OK - here is a very simple way to plan for a whole week of meals and only shop ONCE a week.
1. The only really time consuming part (but you only do it once) is go through your recipes / cookbooks / cooking magazines, etc.... and pick 40-50 of your family's favorite "go to" meals. Be sure to include easy ones (ie Breakfast night: eggs, bacon, toast or soup and sandwich night, etc...)
One an index sized card (or if you want to get pretty and fancy - card stock), write the meal on the front and on the back the ingredients. You could even laminate them if you are really feeling spunky !!!
2. Sit down with your week's calendar. Look at what is going on this week. What night's are you going to be busy and need an easier meal (ie crock pot, etc.) What night's are sports practices, scouts, etc. On these days, can you make something ahead ( ie casseroles) and just warm them up when you get home?
3. Pick out 7 meals for the week - keeping in mind step 2. You can keep them in an envelope on your counter, write them on a chalkboard / dry erase board / clip them to clothespins on a bulletin board. Get as creative or simple as you want. Whatever is going to keep you interested and motivated to use it.
4. Take those 7 cards and turn them over. Look at each ingredient and check the pantry/ fridge / freezer as you go along. Make a list of what you need and there you go... your weekly shopping list!!
5. Add on the basics that you may have to get every week (milk, baby food, pet food, produce, etc....) These are many "Master Grocery Lists" online that may help in this area - just Google them.
6. Make a habit of doing this and set a day when you go to the grocery store. If you are into couponing, search online sites or the paper for coupons for anything on your list. Put a "*" next to those items to remind you to review it - do you need to buy a certain size or quantity??
I personally have a really cute clipboard that I got a Target in their dollar section for my grocery list. I put my coupons in an envelope and usually grab the grocery store's current flyer and put them on the clipboard too. Don't forget a pen!!
Best words of advice - STICK TO THE LIST!!! Get in and get out! You will see a big difference in your food budget by purchasing exactly what you need for your planned meals and there won't be that 5pm panic "What are we having for dinner?? Oh, let's order in!" Talk about blowing a food budget!!
Try it and let me know how it works for you!