I thought I would take the time to share some things that we do.
We make a menu and then the grocery list from there. One of the BEST ideas my husband came up with was a spreadsheet with meals and side options (Using Google docs, it's free). This is a huge help! When we find a meal that everyone loves, we just add it to our spreadsheet. Over the years we've tried websites, recipe builders etc. none of then have really stuck for us. When we want to find new recipes, we just do a little googling and searching. A portion of our recipes we've found online, the rest we have come up with. After we try a new recipe or meal idea, if it's a hit, we add it to the spreadsheet. Such an easy yet convenient solution. This is one reason that being married to a geek is awesome.
Here are some tips to get started.
1. Start a meal spreadsheet. Input all of the meals you already like to make. (You can use a binder or whatever other method, we just find the spreadsheet the most convenient.)
2. Look at grocery store sale flyers (they are often online) to see what kind of deals/sales they are having. Use this to help with the menu planning. We cut coupons when we come across something we use.
3. Use the meal spreadsheet and sale flyers to make your menu (we typically do a week at a time). When you write the menu, detail sides to help make it easier to write the grocery list. Of course, try new meals in there so that you can build your meal spreadsheet.
4. Write the grocery list! Use the menu to help you write the list. Don't forget to check your pantry to make sure you have all necessary seasonings ;).
We use very little boxed or processed foods and we buy organic as much as we can. We "pick our battles" so to speak. We focus more on organic thin skinned fruits and veggies. We don't bother spending the extra money on organic bananas since it has a thick skin you peel off. We try to spend the money on organic where it's more necessary.
Partially because of my 8 year old's food allergies and partially for healthier meals, we have some alternatives to starchy/carby foods that we love. For meals that would go well with rice (particularly things that are served over white rice) we use Quinoa. It's good for you and is a great alternative. Mashed cauliflower is a good alternative for mashed potatoes and much better for you. Whipped butternut squash makes an excellent nutritional side. Raw, Sauteed and Steamed Veggies are a regular here.
Canned foods are practically banned in my house (I seldom have very few exceptions). To help offset the cost of produce, we buy frozen vegetables (NEVER canned veggies) when they are for a meal that I don't feel it needs to be fresh for (like broccoli being mixed into sauce with chicken).
In the past I've tried to be one of those super awesome couponers surrounded by newspapers, clipping a bazillion coupons and paying $10 a month in groceries... But then reality hit when I looked at all of the coupons and most of them are processed boxed stuff that I wont feed my family. It just doesn't work for us, as much as we wanted it to. We use the coupons that do work for us though! Other things we do to save money in the long run is we have a small deep freezer in our garage for when my husband finds great deals on meat. We also buy in bulk when it's cost effective.
This is all very easy to do, I promise. It's not incredibly time consuming and it makes cooking at home a much less stressful process. The menu helps you plan ahead to defrost and prep. We keep our menu posted on our fridge.