Food Shopping & Menu Planning on a Budget

One of my goals this month is to track the family grocery bill.  Long gone are the days of a trip to Whole Foods (a.k.a. Whole Paycheck), Draegers, Paradise Markets or any of the specialty and upscale grocery stores on a whim to get ‘whatever’. 

Nope, we are back to basics and the fundamentals of filling bellies with economical and nutritious foods.  Who needs a 5-star restaurant when you can get 5-star cooking on a budget?  All the flavor without the guilt! 

So, how do you perform such a miraculous feat?  By learning from others…

There are two schools of thought on food shopping and meal planning.    Shop first-plan meals or plan meals-shop later. 

Simple Mom plans her meals first.  Check out her guide to simple menu planning.  She plans a week in advance, rotates recipes and is extremely organized.  She uses Google calendaring to automatically repeat recipes to help plan ahead.   What a great tip!

Kelly, over at Almost Frugal, plans her meals after she shops.  She shops fewer times but buys quantities of various staples such as pasta, rice and flour. 

I like both approaches and probably fall somewhere in between.  Since my kids are predictable on what they will eat, most of my meal planning is simple.  I’ve covered our breakfast routine, Kids’ Breakfast on a Budget, and lunch is the same day in an day out…much to my chagrin.  Dinner rotates between 4-5 dishes from mac & cheese, pasta & veggies to hot dogs.

The challenge is filling in the gaps for the adults in the house.   We don’t eat out and I love flavorful foods.  I keep a number of rubs, spices, marinades, oils and vinegars on hand for seasoning.  I stock the freezer with beef and chicken as it is on sale and supplement with seasonal fruits and veggies. Using different seasonings and cooking styles it’s not terribly difficult to overcome the sense of “chicken, again???”

Ideally I would like to hit the grocery store once per week.  I did my shopping for the week on Sunday for a grand total of $112.80.  I had a few coupons, but not many.  Chicken was on sale for $.99/pound and there were a number of other store specials.   I’ll likely have to hit the store again before Friday for more milk and bread.  I’m hoping to stay under $150 for the week.  We’ll see!

What’s your grocery bill for the week?  For how many people?  Do you plan meals first or shop first?