If you're like most Americans, you probably go to the grocery store a few times a week and get what you need to cook that night's dinner. That is, if you even know what you're having that night for dinner. You may be part of the growing percentage of people who simply run through a drive through on their way home or stock up on frozen and convenience foods. Not only is this diet not healthy, it costs you more money than if you planned meals yourself. Not sure how to do that? Here are a few simple steps to get you started. First, take an inventory of what you already have. Of these items, pull out anything that should be used or frozen within the next week. These are the things that you should incorporate into your week's menu. If you don't have any perishable items, it's still a good idea to know what you have on hand. Choose seven entrees that you know how to prepare and that your family likes. If you aren't sure, take a guess. There are many websites online that offer free recipes, most of which offer customer ratings so you can see if the selections are generally well-liked or difficult to make. Now write down the ingredient lists for each recipe. Look through your pantry to see if you already have any of these items. Anything you don't have, add to your grocery list. One thing to note is while you may only need two tablespoons of something, purchasing a large container is less expensive in the long run than only getting the smallest amount available. Next, decide what side dishes you'd like to serve alongside each entree. A general rule for a complete meal is to have some protein, vegetables, and whole grains. Fruits are another excellent choice, provided they aren't coated in sugar. Salads are a quick option as are whole grain breads. And sliced fruit makes an excellent dessert. When choosing side dishes, list them with your entrees. For example, your list could read "Monday: baked chicken, sauteed green beans, whole wheat dinner rolls, cantaloupe chunks." This ensures that you are planning complete meals, not just the entrees (a common beginner's mistake). Just like you did after choosing your entrees, list the ingredients needed. Anything not in your cupboards should go on your grocery list. Finally, think about any extras you may need for the week. Do you need eggs, cereal and milk for breakfast? Are you in charge of treats for you son's soccer game? Having people over for lunch on Saturday? Add these items to your grocery list as well so you don't end up taking extra trips. Following these steps will lead you to have a complete menu and grocery list for an entire week. After a few weeks of doing this on a routine basis, you'll begin to realize there are some things you purchase regularly. A great way to simplify your planning is to type the things you constantly buy, leaving space for notes and extra items. Laminating this page creates a reusable grocery list that will save you time during the list making stage. Congratulations on your success and happy planning!