Meal Plan Monthly

Because I can neither meander through commonality, nor tolerate excessive time among crowds and cash registers, the weekly meal plans I’ve seen gracing the pages of blogs don’t appeal. For several months my goal was bi-weekly meal plans and shopping, but even that’s been irking my nerves, giving my over-achieving tendencies a chance to kick in.

I went grocery shopping once for the month of April. I planned breakfast, lunch and dinner with enough flexibility to accommodate our whims or possible mishaps. And I held my breath for good luck. Even the cashier had little faith in my memory or my list making skills (Psha!). He placed money on seeing me before the end of the month but I guess I showed him. :P

Monthly Menu Plan and Shopping

Here’s how I did it:

  • A Well-Organized Meal Plan: I wouldn’t have dreamed of attempting this without a meal plan. In fact, it is highly discourage to attempt any grocery shopping without a plan and a list unless your last name is Winfrey or Gates. I’ll elaborate on this one below.
  • Home Garden: Granted, my only harvest thus far has been an abundance of spinach but it was still a decent part of my success. I’ll also start to preserve whatever possible to use during off seasons.
  • Farmer’s Market: I bought very few perishable items at Trader Joe’s: onions for making homemade onion powder, a bag of organic potatoes and some bananas. All other fruits or veggies were purchased weekly at the Farmer’s Market for approximately $20. You can ask the farmers what to expect to see in the coming months if you need help with meal planning. Anything else not available at the market isn’t consumed.
  • Bulk Food: Sugar, flour, beans, rice, etc are now all purchased in bulk from Azure Standard. I can order monthly and pick up at a local drop-point. I generally only need to order once every 3 months or so. I plan to investigate local butchers for bulk meat orders.
  • Local milk: I have a friend who sells me her extra raw milk. We see each other on a regular basis so there is no need for an extra trip for either of us.
  • Grocery list for Trader Joe’s: This store is almost always cheapest and offers a higher quality of foods than any sale item I find at Vons (Safeway). Because things like eggs and cheese are generally good for a month, I stocked up to last the month. Other non-perishables were also stocked up on based on my menu plan and frozen if necessary.
  • Freezer, food storage and preserving: Any dried goods go into canisters. Freezeable perishables go into the freezer. Homegrown tomatoes and other veggies will be canned or frozen. Even milk can be frozen. This makes the plan easier to accomplish by having things organized and storable.

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If I had more space, better laws or more local (quality) sources of food, I would include raising chickens for eggs, a CSA, swaps and barters or any other means necessary to get out of grocery shopping.

Meals and lists

How I did my Monthly Meal Plan:

  • Organizing: I printed a blank calendar from PrintFree.com to use for my meal plans. Each day was divided into three sections for three meals. In the left margin of the calender I wrote out what I’m making for Justin’s lunches that week. If the recipe was new or unfamiliar, I made a small note as to the magazine or cookbook name and page where I can find it. This kept all our info in the same space. This page went into my home management journal for the current month.
  • Breakfast Planning: These were easy. I made one weekly menu that repeated itself. So every Sunday is always pancakes, every Monday is always cereal, etc. These are also based on activities and whether we’ll want a lighter or heavier breakfast on certain days or how much time I’ll have to cook before we rush out the door.
  • Lunch Planning: Similar to breakfast, one weekly plan repeats itself Monday through Friday for me and Zeb. Justin’s lunches are made on Sunday in bulk (potato salad, pasta salad, tuna salad or egg salad depending on the week) to be packaged in containers, ready for him to grab and go. Saturday and Sunday lunches don’t generally exist, since we have a big, late breakfast and a big, early dinner but we do keep extra stuff on hand in case of changes.
  • Dinner Planning: This one was a little tougher and took some time at the beginning of the month (or end of the previous month). First, I looked for days where I knew we’d be eating elsewhere and marked those off the calendar. Then I arranged holidays or celebrations that require special meals. Next, I looked for days that I would likely not feel like cooking or not have much time to cook in the evenings and I planned crockpot meals or easy salads and breads for those days. Days that were filled with events received the same special treatment (will we be in the heat all day and want something chilled to eat, etc?). Then I hopped from cookbook to magazine recipe and filled in the blanks based on what will be available in my yard or the farmer’s market and how soon some foods needed to be eaten.
  • List Making: Once my meals were recorded, I went through them and my cupboards and made my grocery list. I added a few extra, easy to make meals, just in case (pasta or salads). This part took some time and double-checking.
  • Keeping Track: As we run out of essentials (like chocolate chips or cocoa powder ha) throughout the month, those things are scribbled on a dry erase board that hangs on the fridge since they won’t be noticed in meal planning. This really saved me from missing something not listed in our meal plans but absolutely imperative to our well-being. ;)

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Jimeny Christmas. It’s truly not as complicated as it sounds. It would work like a weekly plan but obviously won’t work for everyone. It probably seems a bit much for some people or even unnecessary, but not having to worry about what to make totally does it for me! I also save money only going to the grocery store once, since I’m getting only one shopping trip of impulse buys a month. Cuz let’s be serious, impulse happens.

I know some foodies keep a spreadsheet of foods in the freezer, fridge or pantry. I haven’t figured that one out yet but the concept is interesting. My mom makes a laminated master list of commonly purchased groceries organized by store aisle so that she only needs to write down quantities when making her list. That’s something I plan to integrate into my system soon.

What’s your system like?

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26 Comments. Leave new

WOW! I’m impressed. I notice a difference between the weeks that I do menu plan and the weeks that I don’t. I want to try to do it for a month. Sounds like a plan for June! I gotta start working early:)

Sounds great! And yes you should have saved money throughout April with this plan in place. For May, i would have suggested:

1. Look to see what is leftover from April that you bought as ‘just in cases’ and see what meals could be made from them with an ingredient or two thrown in.

It is important as you know to keep foods in rotation so that they don’t go ‘off’ before use, especially stuff in the freezer. Good luck!!

TheOrganicSister
May 2, 2009 11:20 am

Jennifer, I definitely did that, shopping my cupboards/freezer first and taking it into consideration when planning the meals. I’d like to have stockpile to rotate thru but I’m not there yet.

This is right up my street. I do a weekly menu plan due to lack of storage space, but would love to do something like this. If you ever do things like soups or stews, batch cooking and freezing is great too, because you’ll always have something for the more rushed days in the next month (or if something unexpected happens).

MORE!!!

What I mean is, MORE please. :D
(Hit the wrong key and submitted that last comment accidentally.)

I am just a the beginning of putting together a meal plan system.

We have just moved into a new house, in a new town/state. I’ve always been just a few minutes away from a Trader Joe’s and an organic/whole foods market.
But now TJ’s is more than an hour away and the nearest organic market…while nearer…is so, very, expensive.
I have been thinking about planning to make bi-weekly shopping possible. But your post has me wondering if I could move to a monthly system.
I await…quite eagerly…more details!
blessings, Mary

Heather (hmariey on Twitter)
May 2, 2009 5:14 am

This is very similar to how we do all grocery shopping–except that I don’t make a menu. Our family is home all day everyday and other than occasional family meals everyone prefers to fend for themselves. However, most family members have basic foods they prefer to eat and usually have so I canpredict how much of each thing we need for a month and the family knows that unless it is something we NEED if they run out of something they eat something else until next paycheck or the next month when I go to that store (we go to Trader Joes once a month and Frankferd Farms (our bulk food coop) once a month.

I am always impressed by the organization people have with meals and shopping, I am on the complete opposite of the spectrum. I want to be more organized but the ambition has not hit me to do so. Argh it sounds so logical and yet Im all thumbs. This can be very frustraiting at times. Goals dang it, I must work on this goal. By the way, thanks for sharing. I would love to see your menu plan.

I need a system! This is amazing. You are amazing. I am pretty organized but…

Once I can harvest veggies, I think I will have to become organized so I don’t waster anything :)

Great stuff!

We have a goal like that. Our goal last year was to make it from May – December without buying ANY produce but for citrus stuff (lemons, limes, etc.) from the store. We made it to end of January. This year our goal is to make it a whole year…June 1 to June 1. We are like you in that we also buy everything we can directly from farmers…we get eggs, meat, milk, cheese, honey and even our wheat berries RIGHT from the farmer. The only stuff we have to buy at the store is bulk basics, and specialty items (like Annie’s Bunnies for the boys ;)). We try to buy most of our stuff bulk – like tea, raw sugar, rice, oats, sprouting seeds, etc. so that we don’t have to get much else. I do meal plan a little, but since we buy right from the farmer, I tend to go in two week intervals so that I can plan based on seasonality and availability. Our CSA season is starting soon (yep, we have a CSA share, home garden, and 2 community garden plots – we WILL make it a year!). Love your ideas, as always! :)

This year we plan to also try to weigh all the veggies/fruits so we can tally a total poundage for the year – so it should be interesting!

TheOrganicSister
May 2, 2009 11:24 am

Carin, I don’t have much storage space either. One box freezer, a side-by-side fridge/freezer (and we all know how crappy their space is!), and about 5 average sized cupboards, although some of those are a bit deeper. You can certainly do monthly with little space, but stockpiling is much harder. I know someone who converted a closet into food storage. I need to get more details on that.

Mary, what more can I say?? lol I can’t think of anything else but if you have a question, I’ll be happy to answer it.

Denise, I’d like to weigh things for records sake and I think it would be cool to know. But when it comes down too it, I always blow it off. lol Maybe next year! I can’t to hear how your June-June plan works. THAT is awesome!

A Sunday In June
May 2, 2009 12:00 pm

Trader Joe’s…I wonder if we have a Trader Joe’s here. It’s not familiar to me but I’ll have to check into it. I’m new to this blog, clicked on your link on Twitter, and I really really really like it! I’m just beginning to put together a menu, though I’ve been meaning to do it for ages. I know I would save so much money. As it is right now, I stop by the store after work “for just one thing” and I wind up buying stuff I haven’t planned for and spend wayyyyy too much money! Thanks for sharing this.

Oh, I want to see your actual menu. Seriously. :D

I have huge space now. I have loads of cabinets and a walk-in pantry. So I have no excuse to not buy in bulk and stock up.

When we lived in the apt (moved 2 weeks ago) I couldn’t buy more than a week of food at a time, because there wasn’t room to store it.

Now I’m absolutely inspired. :D

This is great. I’m desperatly trying to figure out how to cut our grocerey shopping bill. Oh my goodness, we eat pretty simply but it is outrageous. Did this cut you bill by much?

TheOrganicSister
May 2, 2009 3:53 pm

Mary, I will see if I can get that posted for ya today.

Heather, it cut my bill tremendously. If we go every week we end up spending around $120, plus the average of $20 at the farmer’s market. So, close to $500 a month. Now we spend $200 a month at TJ’s, about $80 every *three months* for Azure Standard and $20 a week at the market. So, about $200 less a month.

Somethingfair
May 2, 2009 4:49 pm

I am in awe of you right now! I can’t usually keep my head together to get one weeks of groceries and you do a whole month. Dang.. :)

I would love to see your menu too! I have the space, but not the organizational skills. I used quicken to track our spending last month. We spent $835 at the grocery and another $465 eating out. That is over $1200! We are a family of 3…So We really need to cut back.

Hi there!
I found your blog today and I think it just topped my list of Favourite Blogs. :) A woman after my own heart, you are!

I’ve been floundering with monthly meal planning for awhile. Still trying to perfect the system. Right now I am using a 4-week menu that I just rotate through. I have a grocery list to accompany the menu, and just cross off things that I already have on hand. What irks me about it though is it doesn’t really allow for seasonal variability (thinking about coming up with a summer menu to accomodate that). Also, some months have 5-ish weeks in them. So I figure that last week is a good time to clean out the pantry/freezer and use up odd things. But then I can’t figure out what to do if we end up skipping a meal altogether (like when the in-laws invite us out for supper at the last minute). I’d love to know how you deal with these things!

Thanks for a great blog.
Alissa

That is so fantastic. Eventually, I want to be to the point of monthly shopping trips. However, it just doesn’t seem possible for us right now–young newlyweds in college, and I never know what my schedule will be like! We’re moving soon though, and maybe we will have enough space in the new apartment to make it work.
It sounds like such a great idea! I’d still have to get the perishables (milk, veggies, etc) more often, but I can stick with the list when I go into the store, so that shouldn’t be a problem. :)

Thanks for sharing this. I am a new stay at home mom.:)I am just learning to cook, budget, and take care of baby! I am being thrown into a new world! And I LOVE it!

I would love to hear more of your list etc. My baby is having a reaction to dairy and soy in my diet so I have to be really smart about budgeting food $ and effort. (I cannot eat what I cook for my husband so I have to be really disciplined in how I buy for both of us!)
Great Blog!

lol, I can’t imagine being able to stock up on a months worth of cheese in my house – it’d be gone in a week!!!

I love your blog! This post was great and has given me some excellent ideas! I too would love to see some of your menus. I’ll be adding you to my blog roll.

Hi, I’ve only just come across your blog, but I’ve been meal planning on a monthly basis for a few months now and oh how much easier it’s made my life!!! I’ve 3 small girls, and not having to think about what we are eating each day is such a relief! Plus not having to take them shopping every week too :D

Mom on a Mission
February 20, 2010 5:07 pm

After realizing that I went to the grocery store over 12 times this last month, I decided to also do a monthly menu. It’ll be my first so I was glad to come across this post. My family eats organic, and I also do a lot of shopping at Trader Joe’s. It’s a 30 minute drive, so I only go once a month. For us, eating organic means having to shop at 5 or so grocery stores in order to find everything we need. My daughter is also allergic to peanuts so there are a ton of organic foods that we can’t purchase…another reason I have to shop so many places.

I hate to cook and usually wait until about 5:00 to figure out something for dinner. This will be quite the challenge.

I know this is an old post but it popped up when reading your latest post. Thank you for this. I also *hate* grocery shopping & avoid it like the plague….and then find it a huge shopping excursion once a month which sometimes works, sometimes not. I have such a hard time w/ meal planning & knowing what to feed my family & getting organized around it all so this is helpful. I just hate when people make comments on how much food I’m getting…they don’t get that it’s easier not to goto the grocery every other day!!

Hi there!

I would love to see your monthly menu. I tried to see if you ever posted it but couldn’t find it. If you don’t want to post it would you mind emailing it to me? I would LOVE to start doing that but never quite get around to doing it. :-)

Thanks so much!

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