When my sister was visiting me in CO, she told me how she plans all her meals for the entire month and then does all the shopping at once. She only goes back to the store during the month for little things she might need...milk, fresh fruit/veggies etc. She kept talking about it but in my mind I was always finding reasons why it would be too hard for me to do.
When I went to California, I saw her meal plan in action and decided I NEEDED to try it. I am one of those shoppers who typically goes to the store with a small list of things I'm running out of and then just buys anything that suits my fancy thinking I'll use it at some point. I end up throwing a lot of fresh food away because it spoils and I buy canned food that sits in my cupboard for months and months often until things expire and also need to be thrown away.
Here's how Sarah does her planning.
1. Get a calendar and just write down meals for each day (she and I both skip Saturday as it's a more get-what-you-can-find-day). She writes a main dish item and usually a veggie and sometimes a side-dish like biscuits. This doesn't actually take that much time and if you plan ahead, when a new dish pops into your mind, you can add it to the next month so you have less to think about when the time comes. It's very helpful as well if you plan meals for items you need to use up in your cupboard. IE. I have two cans of beans I bought planning on doing something with them. They've been in my cupboard for awhile so I decided to use them to make chili. This uses up those "I'll use it someday" items that sit around forever. If you have guests, you can always shuffle meals around if needed because you have all the ingredients. Also, if you save your lists, you can use them in subsequent years.
2. Make a list of everything you'll need for the month. This also doesn't take too long because your recipes are right at your fingertips and you can easily check your cupboards/fridge/freezer to see what you have/don't have.
3. Go shopping. Sarah and I made it to 5 stores in 2 1/2 hours! (Not all of them grocery stores...we ran some errands while we were out). We went to Costco and Foodmax for all our shopping needs and spent WAY less than I normally would because we stuck to the list and only bought one or two items that weren't actually on the list. You don't see something and think "Oh, I could use this sometime" because you already know what you NEED for an entire month! It makes shopping MUCH quicker and saves a LOT of money.
4. Go home and prep and label. If you puchase steaks or meats that have a specific purpose, it's a good idea to wash them and freeze them in the portion size you'll need for that dish and label it so it's easy to find what you need when the day comes.
I immediately came home from CA and started doing the monthly meal planning and I am proud to say that I cooked dinner every night this week and didn't dread it. I always hate trying to think of something at the last minute that I have all of the ingredients for. My meals were also healthier as I actually planned veggies into the meal instead of forgetting to make them until it's too late. My husband is one who always asks "What's for dinner?" before he gets off work and often wants to change my mind if he has something else he'd prefer. With this method, it eliminates that because he can SEE what's for dinner ahead of time. I hope you'll at least try this for a month or two and see what you think. I never want to go back and I'm excited to see how much money I'll save on my grocery bill each month.