Plan, definitely plan. That does not mean I always create a plan. That is a mistake because then I have to revamp my budget because I went over in the grocery allowance. I hate budgeting. It makes me so cranky. Thank goodness our paycheck is once a month (and heaven forbid it coincides with Aunt Flo - you don't want to go there with me mood-wise). So plan it is, and how I do I do that?
When I plan my menus, I pore over the sales ads for the upcoming week. Well, not pore but I do read them, making circles on good prices. You have to know what is a good price. Sale does not necessarily mean a good price. I can find the ads on-line so I can have one more excuse not to move from my comfy chair. I also compare the different store ads. If Store A has chicken breasts on sale for 2 cents less than Store B who is having fruit on sale for 30 cents less a pound as well as frozen vegetables, I will go only to Store B. It isn't worth my time or gas money to go to Store A - especially in this heat. One less outing in the outdoors oven is fine by me. Add kids and car seats to that and you might as well throw a bottle of pain killer in your basket for the headache you will get.
If I take my children, I have to orchestrate that more than my meal plan. I cannot take #5 and #6 together because they like to shop and go to a zillion stores - they feed off each other and quadruple not just double each other's need to shop and ask for everything. #3 likes to shop too so nix that child. #1 isn't always home (college kid now), and #2 would rather be on the computer. He is a big help carrying in the groceries though as is #4. #7 can go ONLY if my phone is charged enough so he can watch a movie (thank you Netflix app) and not in a french fry mood. So I like to go alone and assign a sitter in charge of #7 if possible.
So what is on sale around here? Chicken and ribs - hence the chicken dish and a meal of ribs. We have over 200 pounds of beef in our freezer so I am good in that area. I also try to plan two meatless/low meat meals a week. It saves money. Have you seen the cost of meat lately? I remember when I didn't have to pay more than $1.69 a pound except for special meals. Now, I am lucky to find meat for under $2.69 a pound (I prefer lean cuts). That is why we bought a side of beef a couple of weeks ago. It balances out cheaper than the regular store. I also get the added bonus of helping a local farmer who happens to be certified organic for their livestock and produce. When I do buy meat at the store, I try to buy the reduced price ones. That means shopping about 9:30 a.m.
SQUIRREL! I am not doing too hot about staying on topic am I? Now that I have an idea what is on sale, I plan my meals according to my family's tastes, what I have that needs to be used, and what my home store aka pantry has in stock. If I need an expensive item, I cut somewhere else. Buying a gallon of oil because #2 made fried bread without checking if I needed the oil for a meal means cutting back on say a ready-made item and cooking it from scratch instead. For example, I usually have a take-out night but that was nixed and replaced with breakfast for dinner. So I have a list of ideas for the meals and added a new recipe or two to try out. It gives me something to learn and helps the monotonicity of the same-old-same-old meals.
Sales - check! Ingredients - check! Schedule comes next. I look at our schedule for the week. If we are super busy, then simple 15-30 minute meals or the crock-pot are my friends. A slower week means I have more time to cook. Now I set out my meal ideas, create my menu, and write out a shopping list. I pin any new recipes to my Pinterest board and locate the others I need. Tossing recipes everywhere as you search the recipe drawer at a quarter to five knowing it was just right here is not cool (BTDT).
So that is how I plan my meals. I am comfortable enough and familiar with what food I have at home that if I find another meat - say, pork steaks - cheaper than the chicken breasts, I can whip up some pork fajitas or salsa pork chops over rice instead. It also pays to keep some simple things like a can of chili on the shelf and hot dogs with buns in the freezer. Because we all have those days when ... SQUIRREL! ... it's 5:00, and we need something super fast and easy.