Monday, March 31, 2008

My Kitchen Method: Menu Planning & Once a Month Grocery Shopping

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The as promised third installment of my Cooking During Stolen Moments series is temporarily on hold due to lack of photos. Once our camera is up & running again, I will get back on track. In the interim, I'd like to share my menu planning and grocery shopping system.

We have a $300 monthly grocery budget that is pretty firmly set in stone. For 6 people, I think that's a pretty good budget. I have been able to make sure we stick to this budget, or finish the month slightly under, by spending a good amount of time in preparation of our grocery trip. The initial set up of our system took quite a bit of time, but now that I have it all in working order, it only takes an hour or two to be prepared for the whole month, and in the most frugal way possible.

The first thing I did was to create a Master Menu Plan for our family. It includes all of favorite and stand-by, reliable meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as snacks, side dishes, and desserts. You can look at my list here. (There is also a link to it in my sidebar.) Please feel free to change, save and/or print it out if it may be of use to you. We usually do our monthly grocery shopping on a Tuesday or Wednesday, which gives me time to study the Kroger ad when it comes out on Sunday. Then, I take my menu plan and mark it up for the month based around what is on sale and what we have a taste for. I choose everything for the month and force myself to stick to it as I cook.

On my list I denoted the items which freeze well, so I will also choose some of those so that I can have a well-stocked freezer. I have found this to be one of the best tricks in my arsenal to not waste food and force myself to stick to my plan. I am able to cook and freeze my produce, whether in a casserole or as a side dish. That ensures we still have fresh veggies to eat at the end of the month that have not gone bad in the refrigerator. Freezer meals also make it really easy to avoid the temptation of picking up take-out on crazy, busy days or when I'm just feeling lazy and don't want to cook.

Also, I cook everything from scratch, with the exception of occasional convenience food lunches. I have found that to be a true money saver, as well as a wonderfully healthy way to feed my family. It really isn't that much harder to cook from scratch once you get used to it. (Here is how I do it.)

Once I have finished marking up my menu plan for the month, I pull out my monthly grocery list. (Again, here is a copy, as well as in my sidebar. If it would be of help to you, please feel free to use it.) Putting this list together was what took the most time, but it was so worth it as it is the key to help me stay on budget. I am slowly but surely filling in all of the non-sale prices for each item on the list. (You will notice them on the list as the dollar amounts in pink after each item. We are very happy with all the Kroger store brands, so the prices are for store brands only.) I haven't had time to spend a few hours in the grocery store doing this so I have taken advantage of my receipts. We only shop at Kroger and they print the sales price paid, as well as the savings for each item, so a little math and a little time have allowed me to do this from the comfort of my desk chair.

I spread out everything assembly-line style: my menu plan, the weekly ad, and my master grocery list. I fill in the quantities for everything I need on my list based on the menu plan. It took a month or two of trial and error to really get to the correct amounts I would need, but again, that was worth the effort. After my list is all filled out, I go through and add in the sales prices. Then the fun begins! I pull out my calculator and start totaling the list, including sales prices and any coupons I may have. If my total is over $250, I know I have to go back and re-evaluate some meal choices. That rarely happens, and it isn't too difficult to do when it does happen. The remaining $50 or more is put on hold for the rest of the month for any dairy or produce that we need to replenish. I'm usually pleasantly surprised at the grocery store as Kroger seems to mark down a lot of their store brands, even though those sales aren't advertised in the weekly ad. So we tend to pay about $10-15 less than what I had figured.

We are doing our monthly grocery trip on Wednesday, so I am planning to update this post with my filled out lists and totals as a working example. So, that's pretty much my system! Maybe it will work for some one, or serve as encouragement to develop your own system. I have no problem spending time to save money. In fact, as the keeper of the home, and as my husband's helpmeet, I view that as one my most important jobs. It is just one of the many one ways I can show respect to my husband. By respecting his hard-earned money in a responsible way, and by preparing nutritious meals for my family, I am showing my love through my Biblically ordained responsibilities.

Graphic courtesy of


Melody 10:03 AM  

Your system looks great.

My problem would the milk. We use a lot of milk. We probably spend $75.00 a month just on that.

Joy 11:55 PM  

I am SO glad you posted this. I have been toying with the idea of doing a MASTER LIST like you have to see if I could plan out our meals better and save money with our grocery shopping. I'm glad to see that this can actually work!

I'm like Melody thought. We drink LOTS of milk and my husband drinks a 2 liter of soda a day, so just his soda costs us $30 a month. Add about 3 quarts of milk a day and that's another $80. So $110 of our monthly food budget is just drinks!

I'm thinking we need to work on switching to drinking water if we really want to get a hold of our food budget, because we end up spending a whole lot more than $300 a month to feed out family of 5.

By the way, I also added you to my blogroll. I'm really loving your site.

Ms Whit 7:15 PM  

I am always trying to find ways to cut down on grocery shopping. You have some good ideas. I'm going to try to work on a grocery list and hopefully reading your suggestions will help a lot. Thank you and have a great day.

Mary,  6:28 PM  

I am curious, does this include diapers and toiletries? I'm really struggling with a $400 budget and there's only 5 of us. (kids aged 4-pullups at night, 2-pullups when we go out and diapers at night, underwear at home, 11 mo- diapers full time). I make most everything from scratch, including laundry soap, shop at Aldi's, and we eat a lot of beans!

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