This is part 2 of my 3 part grocery shopping post series. If you missed part one, find it here.
Every week, Andy and I sit down and figure out our food plans for the week. We usually do this together, and we usually do this on Sunday. It takes us about an hour or so, and then we don't have to worry about it again for a week. Yay! This is definitely not my favorite part of the weekend, but it's nice to have it over and done with. Plus, this routine is so familiar by now that it really ain't no thing.
1. Look through store advertisements. Every week we get a local circular with the store advertisements for our two grocery stores (Kroger and Food Lion). If you get the Sunday paper, you'll get them there, and they're also available at the front of the store if they aren't mailed to you. I sit down for a few minutes and flip through the circulars, circling things that are priced well that I may be interested in getting (with no real plans for yet). The longer you consciously shop, the better idea you'll have of what a good price is for items you commonly buy in your area.
2. Check inventory. Before we start list making, I like to see what we already have in the house and see what staples need replenished (milk, eggs, bread, etc.) as well as what we have that needs used up before it goes bad (produce, bread, meat, leftovers, etc.). The staples goes on the grocery list, and I keep the things that need used up in mind while thinking about meals.
3. Check for coupons. I'm not a serious couponer at all, but if I love to save money when it's easy. Kroger has a good online coupon system, so I'll spend a few minutes looking through there and clip anything that I think we might possibly end up buying. Since these are just loaded automatically to my store card (as opposed to having to print them), I over-clip. I also always have some paper coupons that were mailed to me from Kroger or Food Lion or included in a magazine or on a product's packaging or that I was given at the register when checking out on a previous visit, so I like to look through those and see if there's anything I want to use that is about to expire or that I might want to use that week for whatever reason. The easiest way to get the best price is to match a store sale to a good coupon. So for example, a frozen pizza brand might be on sale for 4 for $5 and then I have a $1.25 off coupon when you buy two.
4. Start meal planning. Based on what we have that needs used up, what's on sale that week, and what recipes we're in the mood to try or re-make that week, Andy and I cobble together a menu. For example, if chicken breasts are on sale, or chicken was recently on sale and we have a bunch in the freezer, we'll look through my Pinterest board and our recipe books and binder and pick a recipe or two we want to make. If we have leftover marinara in the fridge, we might pick a pizza recipe, or chicken parmigiana, or spaghetti and meatballs. Usually while we're recipe browsing, we'll look at a bunch of recipes and keep the ones that look particularly good to us at that time and/or that we already have some of the ingredients or those ingredients are on sale. As we decide on meals we know we want to make, I jot them down on a notepad. I also jot down things like nights we have plans to eat out or go to a friend's house, which will affect the number of dinners we need to plan. We don't usually plan special breakfasts or lunches. We tend to have things on hand for pancakes and eggs and bacon, and we usually eat leftovers or quick foods we keep on hand for lunch.
5. Once we've decided what we'll be eating for the week, we go through all of the recipes, double check the things we think we already have, and add the things we need to buy to the grocery list and make sure all the paper coupons we use are in my wallet. Then we're ready to go!
6. Usually after we get back from the grocery store, we'll decide which days we want to eat which things. We try to spread out similar meals (like if we're have two chicken dishes or two pasta dishes), keep in mind who is going to be cooking what and their work schedules, how quickly things like produce need to be used, and optimal freshness for things like beef and seafood. I mark these down on the notepad and then put the whole menu up on the chalkboard that hangs up in our kitchen. Again, it is not uncommon for us to end up shifting things around a bit as the week progresses, but we like to have a schedule to work off of and it really helps keep us from eating out too much.
My favorite grocery shopping app is Anylist. I tried a few before this one, and Andy and I have both been using this app for over a year now, I think. I love this app because you can share your list with other people, so Andy and I are both able to view our grocery list at the same time and make edits to it at the same time. It also syncs and updates really quickly, so if he crosses something off the list on his iPod Touch, it shows up on my iPhone almost instantaneously. The other major feature that I love about this app is that the items are separated by categories as they would appear in most grocery stores (Breakfast & Cereal, Condiments & Dressing, Cooking & Baking, for example), and they are customizable. So you can switch the order in which these categories appear on your list by the order you go through the aisles in the store, and if an item shows up in one category and you think it should be in another, you can easily move it there.
I also use the Kroger app, which lets me see what coupons I have saved to my card and clip coupons right there in the store. Plus there's an electronic barcode of my Kroger card on the app, so if I ever forget it I can show that instead.