A shopping list saves time and money!

Shopping. It is a necessary part of playing with food, but is often the first stumbling block for aspiring cooks, whether they are just starting out or have been cooking for years. Shopping for food takes money and time - something many of us have way too little of. I can share some tips that might help make shopping for food less of a chore.

My first bit of advice is to sit down each week and decide what you want to cook for your main meals. I know this sounds like a drag, but it saves stress and money. First, take stock of what you have in your fridge and freezer that you should use in the coming week. Look in your pantry to see what staples you might be running low on. This will help shape what you make in the coming week and identify what you need on your shopping list. Believe me, this will save time and money later. Now for the fun part. I usually sit down with cooking magazines, my favorite cookbooks, and my computer and decide roughly what I want for dinner for the next week. When I say roughly, I mean I decide on whether I am having flank steak, chicken thighs, ground beef, fish fillets, whatever I have in my freezer or intend to get. I don't usually make something new every night -that takes exploring with food and makes it more of a chore. Since I work a full time job and have six children (only 3 are still home), it is nice to come home and make some of the old standards, but try to set aside at least one night a week when you try something new.
It keeps you from getting into a rut (Monday-hamburgers, Tuesday-chicken pot pie, Wednesday-Vegetable soup....).

I know this seems like a pain to do all this work before shopping but remember we are saving time and money in the week ahead. There is nothing worse for someone who has worked all day than to come home and have to decide, "What's for dinner?" If your family is anything like mine-in this situation they only know what they don't want, which is whatever I suggest. It takes time when you would really rather decompress at the end of the day. Then once you decide on something, do you have everything you need. An even worse, you will have to get back in your car and go get something...now it's 7 o'clock before you even get started with dinner! That is what having a menu and a shopping list does for you. It removes some of that stress. And if you get home and decide you don't want the chili that you planned for this evening, you have a week's worth of meals to choose from... and if you used your shopping list, you already have all the ingredients!

Since you are obviously computer-savvy, there are lots of computer programs that help with meal planning and then generate a shopping list for you. MasterCook, http://www.valusoft.com/products/mastercook.html is one that I have used that has its own electronic cookbook, allows you to save your own recipes, allows you to change the proportions of your recipes to suit your family size and generates a shopping list from your menus. There are also a number of grocery stores that provide a shopping list option. Harris Teeter http://www.harristeeter.com/ and Kroger http://www.kroger.com/homepage/index.htm, also allow you to create a shopping list.

So take inventory, grab your cookbooks and make a list. A little time spent now will definitely save time and stress during your work week.