How to Save Money with Monthly Menu Planning

I had been talking about menu planning on Wednesday and promised to share with you the ins and outs of my monthly meal planning madness method.

If you had told me a year ago that I’d be planning a month at a time, I would have thought you were nuts. I remember hounding my friend Anne, an accomplished photographer and monthly meal planning extraordinaire, about how exactly she could plan a whole month’s worth of meals at a time.

I just couldn’t wrap my head around it! I could barely think of seven different dinners to serve – let alone 30!

Then a few months ago, I had a light bulb moment. I finally realized that month-long planning could be just as easy — in fact, easier — because I could double up on meals. I was trying to plan 30 meals. Wrongo! I just needed to come up with a week or two and then replicate those with slight variations. (Anne, by the way, actually plans 30 different meals, but she’s awesome like that.)

Turns out that I actually really like having the whole month planned out, because it’s one less thing to worry about. No, our meals aren’t gourmet, but they are (mostly) wholesome and (generally) healthy, and (most definitely) quick and easy. Here is an example of our simple monthly menu plan for February.

If you want to try your hand at planning a month’s worth of meals, these are my tips for making it work:

  • Quickly scan your fridge, deep freezer (made easy with a handy dandy inventory list), and pantry. You may also want to check your calendar to see what events you have coming up that might affect meal time. At our house, for example, DS2 has Tae Kwon Do twice a week, which necessitates easier dinner plans.
  • Based on what you already have in stock, write up your plan . I do it in pencil, on a freebie calendar from our shul.
  • Make your life easier by repeating main courses (or the whole meal, if you wish) at least twice during the month. That way you can double the recipe the first time you cook it and freeze a portion for the next time it appears on the rotation.
  • Once you have your month-long calendar of meals, make a master list of all non-perishable ingredients plus the produce, dairy and fresh meat or chicken that you will need for the first two weeks. I spread these out across several columns for each of the stores that I will inevitably shop at. {While one-stop shopping is great for convenience, in a limited kosher market, it’s just not always practical. Plus, I save a lot more by shopping multiple stores.}
  • Make a separate list or column with any fresh food you will need for the last two weeks of the month. I keep both lists in my coupon wallet (described here).
  • Quickly scan that week’s grocery circulars and add in any amazing deals you want to stockpile or move around items between store columns, based on sales and special promotions.
  • Finally, print or clip coupons you know you will need and stick them in whatever wallet, binder, box or envelope you use to carry your coupons.

It know this sounds like a lot of work, but I’d estimate that the planning part of the process – not including the actual shopping trips – take me less than two hours a month. I know I was wasting way more than that by wandering around my kitchen in circles, trying to figure out what on earth to make for dinner!

Plus, the shopping is only a bit hectic that first week of the month, when I’m stocking up on non-perishables. After that, the rest of the month is really smooth sailing.

So, what do you think? Does month-long meal planning sound at all appealing to you? How do you make menu planning work for your family?

Comments

comments

Comments

  1. I really want to try this!!! It’s such a good idea and would definitely make everything easier.

    Maybe I need to have you all over for a play date and see what you think of my current stock to give me some suggestions. :)

  2. I recently had the same revelation and so I’m trying a monthly menu plan for February. So far so good! :-) I don’t know why I thought I had to have 30 different meals…repeating meals is actually fun…it gives you something to look forward to every week. :-)

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