A good friend recently mentioned on Facebook that while getting ready to prepare their taxes, she discovered that their family was spending much more than she had imagined on groceries. She was asking what other's grocery expenses are and was receiving nice responses and advice. I started to reply there, but realized that I tend to ramble and the reply would probably be very long. So I decided to respond here.
First, I'd like to point out that you probably already know everything I'm about to write. I'll post that our average grocery bill ranges from $100 to $130 per week ($400 - $520 per month). I can sometimes get it down below that if my pantry is stocked, but with all of our recent moving (and the fact that we're in temporary housing right now), the pantry is bare except for the items necessary for that week's meals and snacks. Also, our bill tends to be higher than a lot of the "queens of frugality" who post their $45 per week grocery bills online because we buy local as often as possible and "clean" meat is usually at least twice, sometimes three times more expensive than grocery store prices (but I believe its cheaper in the long run, and definitely worth it).
If you have recently looked at your grocery expenditures and wondered, "what happened?", here are a few thoughts. In the last 18 months or so, prices for basic items like bread, milk, flour and sugar have gone up quite a bit. I used to be able to get 5 lbs of flour for $1.00 every day, and less if I watched for sales. Now its $2.50 every day and $1.50 on sale in our area. Bread used to be $1.50 and now its $3.00 for 100% whole wheat. These are just a few examples. Prices for almost everything have gone up.
Before prices went up, our groceries averaged $80-$90 per week. With prices on most items doubling (or tripling), our weekly grocery bill would be closer to $160-$180. We've kept it lower with a few strategies. The strategies with the highest impact, in my opinion are 1) plan a menu for the week, 2) shop for groceries weekly, and 3) cook a few quick and easy meals to freeze for those rushed evenings when cooking is not an option. This requires some organization, but it can be done in just a few hours a week. When you plan your menu, you can take into account your family's preferences so that your more particular family members will have something they like at every meal. Our menu plan includes breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks, and a little cushion of a few extra items (in case the kids are hungrier than usual or their hungry friends come over a lot), so that we can try to get everything we need in one shopping trip. With a written plan, its also easy to make a grocery list based on this plan. I just jot down everything we need to make each meal on the back of my menu plan, then transfer over the items we need to buy onto a list based on the layout of the store (so that I can hit each isle only once - I tend to add impulse items if I stay in the store too long). If I can plan well, and not forget anything, I can usually get all of our shopping done with one trip, which saves us a ton of money (and time, not to mention frustration - the boys are not eager or willing shoppers). If I do forget something, I end up at the store, spending $30 or more (for the one missing item and a bunch of impulse purchases). Shopping weekly, groceries cost our family less than $130, but if I shopped daily, at $30 per shopping trip, we'd spend $210 or more a week.
Cooking a few extra meals to freeze can also be easily done if you simply double a recipe and freeze half for later. I like to do this with lasagna, especially, but it works nicely with lots of other meals, too. It takes almost no extra time to do this and saves lots of time later. I also like to have cooked chicken in the freezer to quickly heat and eat for the kids when one of them doesn't like what's being served for supper (one of my kids is extremely picky and has texture issues and a high gag reflex - we encourage him to try everything, but also respect the fact that there are just some things he cannot eat).