It's 6 p.m., the kids are clamoring for dinner, and you're standing in front of the refrigerator, trying to figure out what you can do with a pound of ground beef and three cucumbers. With the troops getting more restless by the minute, you resort to ordering pizza -- again. This doesn't have to happen, though. Planning in advance, and doing the bulk of your monthly grocery shopping in one trip, can save you time, money and gets a home cooked meal on the table almost every night.
On an afternoon when you're not rushed, sit down with your favorite cookbooks, a notebook, calendar and three-ring binder. Choose simple recipes for each day of the month, repeating favorites as necessary. Write out the menu on a calendar, using your family's activity calendar as a guide. On the days when everyone is running in a different direction, choose simple meals that require little prep time, and save the more elaborate dinners for the weekends or no-activity days. Choosing a few recipes that you can cook ahead of time and freeze, or cook in the slow cooker, saves time and ensures that you can get supper on the table even on the busiest days. Look for meals that share ingredients, or have ingredients that you can cook once and use twice. For example, when you roast chicken breast on Monday, cook a few extra pieces to use in chicken quesadillas on Saturday.
Make a List
Start your monthly shopping by making a master list in a word processing program. Create columns for the item name and quantity. Go through the recipes you've selected, and the family favorites you already make on a regular basis and don't need a recipe for, and list all of the ingredients. Consolidate where you can. For example, if you're making 10 recipes that each call for a pound of ground beef, list 10 lbs. on your list. Once you have your ingredients listed, go through your cabinets and add any pantry staples such as flour and sugar. Add other basics to the list, such as condiments, creamy salad dressings, bread, cereal and eggs, according to your family's usage. When your list is complete, organize it to match your favorite store's layout to save time when you get there.
Even when you plan ahead, chances are that you'll have to make a few more trips to the grocery store during the month for fresh foods and milk. Avoid spoiled produce by purchasing frozen fruits and veggies. In fact, frozen veggies may be more nutritious than their fresh counterparts, as they are picked and frozen at their peak and don't lose vital nutrients during transit and storage. When properly stored, some fresh foods will keep for a few weeks. Potatoes, onions, apples and oranges generally last longer than other fresh foods. Pay close attention to the expiration dates on dairy products, and buy cheese and yogurt with the latest possible dates so you can stock up for the month.
If you belong to a warehouse club such as Costco or Sam's Club, save time and money on your monthly shopping by buying pantry staples such as pasta, rice, canned goods and condiments in large multi-packs. The warehouse club is also a good place to find snacks and lunchbox staples. Before you shop the warehouse club, though, make note of the prices at your local grocery store. In some cases, buying several individual items costs less than the warehouse bulk packs. Compare the warehouse prices on meat as well. You might find a larger package of meat that you can divide for a lower per-pound cost than the grocery store.