A great habit to have is meal planning. Meal planning doesn't have to be set in stone. The point is to save money, not be rushing around to figure out what's for dinner, and always have a nice meal ready. If you plan really well you may even loose some weight.
1. Shop in your Pantry and Fridge FIRST.
Figure out what you already have to make a meal with. Frozen meat, bags of rice, beans or noodles.
2. Look at your favorite store's adds and see whats on sale.
If they have a sale on chicken legs, then plan a meal around that. Simple!
3. Take a piece of paper and start planning.
Plan the WHOLE meal, sides, sauces and all. Spend a little time flipping through cookbooks or searching online for recipes to go with the ingredients you already have, then start looking for things you want to make. Try finding recipes for your favorite take out food. Making it at home means you can control ingredients, portions and avoid things like trans fats and MSG.
4. Make your shopping list complete
Go through each recipe and make sure you have enough of each ingredient. This will keep you from buying too much of something that could spoil and keep you from going back to the store and buying "in the moment" items you don't really need. Like that candy bar that keeps calling your name...
Here is an example of what you should come up with. It is not only a shopping list but a meal guide for the rest of the week.
Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo with Broccoli and Fresh Bread Sticks with Garlic Butter.
Have: noodles, broccoli, yeast, flour, butter
Need: cream, parmesan (4 oz), head of garlic, chicken 1/2 lb breasts
Have: tuna, dressing,
Need: lettuce, green onions, wrappers
HLC Ginger Citrus Meatballs with Brown Rice and Vegetables
Have: rice, lemon/lime juice,
Need: ground turkey, garlic, broccoli, bell peppers, corn, tofu, cornstarch, soy sauce
Spicy Pursuits Pan Seared Tilapia with Hot Orange Ginger Sauce Brown Rice and Fresh Green Beans
Have: spices, vinegar, brown rice
Need: tilapia 1 lb, scallions, ginger, marmalade, orange juice, garlic, green beans
Soccer Night Pizza
Papa Francesco's $5 off coupon
Dinner at Mom's
You can write this down however you like. You may not need to write what you already have, that is just an example. Notice I wrote down Garlic on each meal that it calls for, this will help me gauge how much I will need. Then take the Need items and add them to your shopping list. Make sure you always check to see if you have the basics like cooking oil, salt and flour.
If this seems a bit overwhelming for you just start with a couple of days. Don't try to tackle a whole week all at once.
Plan meals that will specifically fit a certain day. If you have to pick up the kids from a late soccer practice and have less time that evening allow a night for dinner out, or plan a meal from frozen ingredients that don't need to be thawed before cooking.
To save even more money, take the sale items at your grocery store and make them fit more then one meal. For example, if lean ground beef is on sale, buy 2 lbs and make meatballs one night and hamburgers another. You can also freeze half of it to use for a meal another week. Try not to make it too complicated if you are not a fabulous cook or don't have a lot of time. Skip the potatoes au gratin until Easter. Just make baked potatoes with cheese for the work week. Also, try not to take too much time planning. There is such a thing as over-planing, it can be overkill if you calculate exactly how much salt you will use or an exact poundage of meat. Keep it simple, flexible, healthy and remember to shop from your pantry first.
Check out Martha Stewart .com This site has an excellent recipe finder. You can search by ingredient.