A few additional pointers, if anyone is still reading this ridiculously long post!
It is helpful to set a weekly grocery budget before starting. My goal is to spend $50 or less each week, or $25 per person. Obviously this may not suit your financial state, so you just need to figure out what works for you--whether it is higher or lower, just remember you can make it work. I am filling my cart with primarily healthy foods, including some organic foods. You can definitely eat healthy on a budget, it just takes a little planning.

When meal planning it is also important to make sure that you have a handy helper who sleeps by your feet, while you are hard at work ;)

If you are really lucky, maybe you can find a helper that will do all the typing for you!

Although this may sound time consuming, I really only spend an hour or less prepping for my shopping trip. Going in to the grocery store prepared saves me a lot of time at the store. Since I have been using this method to shop, I also find that I no longer wander the grocery aisles looking for other items to add to my cart, saving me both time and money. I can usually be in and out of the store in 45 minutes or less. Also, having my meals planned out ahead of time saves me time during the week. There is no guessing on what I will make for dinner and no last minute trips to the store to grab missing ingredients. I always try to stay flexible, since weeknight plans for us can change. I like that I have all the ingredients for all my recipes for the week on hand, so I can easily substitute one night's plan for another night.

How many of you plan your meals each week? Do you typically go in to the grocery store with a plan? Good luck with the meal planning and I'd be happy to answer any questions!

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