Monday, March 3, 2014

Monthly Meal Planning: It Can Be Done!

In January of this year, I made a resolution to cook more meals at home.  I began researching meal plans online and pulled out my old weekly meal plans.  Weekly meals plans worked for our family in the past, but honestly I hated it.  I needed a plan.  A plan that is easy to manage, easy to stick with and can help us save money.  Here is what I had in mind when I sat down to discover a plan:

1.  Weekly meal planning takes up a lot of time.  I sat down once a week to plan meals and go to the grocery store.  I used to hate grocery shopping and when I had to go weekly...bleck!  Meal planning cannot take up too much time!
2.  We ate out way too much!  I'm talking we would go out to eat at least 4 times a week and some weekends we would eat out both days for each meal!!  That is so embarrassing to say, but I want you to know just what it was like and why we needed to change.  Eating out this much really breaks into the budget.  Meals need to come from our house!
3.  Save money!!  My husband and I faithfully budget for each month and our restaurant budget was OUT OF HAND!  When we looked back at our budget from the past year there were a few months (especially through the summer) that we had spent $500+ and bought groceries on top of that!! OMG!!  That is a lot of money!  Meals need to be easy on the wallet!
4.  Health.  Fast food became a staple around the house and that is not good for anyone.  We had to make some dietary changes.  Meals have to be healthy (or fixed in a healthier way).
5.  I am not a cook.  In fact, I don't even like to cook (but I would like to say that I am getting so much better and I'm starting to enjoy it).  I needed easy meals, people!
6.  We lead a busy life.  Our little family stays super busy.  Joe and I both work full time (and then some) and both kids are involved in extracurricular activities.  Meals have to be quick!

So with all of these thoughts in mind, I set out to make a MONTHLY meal plan work for our family.  I scoured Pinterest and several homemaking/mommy blogger sites until I had gathered enough information to believe that I could meal plan monthly!  You can too!!  I will tell you how and give you the resources you need! :)

First of all, complete a master grocery list.  The master grocery list contains any and all foods and household items that you regularly purchase at the grocery store.

Second, take inventory of cooking supplies and food that you already have in stock in your pantry, fridge and freezer.  There is no need to double buy things you already have.

Next, complete a month long calendar of supper ideas.
     * Note: I only plan supper and breakfast.  My kids and I eat lunch at school and my husband has a separate lunch budget.  He travels daily for work and it is difficult for him to pack a lunch.  He usually eats at the hospital where he works.*

3 months worth of completed supper ideas! :)

My supper ideas all revolve around a theme.
Tuesdays-Mexican or Chinese
Wednesdays-Slow Cooker Meal
Saturdays-Eat Out Day

When I do themes, it makes things more organized in my brain.  It makes me feel like I don't have to come up with 30 different meals, but just 4 types of each meal.  Mostly, this is just a brain trick, but totally works for me! :)  Of course, you can do different themes if you choose to do this.  The themes I chose come from what my family likes to eat and what I know how to cook.

My recipes come from a few different places:
1.  My brain-These are just the old standby meals that are easy to fix and most everyone knows how to make them.  This includes burgers, tacos, spaghetti, most breakfast foods, pizza, etc...
2.  Pinterest! Most of my recipes come straight from Pinterest!  It is the best cookbook there is and my Food board keeps all of my favorites ready for me to look up.  Most nights you will find me in the kitchen with my iPad by my side reading recipes and cooking away! ;)  Follow my FOOD board on Pinterest.
3.  Magazines-I don't subscribe to any particular magazine, but sometimes in the line at the grocery store something will catch my eye and I'll buy the magazine for the recipe.

Finally, the grocery shopping!!  This is the big part...we budget between $400-500 a month for groceries.  This means I budget shop, use coupons on what I can, and shop in bulk.  I grocery shop on the first weekend of each month and only make two stops...Costco and Kroger.  I use the master grocery list to check off any ingredients I need to make the recipes I have chosen.

At Costco, I buy everything that I can in bulk, such as pasta, fresh meat, bread, canned goods, spices, cereal, cereal bars, crackers, etc.
At Kroger, I buy what I cannot find at Costco.  Recipe specific ingredients usually come from Kroger, since Costco doesn't carry small quantities of anything. :)
There are obviously items that run out quickly around our house and I have to make intermittent trips to the grocery, but I go in with a list and a budget.  I go straight for what I'm after and only use the money that is left in the grocery budget after the big first of the month purchase.  We usually have to make about 2 extra trips to Kroger for milk and fresh fruit and vegetables.

This is our 3rd month on the monthly meal plan and it is fitting each of the needs that I outlined at the beginning of this post.  In January, we spent less than $150 at restaurants.  This is such a big difference from our previous habits!

I really hope you are inspired to monthly meal plan.  This has made our lives so much easier, healthier, and easy on the pocketbook!  Please, leave a comment or question if you have any.  This is only a brief version of the whole monthly meal plan process and I want to help in any way that I can!
I am including a free download of my master grocery lists, theme list and a planning calendar!  Click the image below to download!

And finally as a bonus for all of my lovely readers...I am posting my March monthly meal plan WITH links to the recipes that I have found via Pinterest!  Click on the calendar image below to download this month's meal plan!  I've done all of the work for you (well aside from the actual cooking)!!  Enjoy!

Enjoy!  Leave me a comment and let me know how I can help! ;)


Your comments make me smile! :)