The most important thing you can do for yourself is to walk into the grocery store with a list in your hand. The store is designed to make you want to buy more. Everything from the placement of the front door to the music on the speakers has been designed by experts with only that in mind. Knowing what you need before you get there, and knowing where these things are located will do a lot to keep you from coming home with things you didn’t intend to buy.
On the day you choose to shop, or even before, sit down with the ad from your single chosen store (I’ll go into choosing stores later) and a notebook and decide what you’re going to have on the menu for that week. You want a sheet of paper that’s big enough to write your menu down on one side, and your list on the other, with extra space toward the bottom to add non-food items, such as video rentals, cleaning supplies and dog food. Example here.
You have only seven main meals to consider. The other two meals for each day are covered, because people generally don’t have much variety in breakfast and/or lunch. Those are the times you just want to get some food down and get on with your day. So write your seven main meals down on the right side of the paper. My neighbor, Gloria, wondered once how on earth you’re going to know on Wednesday what you’re going to be in the mood for on Saturday. Well, you don’t. But you’re going to work with what you’ve got on hand anyway, so you may as well have all the ingredients for a meal already on hand.
Check your fridge and your cupboards for what you’ve already got, so you don’t duplicate anything and have to throw anything out later. Write the food items you need on the other side of the sheet, and the non-food items separately in your bottom middle column. The reason for this is that non-foods and foods are located in different areas of the store, and you want to stay focused on what you need, rather than what the store manager wants you to buy. Don’t forget to include your faithful standbys for lunches and breakfasts. It’s also a good idea to add an extra meal for the first few weeks. This way you’re covered in case you miss your regular shopping day.
SAVE THIS LIST! When you get home, put it on the fridge or the bulletin board so you can keep track of what you’ve got. Once it’s replaced by a new list, put it away in a drawer for future reference. There will come a day when you won’t have the time/energy to come up with a new menu, so you can just use an old one. You also may find yourself ahead of the game, if you’ve bought eight main meals for each week for a while. You might have the ingredients for enough meals to actually blow off shopping one week!