I've mentioned a few times about how meal planning has been instrumental in being able to eat good food at a low price. Much more so than couponing and watching the sales, meal planning keeps us on budget without sacrificing my goals for us to eat as much organic and/or local food as possible.
In addition to making sure we eat quality food, meal planning has allowed me to work full time and serve a nourishing meal to my family. I have about 20-30 min each night to prepare dinner, so good planning is key. We don't have the financial resources to buy takeout when I don't feel like cooking, and besides, most takeout food is low-quality and stuff I don't feel comfortable feeding our family.
With meal planning, I go against the grain and don't first search the sales and then plan around that. We buy so much in bulk, that typically I'm just purchasing fresh fruits and veggies and some odds and ends most weeks. Buying produce in season keeps the grocery budget trim, and ensures that you're not eating berries that have been gassed in Ecuador to produce a bright color and shipped 1,500 miles to your market.
I have a simple powerpoint calendar printout that I keep on our fridge that shows the weekly dinner menu. Lunches are almost always leftovers from the night before. Breakfast for me is 2 slices of homemade bread (1 with homemade apple butter, and the other with peanut butter and local honey). Troy typically has an egg sandwich, and Jack prefers soy yogurt or homemade applesauce, some fruit, and one of momma's homemade "cakies" (buttermilk pancakes) from the freezer.
As we run out of stuff throughout the week, we note it on a dry erase board on the fridge. Saturday I sit down and make a grocery list based on the board, and anything else we need for the week. I stick to the list 90% of the time and that saves us huge bucks. If I see a wicked sale on something I can't pass up, I'll deviate from the plan a bit.
Many people prefer to make a weekly meal plan, but not assign a "day" to that meal. I have to assign a day because I do all my prep for the week on the weekends, or in the evenings. Time is simply a precious resource that is nonrenewable for me.
Before meal planning, I was running to the store multiple times a week and spending way too much money. Troy and I were also constantly fighting about who was cooking dinner, what was for dinner, and would we have enough. I can't recommend good planning highly enough! If you think it's too stringent for your lifestyle, try it out for 2 weeks. If you hate it, you can always just go back to the way that works best for you.