Our Monthly Meal Plan and How it Works For Us

Ever spend countless hours doing weekly grocery shopping, walking aimlessly up and down each isle, tossing everything that looked appealing {or was on sale} into the cart, only to get home to hear the dreaded question, what’s for dinner? and ask yourself.. What really is there for dinner? That was me. It was a nightmare that haunted me for years. How could I of just spent $200+ at the store and not have anything to put together a full meal once I got home. See for the first 10 years when it was just me and the hubby and it wasn’t that bad. Granted we did not have the best eating habits but we survived. When the little guy came along and was finally eating real food I felt the need to act like a real mommy and cook real meals. I would stand with the freezer doors wide open for minutes before I moved onto the pantry trying to put together a semi-well balanced meal. It literary took me a half hour just to come up with the menu ~ it was not working. When we moved last year and remodeled our kitchen I was left with a completely empty pantry, freezer and fridge. {we ate out the entire time our kitchen was in shambles} When it came time to re-stock I came up with a plan; a monthly meal plan. It was one of the best things I have done this far as it has saved me money, energy and most importantly time. Here is how I do it… {along with some added kitchen pictures to give you something to look at}

~Gathering~This does take a bit of time but is actually nothing compared to weekly shopping trips and miscellaneous runs to pick up forgotten ingredients. I start by having some dedicated time to sit down and gather recipes from cookbooks, magazines, and the internet that I think we would enjoy. I go through each category {beef, chicken, fish, etc.} to make sure I have a variety of main dishes. The number of recipes I need is based on the days of the month, for example for the month of February I know I need 28 different recipes. A meal for each night of the week plus weekends too. As the months go on and you develop these plans, the time it takes to put them together significantly drops as you already have lists upon lists of complete meals.

~Spreadsheets~I use spreadsheets to manage my plan. It is easy and it works for me. Each month gets a new spreadsheet and I save it right to a ‘Meal Plan’ folder on my computer. I begin by listing the main dish recipes I have collected then I go back and fill in the sides that usually include a grain {starch} and vegetables. Some meals are easy, such as one dish casseroles that pretty much include everything and don’t have a need for sides.
~Planning~
Once I have a complete month of full meals on my spreadsheet I create a shopping list. This is pretty anal but it keeps me on track and saves me a ton of time when it comes to actually putting these meals together and cooking every day. I go down the spreadsheet and list the ingredients and measurements that make up each meal. This complete list includes everything; butter, cooking spray, spices, everything. I then take that list and compile the data, so to say, totaling up exactly how much of each ingredient is needed to make all the meals for the entire month. {Easy Example: if I have four recipes that require 1 pound of ground beef each I then know I would need 4 pounds of ground beef for the month}
Once I have my ingredient list I go through my pantry and see what I already have. Usually most of the spices and things like flour and sugar I already have so those automatically get checked off. The key is to know what you need for the month and make sure you have every ingredient and enough of those ingredients to make everything. This saves those unexpected trips picking up forgotten items; you know you have everything needed to make a complete meal each night.
~Shopping~
I am not going to lie; the first month I did this it was a little overwhelming. I was armed with my list though and knew once I entered the store that I had a planned mission. A months worth of food is a lot of stuff and the bill is going to show it. However, when I break down how many meals I am getting from the total grocery bill it always averages $10 or less per meal, which is really not so bad. You also can shop the wholesale clubs that sell in bulk for discount prices. As you go along and do this for a few months you find that you list does dwindle down a bit since you begin to stock your pantry with items that you actually use. Fresh meats, fruits and vegetables will always be there, but items such as rice and noodles you may only have to buy every other month. You’ll find that you will get to know everything that is in your pantry and nothing will expire or go to waste.
~Preparation~
Once I get home from these massive shopping trips a little preparation is needed to pack away everything, however, again you gain this time back when it comes time to prepare your dinners each night. All meats and fish get separated and froze according to each recipe. {Example: if I buy 5 pounds of chicken and each recipe calls for a pound, I separate the chicken in 5 separate bags, label each bag with the recipe name and freeze accordingly} It sounds like a lot but it really is not; nothing more than you probably already do each week. If I have a little extra time I also like to pre-cook any ground beef that I purchase prior to separating and freezing. This is the only food that I do pre-cook only because it is so easy to thaw and use plus it cuts a little of time out of my everyday cooking.
You may be wondering about the fruits and vegetables; How are they going to stay fresh for a whole month? Well there are two things that take care of this.
One, which I just learned recently when I started doing this; If they are stored properly they will stay fresh. Yes, my friends it is that simple. When it came down to it I had no idea how to properly store anything. After my first shopping trip I came home and Googled every fruit and vegetable I had purchased and read about the best ways to properly store these items for maximum freshness. There are rules no one had ever taught me {that is my excuse and I’m sticking to it}. For instance, storing potatoes and onions close together makes them produce gases that spoil each other. I had no clue. I’ll post more of these tips in a separate post because they are real enlightening and useful.
Two, if I know there are items that are only going to stay fresh for a week or two I bump those recipes up and prepare them early on in the month. For instance spring onions only stay fresh for a short period of time. I’ll start the month off preparing the recipes that call for them first. This does take a little pre-planning but it really is not that complicated to do once you get going.
~Putting the Plan into Action~
Once I have everything ready to go I am ready for a stress free month when it comes to thinking about meals, other than the cooking that needs to be done. Each night I pull up the spreadsheet and pick out a meal for the next day’s dinner. If something needs to be thawed I pull it out and pop it in the fridge overnight so it’s ready to go.
I also plan the recipes so that each night we are left with extra servings that are used for my husband’s lunch the following day or simply stored in the freezer for later use. The daily fast-food lunches have taken their toll on my poor hubby and he actually enjoys a home-cooked meal for lunch now {not to mention no more packing ~ It’s done with dinner cleanup}
No more wondering, guessing, or throwing things together last minute. I know I have everything I need to make a full balanced meal each night of the week, including weekends, for the entire month. My son has several food allergies and is on a very restrictive diet so I use the same method to plan his meals for the month as well. It has been a life saver for that reason alone. Granted I am only cooking for three people, I think this plan can be adapted to households of any size. More so because dinner time is more than likely crazy time with a full household, as I can only imagine.
Oh, and if you are wondering what my freezer looks like near the end of the month ~ Yep, that’s right…it’s pretty darn empty. {unaltered photo taken today}
Since we are close to the beginning of February I’ll post my Monthly Meal plan in the next few days to share with everyone. If anything, you can check out the links to some fabulous recipes you may want to try.
If you have any questions in the meantime feel free to email me or post a comment ~ I am always happy to share. Enjoy!
                  

Comments

  1. Stephanie,

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time! I am trying to jump into the relm of once a month shopping, having cut down to bi-monthly shopping and weekly shopping for milk if needed. I am inspired by your plan and look forward to the post in February with the meal plan and recipes.

    Audra

  2. I loved reading your post. I cook once a month or once every 2 or months is how it usually works out. I still have to go to the grocery store once a week for milk, produce and eggs. With 4 children and hubby i don’t have a big enough refrigerator to keep fesh food stocked up that long. My family eats a lot! Even though I cook that much I still didn’t have a menu. This is the first time in 10 years that I sat down and wrote out a menu to go with the meals I made. It makes such a difference! I pull the meal out the night befire and then have time to make side dishes or a desert to go with the meal. It saves so much time! I am looking forward to your tips about food storage, even if things usually get eaten up fast around here!

  3. Thanks for the tips! The pictures were pretty too!

  4. I love your post. We also do once a month grocery trips for our family of seven. I actually save a lot of money and time by doing this.

  5. Sounds like you have a great plan. I am working towards planning for longer time periods, but the shopping thing, not sure if I could do it just once a month.

  6. That sounds a great plan.

  7. I passed on the “Happy 101” award to you today! Feel free to “accept” if it’s not too corny to you! :)

  8. Great plan … love your organization .. and kitchen photos! Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier!

  9. Love your kitchen and how organized you are. Sounds like this plan would work.

  10. wow do i ever wish I was as organized as you! You’ve inspired me… now I just need to run with it! It sounds overwhelming BUT you only do it ONCE A MONTH! I do it weekly and therefore slack cuz i get so sick of it!!
    oh and I LOVE your kitchen pics!!

  11. I have been considering the monthly meal plan, but I am curious about whether you feel you are saving money. Cause if you only shop once a mnonth, then you are only able to buy the things on sale that happen to be on sale on that one week, rather than taking advantage of the weekly sales. Does that make sense?
    And wow, was that your kitchen? It looks great.

  12. Hey Stephanie,

    I do something similar but with a larger family we just don’t do a month at a time–we would not have the freezer space (and we have an extra fridge and a freezer). I look at the flyers and when they have chicken on sale I will buy it up for a month etc.

    Cheri

  13. I like how you labeled your meat for example with the recipe name. Sometimes I’ve accidentally used an ingredient that I had bought for something else.

  14. One of my long time blog buds does meal planning. She posts her menu on Monday and makes it seem so easy!

  15. And I thought I was organized. Wow, you have it down to a science. I must say too that your blog is absolutely beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

    Why don’t you come on over to my blog and visit a while

  16. I love reading your blog. And you’re so incredibly organized!

    Will you adopt me? Please don’t let the fact that I’m nearly 53 years old put you off in any way.

    From whence came your fishbowl????

  17. I can’t wait to try this. If I can get it to work, you’ll be my hero!!

  18. I love everything about this post!
    … and my name is also Stephanie Lyn (but with one n!)

  19. A girl after my own “organizing” heart !! I love how you think … what a great way to keep your fam organized !! I may have to adopt a few of your ideas. I’m new to your blog and am off to take a peek around your beautiful home !! (And, thank you for leaving such a nice note on my blog about my guest “loo” (brown/gold oversized wallpaper). Take care, Becca (Adventures in Decorating)

  20. Oh! To be so organized!!!Great work!
    Thanks for linking up to Thrifty Thursday!

    Leigh
    Tales from Bloggertiaville
    http://www.lbratina.blogspot.com

  21. Sounds like a great plan! I am anxious to see your monthly meal plan for February.

  22. Wow, way to stay organized! I wish my fiancée was tired of fast food lunches. He eats out for lunch every day. I’ve been trying to show him how we could save if he would cut it down a bit but he’s not interested, oh well what can ya do :o) .

    I’m glad you included the pictures of your kitchen because it’s beautiful!!!!

    Kendra

  23. Sounds like your system runs like clockwork! I’m impressed by how detail oriented you are! I plan meals weekly and use these meal planning magnets that I made: http://theredchairblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/make-your-own-meal-planning-magnets.html

  24. Sounds like a great system! I am trying to work out a system for meal planning/ grocery shopping etc. right now, so these are great tips.

  25. Thanks for visiting my blog. You seem very organized to meal plan for an entire month at a go. Right now we do it by the week, but I may have to start using some of your tips.

  26. Thanks for the tips! I do my menu planning and grocery trips once a week, but it would be great if I could get down to once a month.
    Danielle

  27. My hubby does all the cooking! Sounds like you have it very well planned!

    Thanks for joining my party Get your craft on Thurs. I hope you join me next week. Mr. Linky disappeared for a while tonight I thought I lost all of my guest, but it finally came back. I will not be using Mr. Linky anymore!

  28. Wow – I’m very impressed! Right now, I am that girl who can’t make a complete meal. I will definitely start trying to do this on a weekly basis. Popped over from SITS!

  29. Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a nice comment. I love your blog. In fact, your playroom has some of the same accessories as my son’s room. This idea of meal planning is great. I do this on a week to week basis but your idea is much better. You’re a great organizer! Have a fun weekend! Tammy

  30. Perfect timing! I actually made a menu last week and it worked out great! Now, I’m 3 days past needing to shop again and scrambling to come up with something for dinner! I definately want to give this a try. Can’t wait to see what you post for the month.

  31. I’m guessing that you love accessories. I was glad to find you blog! you take great pictures! added you to my list! :)

  32. Have you ever looked at onceamonthmom.com? She does pretty much the same thing, but doesn’t do a meal for each night. I started with her menus but quickly found not everyone ate them at my house. Plus, we don’t really do breakfasts here. They prefer bagels or cereal- easy stuff. AND her meals are only geared towards a family of 4. I have 5- one of which is a teenage boy. This month, I made my own menu, shopping list & am about to do the cooking. If it goes well, I’m gonna do a post about it.
    I love it though. I haven’t noticed a huge difference in our grocery bill. I still spend about the same except on my 2nd trip of the month instead of buyng more food, I’ve found the budget has allowed for mure extra stuff we couldn’t get before. Plus, teh time saver alone is worth it to me.
    Thanks for the all the tips!

  33. Thanks for this informative post! I’ve recently started meal planning and it has made a HUGE difference!

        

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