Monthly Meal Planning Madness!

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February 27, 2014 by Alicia

Why meal plan? Two reasons. #1. It makes my life easier. I don’t ever worry about what’s for dinner – ever. It’s so liberating! There is no more of this: “What do you want?” “I don’t know, what do you want?” “I don’t know.” SHOOT ME. #2. It saves us money. We eat out much less often since we don’t wait until we’re starving to decide what to eat. I also save money by stretching my ingredients further instead of wasting food (more on that later).

Why monthly? Two reasons. #1. The way I do it takes some serious planning and I would rather only do all that work once a month. I also find it easier with two toddlers to stay away from the grocery store as much as possible. #2. It gives us more variety in our meals because I can see the whole month at once. If you prefer to go week-by-week, by all means, build your meal plans around what is on sale that week! 

There is a method to my madness! Knowing my process will make the rest of this make more sense (hopefully). My process consists of one massive grocery trip at the beginning of each month. I then do a second smaller trip in the middle of the month for more fresh produce, milk, bread, etc…

Ok here’s my method – by VERY specific steps (look out, my Type A is about to straight up slap you in the face).

1. Sit down and make a list of all your regular recipes – divided by meats. The hubs insists on having meat at every meal, so I alternate the meat in my main dishes. For example: beef, pork, chicken, fish, rinse & repeat. I find it easiest to plug my meals into my calendar with variety if I have them listed by meats. (After you do this once, you can always skip this step in the future) If your family will eat some vegetarian, definitely try and do this at least once a week! Meat is so stinkin’ expensive!

2. Make a list of new recipes you want to try – also divided by meats – for the same reason listed in #1. It also helps if you decide how often you want to try a new recipe. When I first started meal planning, I tried a new recipe every week. Now that some of those have made it into our regular rotation, providing more variety, I just try to do 2 new recipes a month. (Don’t forget to add the new recipes that you try & like to your “regulars” if you want to repeat)

3. Now get your calendar out. Put all your activities that you know of for the entire month (that can impact dinner). Examples: a 4 p.m. dentist appt might hinder prep time for dinner, a 6:30 p.m. softball game will force a quick & not-too-heavy-on-the-belly dinner, date nights, etc… This will help you avoid the “oh crap I don’t have time to bake that hour long casserole – let’s just grab fast food.”

4. Now I quickly jot down what is already in my pantry/fridge/freezer to make sure that it gets used and I don’t just buy more food out of ignorance. *Note: most of the time all my stuff is almost empty because I make it a point to eat what we already have. If pb&j is the only option in the house at the end of the month, then I know we have not wasted our money. However, if last time I grocery shopped and something was on sale, I may have bought more than usual so that would still be in the house and need to get eaten the next month.

5. Now I start placing my meals in the calendar – alternating main dishes by meat. Also, try to make your first week’s meals based on what’s on sale that week when you’re doing your big trip.

  • Add side dishes with similar cooking method if possible. For example, if I’m baking my main dish, I might add green bean casserole or broiled asparagus – since the oven will already be heated up. If I’m making chicken & rice on the cooktop, then I might have steamed carrots or broccoli, also cooked on the range. If my main dish is in the crockpot, I might do a cooktop or toaster-oven side dish to avoid turning on the big oven just for a side dish. If we’re grilling outside, I throw my veggies in foil and put them on the grill so I don’t have to use the kitchen at all. Work smarter – not harder!
  • I only have fresh produce in the first and third weeks of the month. I buy it on my big trip & use it before it goes bad. Then I use canned/frozen veggies the second week. I pick up more fresh produce on my 2nd little trip and eat it up. Then use canned/frozen veggies the fourth week. (If you shop weekly, this won’t matter to you)
  • Think about leftovers when you are choosing what meals to have when. “Leftovers” can be what’s for dinner as often as you want! However, I really REALLY hate leftovers so I try to cook the right amount the first time. But this might be a great option on that softball game night so you don’t have to worry about cooking at all. This is where it comes in handy to have all those extracurriculars on your calendar to get the most out of your meals.
  • Don’t forget to add some “eat out” nights! We usually order ours & eat in – its just easier that way with two toddlers. Again, you can place these strategically based on your extracurriculars.
  • It doesn’t have to always be a big production. Some nights at our house is “grilled cheese & fries.” I usually throw in these types of nights at the end of the calendar when I’m just sick of planning- ha!
  • After doing this for many months now – I’ve learned that there is a minimum of one night of a planned meal that doesn’t get eaten. Perhaps we were invited over someone else’s house for dinner, or maybe my kids were terrors all day long and the thought of cooking makes me want to cry. Due to this, I now always leave the last day of the month blank. That way, I don’t waste money buying groceries for it. I just use whatever meal that got skipped earlier in the month. This happens every. single. month.

6. Congratulations! Your calendar is complete! Now make your grocery list. I use this awesome Excel spreadsheet. Basically, you have to enter all your recipes & side dishes on the “List” tab. This step is really tedious but once you do it, I promise your life will be made easier – MUCH EASIER. Then, on the calendar tab, you place your meals by choosing from a drop down list that the spreadsheet generates from all the recipes you just entered. *Note, the recipe tab is basically like a “recipe book” if you want to type up all your recipes, with instructions, etc… This tab in no way is connected to the Calendar or List tab. After placing all your meals, you can print from the “List” tab. I personally handwrite my list from this view so that I only have the things on there that I need this month (printing the page prints ALL ingredients you have entered, not just the ones you need now). Instructions on how to enter meals, ingredients, etc… are on the “List” tab so customize it to fit all your recipes! Finally, apparently you can’t attach Excel documents to blogger so if you want it, just comment here/message/text/whatever and I can email it to you.

7. Now that you have your list – I look for coupons for stuff I’m already planning on buying. I do clip coupons, but only for stuff I buy. It’s not really saving money if you buy something you wouldn’t normally buy just because you have a coupon. The sites I use are Krazy Coupon Lady (lists cheap/free deals by store), Coupons.com, Coupon Mom (lists cheap/free deals by store) and Penny Pinchin’ Mom. Penny Pinchin’ Mom has a search box where you can search for coupons by specific brand so I use this one a lot to find any coupons that exist for the few on-brand items I buy. Also, if you shop at Wal-Mart, they price match any identical products on sale at another store. So check all competitors’ weekly ads online and make a note on your shopping list of that store’s price and tell the Wal-Mart cashier at check-out.

8. FINALLY – I know, you hate me. If you’re still reading – please accept my virtual high-five: SMACK. Ok here are a few tips that will make your life easier once you get home.

  • I buy fresh chicken breasts in bulk. Before the “freeze by” date, I cut all the chicken up according to my recipes for the month. I get out my ziplocs and write all my chicken recipes and cut up the chicken & place in bags accordingly. I can’t tell you how much just this one step makes my life easier. I cut all the fat off, cut some breasts all the way up into bite size pieces for casseroles, burritos, etc… I also started “butterflying” single breasts to get two good size pieces out of it to make things like breaded chicken instead of using two breasts. Cutting up all the chicken once a month shaves considerable time off your meal prep for the rest of the month. This also means you only clean it up once!
  • If you use a lot of ground beef, cook it all at once and use a kitchen scale to separate it out to your desired proportions, then freeze. I think I just read recently about cooking many pounds of ground beef in a crockpot – so I’ll be looking into that!
  • Make entire 9×13 casseroles (either main dish or side dish) but split between two dishes and freeze one. This cuts down your prep time for the next time you want it!
So there ya have it! My painfully long helpful tips for how to do a monthly meal plan! I write my meal plan on a laminated calendar that I printed for our fridge. I really don’t enjoy cooking but I’m trying to get better and having a plan helps me get there. In the top right corner of my meal calendar I have “…she provides food for her family…” from Proverbs 31:15. It’s a helpful reminder to not only be selfless, but to have joy in doing so.
My next big venture to make life easier & to save money is “freezer cooking.” Can’t wait to see how that goes! Do you have any tips on monthly meal planning? How do you save time and money when feeding your family?

 

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68 thoughts on “Monthly Meal Planning Madness!

  1. Sara Born says:

    I saw your post the other day with your monthly calendar and thought “I have to see this blog post when she writes it.” I'm glad you posted this! We constantly fight the battle of “what do you want to eat?” … “I don't know, what do you want to eat??” Super frustrating. This looks like a spectacular plan to eliminate much unnecessary frustration. Thanks for posting! 🙂

  2. Kelsey Shade says:

    Nicely done! I can't believe somebody actually surpassed me in the Type A menu planning department! It was the excel sheet that did it. 😉 I have a very similar process, except that I found doing a whole month overwhelming and now only do the whole thing twice a month. Thanks for writing this up!

  3. I would love that Excel sheet you are talking about. We are starting a new budget plan since we have some bills that need to paid off and we need an emergency fund for our home, so I'm looking for all the help I can find. Thanks!

    • Alicia says:

      Kirstin I’d be happy to send you the sheet – just need your email!

      • susan says:

        Hi Alicia. I would love to have your Excel spreadsheet for monthly meal planning. I thoroughly enjoyed your entire post and look forward to getting started on monthly meal planning myself. Excellent ideas! Thank you. Susan28s@yahoo.com

  4. Julie says:

    I struggle with meal planning and was glad to see your comments. Thanks. I need to take your advice and look through ads more often before I start my meal planning to get ideas from what’s on sale. I wrote up a blog post about meal planning for people with different tastes. http://somebodysdinner.blogspot.com/2014/03/meal-planning-for-people-with-different.html
    Do you have any ideas for meal planning when others in your household don’t like the same things you do?
    I’m always looking for new ideas.

    • Alicia says:

      I am actually a much pickier eater than my husband so I won’t eat a lot of things he will. My suggestion would just be to find some dishes that everyone likes, or tolerates, and try and make different recipes out of similar ingredients. Casseroles are usually good options for picky eaters. Also personal size pizzas, everyone add their own toppings. Breakfast for dinner might be good too! Lastly, they make 2 quart crockpots so if you wanted to make 2 different things, a small crockpot might help to make smaller servings of a meal. Hope this helps!

  5. Carrie says:

    Can you please email me your spreadsheet?! I meal plan too!

    carrie.laukhuf@gmail.com

  6. Hi Alicia, Thanks so much for sending me your excel spreadsheet with the lists, calendar, recipe tab, etc. Like you, I tweaked it here and there. I am a working Mom & Wife and this excites me to no end!!! I want you to know that I planned my “Supper” meals out for the next 3 weeks and I am so amazed at the relief I feel. I’m actually VERY surprised how much better I feel! I was able to put in all of the dinners that we usually have and I was shocked at how many meals I really use. Now I have not excuse to cook the same thing over and over every week. I Love the idea of rotating meals by meats – I did Chicken, Beef, Turkey, Fish (we eat a lot of turkey) A few tips that I use are: 1) I cook my ground sirloin (beef) and ground turkey in two separate pots, then I combine them, and put them in the freezer until I need them. It’s so convenient when they’re already cooked. 2) I ALWAYS cook for 2 nights! ALWAYS! Did I say ALWAYS?? It gives me a chance to rest and do something else (Like Church Nights on Wednesdays). Using your spreadsheet/planner I was able to use your idea of making A New Recipe. I picked every other week (on Sunday), then I have leftovers the next day, and so on. I just want to give you a great big hug Girl! Love this!!! …I could just go on and on. …but I won’t! I started a blog, but have just a few (I mean just a few) posts!

    • Alicia says:

      Jessica – it makes me SO HAPPY that meal planning and the spreadsheet has made you feel so relieved! Three cheers for making life easier!!! I love your tips about cooking the ground meat – I definitely want to start doing that! I usually divide my 9×13 casseroles into 2 dishes, making the same dinner for 2 different nights. I always try my “new recipes” on the weekend too – seems easier!

  7. valeriekocel says:

    I finally had time to read your meal planning blog 🙂 When you mentioned it on Facebook, I had NEVER thought about meal planning for an entire month! Previously I would make up a list of 10 recipes and buy the ingredients. Then we would just choose which one we wanted that night. It was working ok with Paul’s unpredictable schedule, but after 2 months of monthly meal planning, I am hooked! I am using an app to collect my recipes & produce a list, but I am not set on it. It doesn’t feed all of my Type A needs, so I too would love your excel spreadsheet! Please. Anyway–monthly meal planning has eliminated a ton of stress over dinnertime. I have always loved cooking, but this has made me love it even more! AND we have been trying new recipes & have more variety in our meals. LOVE ❤ valerie@tinytreblemakers.com

    • Alicia says:

      Hey Val! I thought I already responded to this – guess that was a dream 🙂 Isn’t meal planning for the whole month so great?! I actually like it because I hate cooking, unlike you who loves it! Having a game plan makes the whole process less frustrating, even for someone who hates cooking. I’ve also found that if I decide what to eat, and have everything necessary, that sometimes hubs will cook for me! Win! Sending the excel sheet right now…

  8. Kara says:

    I really really want to meal plan but it is just so daunting to me – add in my job, 4 year old son and newborn (1 month) and I am overwhelmed already! I would love to have a copy of your spreadsheet my email is rubytwilight@cox.net. We have several bills and waste too much money on food that we don’t always eat – so frustrating! I LOVE spreadsheets so I am thinking this might be the thing to get me started. 😉

    • Alicia says:

      Kara! Thanks for stopping by my little world here 🙂 Meal planning can seem overwhelming. Especially if you’re freakish type-a like me and want to control every stinkin’ detail! I have two toddlers so I totally know how hard it can be. It is doable though! If this seems daunting to you, maybe just try doing 2 weeks at a time to see how you like it. Try to only grocery shop once for those 2 weeks so you have to eat what’s in your house instead of spending more money (this will help you not waste food like you mentioned). Just remember to build your first week’s meals around what’s on sale to save even more money! I just sent you the spreadsheet. Good luck! Let me know if I can help in any other way!

  9. Nikki says:

    Hi, I’d love the excel spreadsheet….I have the worst time collating recipes in one place, this would help enormously, thank you 🙂

    n.j.moore@bigpond.com

    Nikki

    • Alicia says:

      Hey Nikki! I just emailed you the spreadsheet 🙂 There is a “recipes” tab on the spreadsheet where you can enter all your recipes for quick reference. It is full of stock recipes now but you can delete and enter your own!

  10. Heather says:

    I would love a copy of your spreadsheet, please. I really like your strategies and can’t wait to try them!

  11. Christa says:

    I loved the detailed steps! Can you please email a copy of the excel spreadsheet? Christasveillon@gmail.com
    Thanks!

  12. Emily Patton says:

    I’ve been hearing about this post through the grapevine and finally got around to it. Glad to see someone recently posted, so I don’t feel so late!
    Right now I do weekly planning based around meat sales (that gotta have meat thing runs in my household too :). Have you tried weekly planning? If so, did you find that you spent less money based around sales? Or does it not make that much of a difference?
    Also, I would love that spreadsheet! Princessamaddee@yahoo.com

    • Alicia says:

      I have not tried weekly planning because grocery shopping every week would be a pain with the kids. But I would assume that weekly planning would definitely save more money because you can base your entire menu around what’s on sale (meat, side dishes, produce, etc). I do check the weekly ads, though, and have hubs stop on his way home if there is a deal I simply can’t pass up. Sending you the spreadsheet now! Hope it helps 🙂

  13. Pam says:

    Can you please email me your spreadsheet? I am trying to meal plan. My email is coffeetime135@gmail.com.

  14. Joy says:

    I love your ideas, and I’d love to see the spreadsheet. I’ve tried weekly/bi-weekly menu planning before, but I fell off the wagon. My email address is joy.elisabeth512@gmail.com. Thanks!

    • Alicia says:

      Hey Joy! I just emailed you the spreadsheet. I would like to do weekly meal planning to better take advantage of sales but I do find that monthly is easier and less stressful. I hope the spreadsheet helps you!

  15. Lolita Quiñones says:

    I would love a copy of ur spreadsheet. Thank you

  16. Raeh says:

    Hi Alicia! I really enjoyed your post on menu planning and the encouragement that every night doesn’t have to be fit for a king! I love your ideas of cooking for more than one night at a time.. I am toying with the idea of preparing food on two days of the month and freezing it for later. It’s so nice to know I’m not the only one who struggles with creativity with food at times 🙂 I would love your spreadsheet if you are still willing to email it out, I would really appreciate it! Thanks! my email address is raeh@pathwaylife.com

    • Alicia says:

      Hi Raeh! Thanks for stopping by! Coming up with dinner ideas is like my kryptonite. I’m terrible at it. If you make casseroles, those are the easiest to make two of at a time. Eat one and freeze one. Bonus, you can buy ingredients for those casseroles in bigger quantities, which is usually cheaper per ounce (since you’d be making two instead of just one). I sent you the spreadsheet! Hope it helps!

  17. Rene says:

    Hi there. I am starting to plan a smarter meal plan. I get anxiety standing in the kitchen trying to figure out what to fix. I would love a copy of the excel spreadsheet. my email is hellomotodroid@gmail.com

    Thanks!

    • Alicia says:

      Hey Rene! I HATE standing in the kitchen trying to figure out dinner. It can feel so defeating. What’s awesome about meal planning is that you can even look a day or two ahead and see what your other options are if you’re not particularly in the mood for whatever that day’s meal is. I sent you the spreadsheet. Hope it helps!

  18. Tara says:

    I’m trying to get my meals organized & would love to have a copy of your spread sheet! Turks5@msn.com

  19. Bridgette Hickman says:

    This was a lot of help I’m a SAHM with two toddlers so budget is everything. I’m really struggling with meal planning so could you please send me that excel spreadsheet?
    TIA

  20. Jessica says:

    Would like your spreadsheet! Thank you !

  21. mamallamatotwins says:

    LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! your whole plan of monthly menu planning…you’ve sold me! Would love to see the excel document…I have to admit I can be easily distracted so anything to help shave some tedious detail off my planning would be greatly appreciated! 🙂

    lori.0628@yahoo.com

    Moochus Gracias!

  22. Mary says:

    Greetings, Alicia! My sis intro’d me to Dave Ramsey (and I intro’d someone else), so we are all working on cutting costs. Your blog is soooo informative! I was about to subscribe to eMeals on the DR site, but I really don’t want to spend the $60/yr on something I could do myself…given the time. I think your Excel spreadsheet would propel me into the planning stages. Are you still offering to send it out? If so, thanks in advance from mary at maryrogan dot com (sorry, but I don’t want the web crawlers to pick up on my email and spam me).

    • Alicia says:

      Mary! It is always so encouraging to hear of people wanting to cut their costs down. Meal planning is definitely something you can do yourself! It just takes a little time, patience, and planning. But once you get into a groove, it gets easier every time! I emailed you the spreadsheet 🙂

  23. Megan says:

    Can I get your spreadsheet? I plan 2 weeks at a time but would love to see how it works.

    • Alicia says:

      Hi Megan! The spreadsheet can still be useful for 2-week planning! I plan to do 1-2 weeks at a time when my kids are in school and I have a little more time to take advantage of weekly sales. I sent you the sheet!

  24. kelly says:

    I loved you post. I meal plan plan and plan and don’t EVER follow it> I wonder if there is a fix for that>? 🙂
    Will you please send me the spreadsheet to hopefully get me on track, and KEEP me there.
    kscrapperw@yahoo.com

    • Alicia says:

      Hi Kelly! I laughed out loud at your comment 🙂 The best thing about how I meal plan is that I know what’s coming the next few days so I know what groceries I have on hand without having to think or look through the pantry/fridge. So, if I’m not in the mood for whatever is on for tonight, I look to see what’s coming and will make one of those instead. Just make sure you don’t let produce go bad by doing that! Planning actually gives freedom without giving up more money by eating out because tonight’s meal doesn’t sound appetizing 🙂 I sent you the spreadsheet!

  25. shastababy says:

    I have tried several meal planning techniques in the past, all worked to some degree, but left a lot to be desired. LOVE the idea of the spreadsheet though-everything in one place is very appealing! Could you please send it to me? Thanks so much for that and all the other terrific ideas I have shamelessly swiped from your blog 😀

  26. jodie says:

    Will you send me your spread sheet
    Jodie33169@yahoo.com

  27. Loretta says:

    I’d also like to see your excel sheet. 🙂 I’ve tried different planners and made my own versions, but none seem to really stick. You’ve made some very good points and I’m excited to start my meal plans for the month. My only other problem is… the dreaded meal ideas. I have yet to read your other posts on this topic so I’ll keep looking. Thanks again! Oh and my email address is lorettajbnails@yahoo.com

    • Alicia says:

      Hello Loretta! The meal ideas come easier with Pinterest 🙂 Also, make a list of all your regulars. Throw in a new idea once a week until you can add more regulars – the ones your family likes. After that, you can throw in a new idea once or twice a month. My goal is not to repeat the same meal in a month 🙂 I’m working on another post of our favorite meals and breaking them down by cost. I sent you the sheet! Hope it helps!

  28. Ashley says:

    I would really really appreciate a copy of the spreadsheet as well if you don’t mind!! Thanks so much!

    agroves2602@gmail.com

  29. Kelly says:

    I would love for you to send me the excel spreadsheet! Thank you!
    kellykohl65@gmail.com

  30. Chris says:

    Hi! Great post, could you send me the excel sheet as well? 🙂 krwistana@hotmail.com

  31. Sharon says:

    i love this article! I know I am late to the game but would you mind sending me the spreadsheet as well??
    Poppell.sharon@gmail.com

  32. B Lewis says:

    I, too, am late in the game. Could you send me a copy of the spread sheet also ? Thanks so much.
    Blewis8599@aol.com

  33. Sarah says:

    I just found this post and would love too see your spreadsheet as well! Shibbyloo.sk@gmail.com

  34. nicoles3479 says:

    Wow, this is exactly what I’ve been thinking about doing because I’m sick of asking the exhausting question of “what do you want to do for dinner”! It’s 6pm before I get home from work and daycare pick up so I already plan out all my meals for the week on Sunday, but it would be so nice to do it once a month! Would you mind sharing your spreadsheet with me? nicoles3479@yahoo.com

    Thanks!

  35. Hi, what a great post! Can you please email me the spreadsheet as well? my email is Katie.johnson303@gmail.com
    Thanks!!

  36. Amy says:

    I’d love to try your excel spreadsheet. With my first baby on the way, I’m trying to be a frugal and efficient as possible 🙂 2blueshoes@gmail.com

  37. Kelle says:

    Can get a copy of the excel spreadsheet? Kelleholloway@gmail.com Thanks!

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