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Master list lets you wisk through the grocery store

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The phrase “shop till you drop” is not associated with grocery shopping. The idea there is to get in and out before the ice cream melts.

How can you shop faster? The best way is with what I call the “Master Shopping List.” Items are listed according to the store’s layout, and the list is your travel guide. No more backtracking — I’d rather spend those extra steps walking my dog.

To make a Master Shopping List, first list all your favorite main dishes (I call mine “Meals We Like”). Aim for 20 to 30 tried-and-true keepers. Next to the main dish, note a side dish. This can be as simple as green salad and bread, or the more-elaborate twice-baked potatoes — my daughter’s favorite. If the recipe is in a cookbook, note the page number. You now have a planning tool for stocking the kitchen.

Place your list in the front of a three-ring binder. Use clear protective sheets to hold recipes that support your main dish list. Use dividers to separate your favorites into main dishes, soups, salads, side dishes, breads and desserts.

Use a separate binder or file folder for untested recipes that you clipped and stuffed in various drawers. Try out new recipes regularly, maybe twice a month, and discard recipes you haven’t tried in a year.

What about recipe boxes? They’re cute, but most people find it easier to get recipes from a binder.

Insert loose recipes in the sheet protectors. For odd-size originals, copy the recipe on 81/2-by-11-inch paper or staple the recipe to a sheet of paper, then insert it in the page protector. You now have a meal guidebook.

Look through your cupboards, pantry, refrigerator and freezer, and write down the items you use regularly. Take this list to your grocery store and note the aisle where you find the item. Go home and organize the list by aisle. Prepare the list on your computer, with columns so it all fits on one page. You can format it with boxes to check off for what items to buy, or skip boxes and simply highlight the items.

Print multiple copies — you’ll be using one each week. Write your menu choices for each day on the bottom of the list. Refer to the list each day to see what’s for dinner.

Avoid running out of staples by keeping a fresh copy of your shopping list posted in the kitchen. The words “we’re out of milk” are not what you want to hear in the morning, so before using the last drop of milk, note it on the list. (A magnetized notepad on the refrigerator also works, as does a wipe-off board, but don’t forget to add those items to your Master Shopping List.)

Weekly grocery shopping works well for most households. Look at the week ahead, take into account nights when you have meetings or dates, and other times you won’t be eating at home or need fast, easy choices. Make store runs at quiet times — early morning or late evening — and you’ll breeze through the store.

Beware the coupon curse, which is: You carry around the coupon, hand it to the clerk and find that it’s expired. Or find that even with the coupon, the item costs more than the store brand. My theory? Coupons create clutter, and you save more money by buying what’s on sale and sticking to your list. If you aren’t ready to ditch coupons, print your standard list on the back of an envelope, and stuff the envelope with coupons.

Final note: Don’t get bogged down with bags. On your way into the store, drop plastic bags in the recycle bin.