One of the fastest ways to get your budget under control is to manage your groceries more efficiently. What better way to do that than to learn “How to Meal Plan for a Month”?
Planning for a month of meals isn’t as hard as it might sound, and since I’ve been doing it for decades now, I will share my tips and tricks to get it done quickly and without pain!
This meal plan is going to be personal to you, in other words, no one else’s plan is going to look exactly like yours. That’s ok! You’re cooking for your family!
Let’s tackle breakfast.
We are all in different seasons of life, so breakfast will look different for each family.
Many years ago, I was in a phase of life when I had to run out the door to work everyday, so breakfast consisted of pre-packaged cereal mostly.
Then, I was in the child-rearing years of being “pregnant and nursing babies” stage for about 18 years, with little ones under my feet all the time. Oh, did I mention that we home schooled during that time as well?
Today, I’m in a different stage of life. We have two teenagers at home, finishing their freshman and junior years in high school. Compared to the volume of food I’ve been accustomed to preparing over the years, this ain’t nothin’!
Plus, for the last 10 years, we’ve lived on this farm. I know how incredibly blessed I am to be able to say that we grow/forage a decent percentage of our own food now.
We raise most of our own meat, so I have freezers full of grass-fed beef and chicken, plus more fresh eggs than any normal family could eat.
We grow a good sized garden and eat from that as well.
I forage all summer long, so I have frozen blueberries, mulberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries to make pies, crisps and smoothies with.
But I’m not completely immune from needing the grocery store, and I’m ok with admitting that. You can only do so much and teenagers change the needs somewhat. I believe during our “empty-nester” stage, I could just about ditch the grocery….but we’ll see.
I like to shop at Aldi, and will only go to other stores when there is a loss-leader that cannot be ignored. Aldi has completely remodeled their stores in my area and I love them even more than I did before!
So, back to breakfast….my husband rarely eats breakfast during the week, but he will often drink a smoothie, if I can get one in his hand before he brushes his teeth.
I eat two meals a day…lunch and dinner. Breakfast isn’t a consideration for me, as long as I can drink copious amounts of coffee.
The teenagers seem to dislike variety in the mornings, and eat the same breakfast foods every day:
Oatmeal, bagels with cream cheese or peanut butter, cereal/granola and pancakes or waffles (on weekends). So, in planning a month’s worth of meals, the staples I need for breakfast are pretty straight forward and rarely changes. Pretty easy. I’ll need a month’s worth of each thing, and I’ll store excess in the outside refrigerator (which is older than some of my children). This could also be accomplished in a cooler, placed in a cold garage.
Partly to not overcrowd the primary frig in the kitchen, but I’m also “rationing” in a nice way. Out of sight, out of mind – so that the kids don’t eat it up too fast.
So, the list begins with….
*Oatmeal, bagels, cream cheese, peanut butter, cereal, flour, eggs
The kids pack their own lunches (cheaper, healthier and they hate school lunches!), which consist of turkey or peanut butter sandwiches, a couple of pieces of fruit/veggies, something crunchy like popcorn and then something sweet. Again, this rarely changes, as the kids like the same things all the time.
Add to list…
*Bread, deli turkey, fresh fruit and veggies (I buy what’s in season or on loss leader or from garden), popcorn, homemade cookies or bars.
OK, now to plan dinners. Here’s how I like to do it.
I write out 14 meals that my family enjoys. This month, I’ve come up with these:
- Sloppy Joes
- Fettuccine with broccoli (garden) and bread
- Soup and Sandwich
- Ravioli and bread
- Grilled chicken
- Baked potato bar
- Homemade pizza
- Chicken casserole
- Chuck Roast
- Taco casserole
I plan to serve each of these meals twice, this way I can often make a double -batch the first time I make it and freeze it for later in the month.
I don’t go into a lot of detail about side dishes, because I have a pantry full of vegetables that we canned last summer. It’s simple enough to open a jar of green beans or corn to add to a meal.
You’ll notice that I added a couple of dessert ideas on there this month. Dessert is kind of a big deal in our family, and I don’t make it very often.
Then, using any old calendar page, write in what you plan to have on what night. Consider evening engagements, where you might need a quick dinner on a night that you have a basketball game to attend. Or use your slow-cooker to help on those days!
I also like to schedule in a few “leftovers” nights, to make sure we’re getting everything eaten up.
Here’s mine for the month of January:
Before you ever get into the car to head to the grocery store, make sure you do a complete inventory of what you already have in the cabinets!
I’ll be honest, I dislike this part.
However, it’s critical. Checking what you already have on hand allows you to save money that week, but it also gives you the opportunity to build meals around your surpluses.
Use It Up!
For example, Christmas just passed and I have food in the frig that didn’t get cooked/eaten as we thought it would. Sometimes, when you have a houseful of people, it’s hard to predict.
I happen to have way more milk and cheese on hand than will get eaten on a normal schedule before spoiling.
So, I’ll plan meals that allow me to get that cheese used up, like Cheesy Potato Corn Chowder, grilled cheese with soup, taco night and baked potato bar!
I noticed that I had an extra block of cream cheese that I couldn’t match a recipe up with, so I added about a cup of jam (from one of my home-canned jars) and made some flavored cream cheese for my daughter’s bagels.
Now, with your meal plan in hand, really look through your refrigerator, freezer and pantry and write down only what you need. Doing this will go a long way to minimize your food waste, because everything you buy will get used up.
Remember to purchase enough to double the recipes, when applicable, if you choose.
If you need to purchase meat at the store, be patient and wait for a great sale before buying.
Then buy a lot!
Or better yet, look for a local farmer to buy your meat from. The price per pound is amazingly low, but the down side is that you have to pay all at once when you take delivery. We know that the beef bill will come each year, in October, so we just set the money aside.
Put the meal calendar on your frig so that the whole family can see it, my kiddos like knowing what’s for dinner ahead of time.
Don’t be afraid to make adjustments to your schedule as needed! It’s just a tool that serves you, don’t feel enslaved to it.
I spent $84 at the store today, which will get me by for at least 2 weeks. I could go longer, but I know that we’ll need fresh fruit and milk by then.
Take the time to make that meal plan! Start with planning just one week, if that’s less overwhelming for you. Just start!