Using Grocery Flyers to Plan Meals

As I’ve mentioned many times on The Simple Dollar, one of our most frequently-used methods for saving money on food is to simply create a meal plan each week based on the sales found in grocery flyers. I then take that meal plan and prepare a grocery list based on it, which naturally includes many of the sale items found in the flyers.

For me, this approach to meal planning was vastly different than the way I once did it and, to be frank, it took some getting used to. I tend to learn such things through repetition and example, seeing what others have done and simply trying it myself until it becomes natural and normal.

With that in mind, this week, as I was working on my family’s meal plan, I decided to simply make a post outlining the entire process, from meal plan to grocery list, so you can see clearly how the entire process works and perhaps imitate it yourself for food preparation in your own home.

Getting the Flyers
Many grocery store chains carry digital copies of their flyers on their websites. If your preferred grocery store does not, you can often find a copy of that week’s grocery store flyer inside a copy of the Sunday newspaper in your area.

I tend to use digital flyers for the grocery stores I most often visit. I tend to split my grocery shopping between Fareway and Hy-Vee – the former has the best prices on many goods, but the latter often has a better selection for specific items I might need. Since I often do the bulk of my grocery shopping at Fareway with just a quick stop at Hy-Vee at the end of the trip to pick up what I couldn’t find at Fareway, I check the websites of both stores for flyers (hyvee.com and fareway.com).

Identifying Interesting Items
As I browse through the flyers for each store, I try to look for items that are either on sale low enough that they stand out to me or ones that stand out for flavor reasons, inspiring me to get into the kitchen and cook. I tend to particularly focus on produce deals.

In the current flyer at fareway.com, I found these sales worth noting:
Navel oranges, ten cents each
Fresh broccoli, $1.49 lb.
Baby portabellas, $1.29 lb.
Red potatoes, $1.99 for 5 lb. bag

In the current flyer at hyvee.com, I found these sales worth noting:
Asparagus, $2.97 lb. (expensive out of season, but sounds delicious)
Mild yellow onions, $1.39 for 3 lb. bag
Baby red potatoes, $0.69 lb.

Finding and Choosing Recipes
I know that I need to plan for five dinners in the coming week, as well as making sure that we have things on hand for breakfasts (like plenty of oatmeal, for example) and a few items for backup lunches in case we don’t have enough leftovers to cover our lunches.

I usually use a recipe search engine like allrecipes, putting in the interesting ingredients I found above to search for simple recipes I can make that the family would like (with an eye toward my own dietary needs, too). I often also go through our cookbooks and recipe box to see if we have anything interesting that matches well.

I wound up with several recipes worth using, including a portabella penne, an asparagus ratatouille that lets me use the leftover tomatoes from some cooking last week, and a recipe that I’ll be using in my Friday meal post.

Building a Meal Plan and a Master Ingredient List
I usually come up with an actual meal plan at this point, slotting in the various meals for various nights. The biggest reason for doing this is so that I can be sure to use the fresher ingredients as quickly as possible, to plan ahead in terms of tasks that need to be done (like soaking beans overnight), and to make sure I can roll over elements easily from one meal to the next, like having both meals with onions close enough together that any extra chopped onion doesn’t go bad in the fridge.

I also prepare what I call a “master ingredient list.” This is basically a list of all of the ingredients in this week’s recipes sorted by the place where I’d find it in our kitchen – refrigerator, freezer, top pantry shelf, etc.

I do all of this on the computer, usually using Google Docs. It’s much easier to just type all of this stuff out than it is to actually write it down.

Turning the Ingredient List into a Grocery List
When I have a “master ingredient list,” I take it around the house to each of the places I’ve grouped things by on the list, then I cross off the things we already have. This also makes me check up on the quantity of stuff we use frequently, like milk, and encourages me to add such things to the list.

Once I’m done hitting the spots in our kitchen, the grocery list is ready to go. Conveniently, it’s already pretty well organized, as I marked the sale items on the list so I know what store to buy it in, and all of the refrigerator and freezer stuff is already grouped together for me.

I simply hit the grocery store, unpack everything, and then just follow that meal plan throughout the busy week.

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