I don’t know about you but I hate grocery shopping. It’s the bane of my existence… (ok, that was dramatic) And meal planning? Ugh, it’s the worst…so I bet you’re thinking that monthly meal planning must be plain torture? Hear me out! You can get your free monthly meal planner template below to help you out!
Why Monthly Meal Planning?
After food shopping every single week and buying virtually the same foods (yawn) for the past few years, I finally pawned the task off on my husband last fall when I went back to work! It was a fabulous (yet short-lived break)!
My husband did great, and I really appreciated his efforts but since I do the majority of the cooking, I knew what to pick up for different meals and he didn’t know what extras to grab when shopping.
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I started planning our meals out each week and reclaimed the
chore privilege of food shopping each week so I could be sure to get everything I needed for our meal plan. This went great…for about 2.5 weeks.
I was just so burnt out.
I cannot – repeat, CANNOT – grocery shop on the weekends?!?!? The lines are horrendous and I swear the entire county packs themselves into the same store at the same time and it takes triple the time it does on a weekday…
So, by the time I get up early, get some work done, get two kids ready and on two different buses at two different times, work all day and then stop at Aldi (if you don’t shop at Aldi you’re wasting, even more, time and money) on my way home, I am pooped.
Then one day I got the brilliant idea to attempt to lessen my misery by doing one giant food shopping trip for the whole dang month?!?! Crazy, right?!
At first, it seemed impossible, but it was worth a shot! And it worked! You can totally do this! Here’s how…
Take Grocery Inventory
I made the mistake of not doing this for my first big trip. I ended up coming home and wasting too much of our precious budget on items that we already had plenty of.
Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to look through your cabinets, fridge, pantry and chest freezer to see what you have! You might even be able to make a few meals and use up all the items you already have…bonus!
Create Your Monthly Meal Plan
How will you plan? This is mostly personal preference but here are a few options:
You can use a piece of scrap paper. I used to plan like this and toss it when finished but quickly found myself wishing I had it to refer back to (read: copy meals from) the next month.
Using some type of notebook might be a better idea so you can refer back to it each month! You can also keep your list of favorite meals in here and easily toss it in your bag when you’re running out the door!
Any notebook or planner will suffice! Recently I’ve been loving using my bullet journal to do my meal planning. I use one like this.
And I use two sets of pens (because I’m a nerd)! I use these pens to make the whole grid and all the lines first. And I use these pens, which are erasable (these are LITERALLY life-changing) to add in all my meals because I move things around a lot and if you’re OCD like me you will love not having scribbles all over your pages!
“By failing to plan, you are planning to fail.”
Write in your events first
In an effort to keep this process as efficient as possible, first write in any obligations that will have you away for dinner that night: parties, dinner out, etc. that way you’re not “wasting” meal ideas on days that you won’t be home and you don’t buy more food than you actually need for the month!
Add in your meals
I keep a list of our most loved meals and pull a few from there to start. If you have super picky kids (like we do) or dietary restrictions then this helps save time since you already know these recipes are enjoyed and safe for your family!
Give yourself a break!
Do you have a night each week that you’re consistently short on time? Maybe you work late on Mondays and both kids have soccer practice… this happens to us so I happily designate that night (each week) as pizza night! It’s never met with whines and complaints, plus it’s a huge time saver, and a nice
lazy easy start to the week!
We grab the giant pizzas from Aldi…and at $5.49 for a pizza big enough to feed my husband and both kids (I usually eat my own thing), you really can’t beat it.
Tip: grab a few extras to keep in the freezer in case of emergency!
Fill In the Gaps
My family’s favorite dinner is one that takes a longgg time to make, so I usually add that in once or twice for the month (instead of each week). Then I’ll toss in a couple of meals that have been recently requested or fan favorites around here.
Lastly, I’ll hop on Pinterest and look for a casserole or two. I often print meals we’ve tried and enjoyed or we would like to try and I keep them in a “recipe” folder with my cookbooks. I’ll grab the folder and make a few selections.
Tip: if you try a new recipe and don’t like it, be sure to toss that print out to avoid a repeat performance and have to force-feed your kids round two of gross meal.
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Don’t Forget Leftovers
This usually leaves me with one or two empty slots per week. I choose a day and designate it “leftover night”! If you go out to eat, don’t forget to include those nights too! I usually cook a bigger meal on Fridays (since I’m off that day) that we can eat for lunches on the weekends too.
Saturdays we pretty much do our own thing. That’s the day we stop forcing the kids to eat our disgusting, horrible real food and allow them to eat their delicious, gourmet chicken nuggets and boxed macaroni & cheese…. #motheroftheyear
Monthly Meal Planning is simple
So, if you think about it, after a 1) pizza night, a 2) leftover night, and a 3) kid’s choice night I really only have to “plan” 4 dinners per week; less if we are away for a night during the week! Not bad. Not bad at all! Now, onto the shopping!
You Need to Plan You Grocery Trip
I can’t emphasize this enough – set your budget! For a long time, we had a budget of $125/week for (or $500/month) groceries for our family of four. We used to be super strict about it but have relaxed a bit the past month-ish.
Whatever your budget it, be sure you’re clear and focused on sticking to it! Monthly meal planning is supposed to save you money, not make you spend more!
When I shop monthly I budget $250 for the big trip and $50 for each of the remaining 3 weeks in the month. That gives us a total budget of $400 for the month leaving us saving around an extra $100 (or $50 if the month has five weeks)!
And although we shop for the month we still go once a week to stock back up on the fresh items: milk, eggs, produce and if there is anything I forgot in my monthly trip we will pick that up as well.
I make two lists: one for Aldi, where we do our main shopping and weekly refreshers and one for Sam’s Club, which is a wholesale club, similar to BJ’s or Costco.
First I go to Aldi and try to spend around $150. I try to get mostly everything here except for the meats. My total budget for the big trip $250 (but September was a bust for us so I’m giving us an extra $50 this month to really stock up)
Then I head to Sam’s Club and get our meats, some snacks, American cheese (Aldi only has those gross plastic-y singles) and usually a few other items.
Sam’s Club now has this great new option to use their app and scan all your items, pay on your phone and just walk right out of the store without waiting in line….it’s a HUGE time saver! Not to mention it keeps a running tally of your items so it helps you stick to your budget!
I’m through both stores and home in under two hours…easy peasy!
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A few more meal planning tips. . .
- I like to use this fun book (it makes me giggle every time I look at it) to do my monthly meal planning so I can easily refer back and see what we just had recently. Also, I can use previous plans to complete the current. Then I just toss my journal in my bag and I’m off!
- Shopping monthly usually requires extra freezer space so it might be worth purchasing one of these to keep in your basement. Plus, when there is a good buy you’ll be able to really stock up! We use ours like crazy!
- Also, make sure you have lots of pantry space since you’ll be purchasing food for four weeks! We have extra shelves in our basement to put all our “backups”!
- When you get home, be sure to “prep” all your food! Sometimes I buy giant packages of ground hamburger at Sam’s Club so when I get home I’ll split it up into a few smaller portions, and freeze separately.
The first “monthly trip” is kind of exhausting so be sure to enlist any tiny humans that may live with you to help you unload and put all the groceries away….bribe them if necessary 🙂
I hope you try this monthly meal planning method and it saves you time and money as well! What other meal planning/food shopping tips do you have that you can share? Still seem like too much of a pain for you? It’s ok, I’ve been there, those were the seasons of life when I just needed extra help! If that’s you, then you’ll find tremendous value in $5 Meal Plan’s super affordable weekly meal plans!