When Joel and I first got married, we would go to the grocery store and just buy whatever looked or sounded good. There was no real plan for meals and sometimes we would go to the store, spend a hundred bucks and come back with absolutely nothing for dinner. It was terribly expensive and I was always finding rotting food in our fridge. Mainly because we would buy things with the idea of eating them, but with no real plan to eat it. About a month in, I realized that our budget could not afford this kind of shopping, so I made meal planning into a mental game with monetary benefits.
First of all, I look at the week ahead and see if there are any evening meetings for the family or days that Joel will not be home. I think about how much time I will have for meal preparation on each of those days. I take a mental inventory of the things I have in the house.
Next, I turn to the sales paper for the grocery store. I peruse which meats/protein sources are on sale or if there is an abundance in the freezer, I just use those things. And then I take those meats and think about the various things that I can make with them or that Joel can make if he has the time that week.
So I end up with six or so main courses, I check the recipes, see what I have in our kitchen and then make a grocery list. I throw in a couple of veggies that look good that week or that are on sale and that's my basic plan.
I have a written list of the six meals with no specific days assigned to them. Once the week starts happening I cross them off or use the ingredients for other recipes if what I planned sounds bad.
Once the groceries come home, I put away the meat in the freezer unless I plan on using it in the next two days. I do this because things can change a lot in a few short days for us. Stuff is always coming up to change dinner plans at our house. Unless I'm feeling extra special, we normally have a main course and one or no side.
The nice thing about putting things in the freezer is that if we end up having a lot of left overs or going out to eat, then I can just put that main dish idea onto the next week's schedule. By delaying the meals that way, about every 8 weeks there is no need to go to the grocery store and about every 4 weeks, there's no need to by any meat.
For a family of three (two of us eat every meal at the house) we spend around a hundred dollars on groceries every week. That includes fresh fruits, vegetables, as well as meat at every dinner not to mention tons of junk food. That's how much Joel and I were spending a decade ago in Austin to end up with no meals for just the two of us.
What do you do for dinners?