When I was teaching, I never meal planned. Every night I would get home from work and scramble to throw something together. We ended up eating out a lot! Since retiring from my teaching career at the old age of 27 🙂 to be home with my baby, I have a little more time on my hands to meal plan. My new job is to take care of the baby and save money now that we are living on one income.
After Baby D was born, I got hooked on freezer meals and started planning out our meals one week at a time. I found it hard to go to Costco and Winco once a week with her. There went a whole day every week! Then one day I thought, “I’m gonna try planning and shopping for two weeks at a time.” It worked. Then I got ambitious and printed out a month calendar and got to work. It worked EVEN BETTER and now I am hooked! I still have to go one a week to the market for fresh produce, but that’s it!
Now I look back and wonder why I didn’t meal plan monthly earlier! You save so much time, so much MONEY, and so much stress by having a plan.
Here is how I do it:
1. Print out a calendar of the month. I made a simple one on Numbers/Excel, but any calendar will do. You can download a PDF of my calendars for the rest of 2018 here! –> 2018 Monthly Meal Plan Templates.
2. Block off any days you aren’t going to need to make dinner. Going to be out of town? Have a birthday dinner planned? Fill these days in first.
3. Create themed days of the week. I try to not have two meals from the same “category” in the same week if I can help it. By having themed days, it helps me spread out similar themed meals.
- Soup Sunday (Sometimes homemade, sometimes cans of soup)
- In the summer, sometimes it’s BBQ Sunday!
- Mexican Monday (My favorite day! Tacos, enchiladas, taquitos…)
- Asian Tuesday (Sesame chicken, pot stickers, sweet & sour meatballs…)
- Pasta Wednesday (Spaghetti, Chicken Alfredo, lasagna…)
- Random Thursday (Pasta salads, chili, burgers…)
- Freezer Meal Friday (We have Bible Study on Fridays so we either eat out or quick throw a freezer meal in the oven!)
- Breakfast Saturday (Breakfast for dinner!)
- Soup Sunday (Sometimes homemade, sometimes cans of soup)
4. Fill in any freezer meals you have already made. Especially ones that need to be eaten before they go bad. I had just made a bunch with a friend so I got to fill in lots of boxes right away!
5. Check and see what is on sale at your favorite stores. I, of course, look at the Costco ad. That’s where I get 100% of my meat and what I plan my meals around. Even not on sale, Costco has great prices. I get everything I can at Costco, and then anything else at Winco (or Target if I don’t want to drive all the way to Winco).
6. Make a list of meals to fill in the empty boxes. I know I’m going to buy a few rotisserie chickens at Costco, so I planned a few meals using those. I already had a bag of frozen chicken in the freezer, so I planned to make some crock pot sesame chicken on two of the Tuesdays. Pancakes are easy, so I threw that on the calendar. If you have any dates that you don’t know what to fill with, I suggest getting some easy meals from Costco, like their thin crust pizzas and potstickers. I wasn’t sure what to do for Sunday the 13th. It’s been a HOT month, so I really was not in the mood to make a hot, savory soup. Hence, the pizza. 🙂
Side note: It’s okay to have repeats! Look at my calendar. We have lots of meals at least 2 times a month. I’m saving time and money by having repeats. For example, I could plan on making Mac & Cheese two times this month, or I can make a double batch at the beginning of the month, eat one and freeze the other for another day. I have just saved myself time by making the meals early and time because I only have to wash the dishes I used once rather than two or three times! Win-win!!! Plus, if I buy larger quantities of noodles, cheese, and bacon, I’ll save money by getting a better deal. Don’t be afraid to have the same thing a few times a month. No one will die. I promise. 🙂
7. Make your monthly shopping list. Now that you know what you’re going to make, get your list ready for your big shopping trip!
- I have a paper I print out to help me stay organized while I shop. Nothing is worse than thinking you’re all done shopping, only to realize you forgot something that is on the other side of the store. You can download that for free here.
- This step is best done in your kitchen with your recipe book nearby. You can easily check what you do and don’t have already and add what you need to your list.
- Check off meals on your calendar once everything you need to make them is on your list.
8. Make your weekly produce shopping list. Produce is not a once a month shopping trip, unfortunately. I don’t want to buy a bell pepper on the first of the month and not use it until the 30th. I can quick go to the market near our house once a week with Baby D without feeling overwhelmed. Figure out what you need in terms of produce for each week and get those on a list too!
9. Don’t forget the other stuff! If I’m in a hurry, I’ll forget this step completely and feel so dumb! I’ll have everything I need for dinners, but nothing for breakfast or lunch and no toiletries. Don’t forget this step!
10. Go shopping! If possible, I try to get a babysitter for this. I can do it in half the time without a baby taking up my attention! Start early! I try to get to Costco when it opens and get out before the lines to check out get long! Then I reward myself with a delicious hot dog lunch for $1.50. 🙂
Hopefully this process works for you! I love doing my big shopping once a month, especially since we moved further away from our Costco and Winco last year. Once a month grocery shopping is no cake-walk. It’s a lot of work for a few hours, but then all I need to do for the rest of the month is run around the corner for fresh produce each week. Whether you are working inside our outside of the home, meal planning will take a huge load off your shoulders!
Have any other tips that work well for you? Share them with us in the comments section!