This was not good.
The result of this thoughtless practice was that we often ended up with food that would never get eaten, and was eventually tossed out.
This also was not good.
I don't like being wasteful. Actually, it KILLS me to throw out food. Often I will eat leftovers of the same meal for days on end, because Brandon sometimes won't eat leftovers, and I hate to see food go to waste. Occasionally, if I too am tired of the leftovers, I will give the food to the pets and feel not-so-bad about it, because they seem so very grateful to receive human food.
Anyways. I needed to find a system that worked better for us, one which would involve more conscious effort but would produce better results.
It actually wasn't that difficult. Sometimes I complicate things by trying to find a method online that works for someone else, and then I attempt to fit myself to its mold, and I realize that it's just not my style.
In this case, however, I went by instinct.
I knew the first step would be to make a menu plan for the week. The problem was, I wasn't very creative at coming up with meals for the whole week. I could think of maybe three recipes that I hadn't used last week, but beyond that I was drawing a blank. So I went back a step further (if Step One was to make a menu plan, I guess I was going to Step Zero?). I made a list of all the meals we eat regularly, and I was able to come up with a good amount. I sorted them by main meat ingredient: Beef, Chicken, or Other.
Now I could get to the good stuff.
I hand-drew a grid, with Breakfast / Lunch / Snack / Dinner as the column headings across the top, and the days of the week as the row headings down the bottom. Some people don't need to plan out each day's breakfast, lunch, and snacks, but I like having it all planned out for me. I consulted the weekly grocery ads to determine what was on sale, and keeping that in mind, I filled in my grid.
Oh, how pretty!
It makes me happy to complete my menu grid. Don't laugh at me.
Next, I checked my pantry and fridge to see what we had and what we needed (according to the menu grid!), and made the grocery list accordingly.
Something else you may possibly laugh at me about: I get quite specific in my grocery list-making. I have to make categories of Cold, Meat, Dry, Frozen, and Produce in order to keep up with everything. If I don't do it this way, I end up accidentally skipping the orange juice or something and having to go all the way to the back of the store to get it - with a full cart and, usually by this point, a whiny toddler.
My current list-making method isn't perfect, either. The "Dry" section - basically all of the internal grocery aisles - is quite a large section and sometimes I still skip over things. But I'm getting better.
Plus, as you can see from the picture above, I tend to get a little lazy near the end of the grid. The whole menu plan is flexible, but weekends especially are, because sometimes I don't know our plans until the last minute. Consequently (and as a result of the aforementioned lack of creativity), I often leave out most of the weekend's menu plan.
That works for me!