Monthly Meal Planning Update with a Sample

I mentioned several months ago I was going to try meal planning on a monthly basis, rather than weekly.  Now that it’s been a while, I wanted to do an update on how it’s going, because I really love it!

Reasons I tried monthly meal planning:

– Every week I would realize it was time to go to the grocery store and I had no plan.  This would usually happen at night when I was too tired to get out cookbooks / look through pinterest so I quickly scrawled out an unimaginative grocery list with things I didn’t need a recipe for

– Because of the above, we ate the same things all of the time and I was getting really sick of it

– Because I wasn’t putting much thought into meal planning, I often had to go to the store multiple times per week

– I love shopping at Trader Joes, but there are some things they don’t have, or that I prefer to buy elsewhere.  I really don’t want to go to multiple grocery stores every week though.

My process:

1. Choose cookbooks

I personally love looking through physical cookbooks, so I like to choose a few to use each month.  I have a lot of cookbooks already, but I think I may try checking out some new ones from the library next month just for fun.  I also use online recipes sometimes.

2. Choose 16 recipes

We almost always have leftovers (though I’m not sure how long this will remain true with the amount our little guy is eating these days….).  I usually choose four recipes per week, and this is almost always enough for us.  I just make a list of the recipes, noting which cookbook they’re from and the page number.

3. Make a weekly calendar

I plan four weeks at a time, so I make a simple grid.  (Someone spilled a whole cup of coffee on this one…not naming any names.)  I divide up the recipes by week, trying to balance things I like with things my husband likes, lighter meals and heavier meals, etc.  I write the source and page numbers on here too.

Yes, I have bad handwriting….

4. Make grocery lists

Once I’ve divided the recipes by week, I make the grocery list for each of the four weeks.  I only plan dinners, as I almost always eat the same breakfast and eat random salads and stuff for lunch.  I always add things we need to the list before going to the store, but it’s great to have the main list done ahead of time.  As I’m going through the recipes, I make separate lists for things I want to buy at Costco or Target.  These lists are usually small.

I keep the list on the refrigerator so that, theoretically, my husband could add stuff he wants me to get.  I don’t think this has actually have happened though….

5. Grocery shopping

I go to Costco once at the beginning of the month.  I usually buy all of our meat here and a few other staples.  I don’t make a special trip to Target, I just save that list for whenever we need to go there next.  Then I go to Trader Joe’s weekly, usually on Mondays.

What I love:

– I actually enjoy looking for recipes now!  I like to cook, so this is fun for me when it’s not a weekly scramble.

– We are eating so much more variety now.  This is especially important to me now that James is often eating what we’re eating, as I want him to try lots of new foods while he’s still really willing to eat almost anything.

– I rarely have to make extra trips to the grocery store.

– I haven’t actually tracked this, but I think we’re saving money due to fewer grocery trips and more conscious meal planning.  I usually plan several vegetarian meals per week, which definitely cuts down on costs.

– It’s more efficient.  It takes me maybe 1.5-2 hours to do this every month, but for me, that’s much quicker than the cumulative time of doing it weekly.

– Every week feels balanced with a mix of vegetarian and meat-based recipes and a mix of lighter and heavier meals.

What I don’t love:

– It’s harder to be flexible.  Things come up, people come to visit, we decide to go out of town, etc.  It can be annoying to update the grocery list because I have to figure out what ingredients were for what recipe, etc.  This can be annoying, but it’s worth it to me for all of the pros.

This Month’s Meal Plan:

Most of the recipes I use are from actual cookbooks, not online, so I can’t share all of the recipes, but here is our meal plan for this month.  It wound up being a little more meat-heavy than usual, but otherwise is pretty typical:

October 9-15

Salmon with potatoes and vegetable

Enchiladas from this post – loved these

Ham and cheese waffles & eggs from The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook (didn’t actually make these, I don’t remember what we did instead….)

Red lentil dal with cilantro rice

October 16-22

Salmon Bites with cous cous and brussels sprouts

Turkey black bean chili (a recipe I’ve used for years from a blog that no longer seems to exist)

Brown rice stir fry with tofu from Martha Stewart’s Meatless

Vegetable Tostadas from The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook

October 23-29


White corn cheddar chowder from Martha Stewart’s Meatless

Southwestern Hash from Martha Stewart’s Meatless

Steak and mashed potatoes with broccoli (I didn’t actually buy the steak at Costco, so will come up with something else, probably fish)

October 30-November 5

Lasagna (this recipe or this recipe – haven’t decided)

Chickpea burgers from Martha Stewart’s Meatless with naan and tzatziki

Lemon rosemary risotto from Risotto with chicken sausage

Burrito bowls (homemade beans with brown rice and toppings)

Do you meal plan?

Do you have any good lasagna recipes?

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Monthly Meal Planning Experiment

As I mentioned last week, I’m rethinking how I meal plan and grocery shop.  I’m doing this for three reasons:

  1. I started hating to cook.  I’ve enjoyed cooking since I was a little girl, but it started becoming a task I semi-dreaded.
  2. I like going to Trader Joe’s, but I don’t love buying meat there (not as good of selection or prices in my opinion).  I like buying meat from either Sprouts or HEB (huge local store), but I really don’t like going to more than one grocery store a week.
  3. We were eating the same boring things all of the time.  I wasn’t thinking at all about recipes until the night / hour before grocery shopping and so just made the same things over and over again.

It was clearly time for a change!

I decided trying to meal plan on a monthly, rather than weekly basis.  This way, I could get my cookbooks out once instead of every week, which clearly wasn’t happening.  Also, I could make a consolidated list of everything I needed from a non-Trader Joe’s store and just go there once a month, instead of debating every week which store to go to for what we needed that week.

So far, it is working great!

The initial process of going through cookbooks and making a grocery list for each week was time consuming, but it was also fun.  I chose a few cookbooks and then chose one recipe per week from each book.

This month, I used Thug Kitchen, Oh She Glows Every Day, Salad Love, and America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook.

I also chose some things to make from my Baby Led Weaning Cookbook and The Big Book of Recipes for Babies, Toddlers, and Children.  James can now eat a lot of the same things we do, but it was fun to find recipes tailored to him and things like healthy sugar-free muffins, etc.

I chose four recipes per week, because we tend to have leftovers and just like to do our own thing some nights (e.g., my husband makes tacos and I make eggs or some kind of grain salad bowl).

After choosing the recipes, I made grocery lists for each different week, and then a separate list of things I’d need from HEB.  My husband graciously went and got the HEB stuff because it gets super crowded and it’s huge and I kind of hate going there.

This is our third week of the new plan and so far it is GREAT!

I’m back to grocer shopping once a week and I’m actually excited about the things I’m making again, woohoo!  I didn’t track this, but I’m fairly confident it’s good for the grocery budget too since fewer grocery trips means fewer impulse kombucha purchases on my part.

I’m already looking forward to choosing cookbooks and recipes for next month.

Do you meal plan or just wing it?

Do you have a favorite grocery store?

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