Monthly Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping Made Easy

How would you like to always know what you're having for dinner?

And only go to the grocery store once a month?

And always have the ingredients on hand?

And not realize that you've forgotten several items when you get home from the store?

And slash your grocery budget by planning ahead, taking advantage of sales, and avoiding impulse purchases?

Then monthly meal planning and once-a-month grocery shopping is for you!

I plan meals once a month (only twelve times a year), and do our major grocery shopping only that many times as well! Follow along as I plan for all of next month's meals!

Supplies:

  • An inexpensive 12-month calendar (I use a free one that comes in the mail; they're also available at the dollar store; or you may print one for free from the Internet.)
  • Recipes

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Step 1: Before You Begin

  1. Keep a running list on the refrigerator of items to add to your list as you run out of them. (Photo 1)
  2. Create a master shopping list that includes all the items you typically buy. Arrange the list in the order that you shop in the store. Be sure to leave plenty of room between items, and in the margins. You can use a store map of your store to help arrange the list according to aisle. (Photo 2, 3, 4)
  3. In addition, you may want to create a master list of breakfast and lunch ideas to post on the refrigerator. (Photo 5)

Step 2: Meal Planning for a Month

  1. Take out the calendar for that month, and write an entree-type heading next to each day of the week. For instance, in the winter months, I aim for:

Monday--Chicken

Tuesday--Soup

Wednesday--Beef/Pork

Thursday--Soup

Friday--Meatless

Saturday/Sunday--Grilled or Company Meals

Use the calendar and a stack of favorite recipes or a cookbook to choose a dinner entree for each day of the month. I use a different Taste of Home cookbook each month as a starting point. This creates a lot of variety in our meals. (Photo 1,2)

As you go through the cookbook or stack of recipes, put them on a day of the week that corresponds to your entree-type heading. Include the Cookbook name and page number if applicable. (Photo 3, 4, 5)

Step 3: Creating Your Grocery List From Your Meal Plan

Create your monthly grocery list in three steps:

1. Take out your master grocery list. Add the items from the list on the refrigerator.

2. Then, quickly go back over the meal calendar, and flipping to each recipe as needed, add the ingredients needed for each recipe. At this point, I don't worry about staple items (flour, sugar, salt, seasonings, milk); I take care of these in the final step.

For items that you're not sure whether you need to purchase or not, you can just make a note of them in the bottom margin of the list, and check the pantry in the final step.

3. Finally, take your master grocery list, and proceeding in the order of the list, look in the pantry and refrigerator for each item, checking whether you have a month's supply or whether it needs to be added to the list. Simply circle the item, and add a quantity if necessary. If the item doesn't need to be purchased that month, just mark it off your list. (Photo 1)

Note: I shop monthly at two main stores. First, I buy as much as I can at Aldi. Then, I come home and add the rest of the items to an online order from a local Warehouse store.

I also make note in the top margin of the list of any items that I expect will be a better price on sale at some point during the month at the local neighborhood store. I watch the sale flyer for this local store during the month, and stop in as necessary to pick up these few sale items. (Photo 2)

In addition, we stop at a convenience store, or a small neighborhood store, as needed to replenish milk, eggs, and fresh produce.

Step 4: Meal Planning Hints Top Ten!

  1. As you make your meal plan, mark a couple of items each month that you could easily double and freeze the second portion. In this way, you'll always have a couple of emergency meals in the freezer for when you need them.
  2. Keep your meal calendar in a prominent place-- refrigerator, or inside a cabinet door, or on a bulletin board-- Check it each evening, to thaw meat as needed for the next day. Check it again each morning, to see if any preparation can be done early in the day. Save the meal calendars for easy planning ideas for next month or next year.
  3. Plan to double meals at dinner. Leftovers often make the best and easiest lunches.
  4. Always add items to your grocery list as you open the last container of something (rather than as you use the last of it.) Keeping a well-stocked pantry is key to easy cooking and avoiding impulse shopping.
  5. Stock up on items on sale. In many cases, buying 3-12 months' worth of a pantry item when it is on sale makes sense financially.
  6. ALWAYS cook and freeze your ground beef and chicken that you'll need cooked for the month as soon as you come home from the store. Bag it in 1 pound packages and keep it in the freezer. You'll have an amazing head-start on many of your recipes. Cooking 10 pounds of ground beef or chicken in a slow cooker, or even more in a roaster oven, is a great idea.
  7. Make a list of Family Favorite Recipes that you can use to easily put together a grocery list.
  8. Also, keep a list handy of recipes that you can make very quickly. In a pinch, you can quickly thaw a package of your cooked meat, add a couple of ingredients, and have dinner on the table in a couple of minutes.
  9. For added health and money-saving benefits, cook large batches of dry beans (in a slow cooker) or rice (in a rice cooker, or on the stovetop.) Freeze them in small containers or Ziploc bags to have them on hand to add to soups and other recipes.
  10. Many items freeze well--pies, pastry crusts, cookies, cookie dough, pizzas, pizza crusts, breads, muffins, as well as many soups and casseroles, lasagnas, meatloaves, meatballs, marinated (raw) meats, and cooked meats. When you're making anything, ask yourself if you can double it (or more) and freeze the remainder for another day.
  11. BONUS: If variety isn't as important to you as streamlining the process each month, create a master meal calendar that gets repeated each month, and a master corresponding shopping list. If you order groceries online, you'll be able to easily reorder most of the same items from month to month, after a quick pantry check.

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    Thank you! It sure simplifies the whole process, and keeps me from forgetting check for every staple in the pantry before shopping.