Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My First Monthly Meal Planning Venture

I have tried to plan meals in advance before. I have the best of intentions, but rarely do I stick to that plan after about the first 3 days. Life has always gotten in the way. This year, one of my goals was to be more organized and to be a better manager of our finances.

We follow many of the priciples of Dave Ramsey's plan and we use the cash envelopes system consistently. Part of that is that at the beginning of the month, I get out the cash we will need for groceries and I put it in an envelope by itself. When that money runs out, I either have to find some in the other cash envelopes (which are usually also empty by the end of the month), or do without. This has saved us loads compared to when I would shop and just swipe my bank card. There is something much harder about parting with the cash in your wallet than swiping your plastic and thinking "whoops, I went a little over!".

Which brings me to menu planning. I decided to attempt not only planning meals for the entire month, but also making one massive grocery store run in hopes of saving some money. What usually happens is that when I grocery shop weekly (or every few days as it has been lately!), I go in to get one item and I purchase at least 10. This can kill our budget quickly...back to the menu planning.

If you have ever wanted to attempt it, here is the way that I did it. I'm sure there are easier ways, and yes, I know that there are services you can pay for that will do this for you. However, now that it's done, I can't tell you how much satisfaction I have gotten from doing it myself!

Step one:
I made a list of all the meals that my family will eat, or recipes that I wanted to try. Here's a picture.

Next, I looked at our calendar and scheduled when I'd need to cook. Some nights we eat warm-ups, a few nights we'll be dining with friends, and a few nights we'll get takeout.
Here is what that looked like for us:

The hardest part was making the shopping list based off of the things I planned to cook, plus ANY of the foods we eat on a regular basis for the entire month. I made a list and just made hash marks for any items that I need multiple ones for. It looked like this:
Next, I organized this big list into sections of the store so that when I went shopping (with two kids in tow) it would be as quick and easy as possible. Here is that list:

The last list I made was a list for items I'd need to be that week that wouldn't keep if I bought them at the beginning of the month. It's mainly produce and things we'd have to use week to week. Here it is:

I went to Wal-Mart to shop this month. Marcus kept the kids,  so I purchased every item (except for 3 I didn't find), paid for it, loaded my car and was home an hour and 15 minutes later. This included a few trips to the Wal-Mart restroom due to all the water I was drinking (another resolution!). The best part, it was approximately HALF of our monthly grocery allowance. Which means, as long as I stick to the plan I will have saved a significant amount of money, all for the time it took to make this plan and shopping list. Total time invested- probably about and hour and a half in planning, and another hour and a half in shopping and putting the groceries away. Worth it? Absolutely! Another bonus is that each morning when I wake up, I know exactly what I'm fixing that night so I can begin thawing out the meat, or during breaks from the kids I can begin preparing parts of it so that I can spend less time that night.  This month will be the hardest because I didn't know the process until I had been through it. Now I know what to do and I can re-use a lot of the work I did for this plan.

What do each of you do to plan for your families meals? I'd love to hear!


  1. Great job Kara! I too have had the best of intentions on meal planning and I never stuck to it for one reason or another... you have inspired me to try it again. Thanks! Now, can you motivate me to get my pencil, paper and recipes out and put things into action... LOL!

  2. One thing i did that helps, i walked through the store and made myself a master shopping list based on the layout of the store. I keep each months list on the frig and check off when we run out of something. I try my best to make do with out the item if we run out during the month. Or I check it off when we start getting low. Then I check off what i need for meal planning, and it's easy to find my items because my list is by aisle.

  3. This is exactly what I do and boy is it a time/stress saver! I use a dry erase calendar to write all of my planned meals. Then it goes on the fridge so Wade is on the same page... It sure does eliminate him walking in the door and asking "What's for dinner?!?"

    Keep it up and good luck!!!

  4. you are a genius! i have been doing this on a weekly plan, but always knew that if I did it on a monthly plan it would save so much time and money. i feel bad stealing your ideas after you spent so much time on it, but it's so helpful! thanks for sharing!

  5. I almost forgot to tell you, I finished up a whole month of meal planning menus!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. Thanks for sharing. I made my husband plan meals for a month. The sneaky guy bought a meal plan service for $60 for the year at mealplans4thefamily.com. Gotta hand it to him for his creativity. It was money well spent as we saved 100s of dollars each month.


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