Category Archives: Home Management

3 Tips To Make Your Monthly Meal Plan Work

Three tips to make your monthly meal plan work for you and your busy family.

Hey guys!

Before we dive head first into my recipe book (like I actually use one of those ;)), I wanted to share a few more tips I’ve learned along the way in making this monthly meal plan work. There is a lot of information out there and sometimes we get sucked into believing things that may be true for some but don’t typically work for the average Joe. For example, I have always lived on some sort of budget. I don’t mean this nice and neat pie chart thing that tells me I have x amount of dollars to spend on groceries that month. I mean the type of budget that I think many Americans live on these days; the type of budget where you aren’t a hundred percent sure you will be able to pay your electric bill and your car payment and go grocery shopping all in the same week. We aren’t exactly poor but we still have that looming worry over our heads that prevents us from making financial decisions without considerable thought. Not to mention if any unexpected expenses arise along the way and put a huge hiccup in our plans.

I’ll be the first to tell you that monthly meal planning is not for everyone. I, by no means, want to persuade you to do something that you have no interest in doing or feel isn’t right for your family. I only recently discovered monthly meal planning myself and I am always looking for new ways to provide for my family and save money.

 

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1. What’s Important

Decide what is most important to you and your family. Are you looking to save money or are you looking to create your meals from all organic material? Do you have the space to buy in bulk or are you willing to travel in order to get specific ingredients?

In my family, I look for the best deal. However, I hate the stress of the store and being in a new town, I don’t like to travel outside of a 15-20 mile radius from home. I also can’t stand to go to too many stores so you will not find me sale chasing. In fact, I don’t even look at sale papers or coupons anymore. What?! I know.  I know. But here’s the thing, I did do that for a while. I had six sales papers laid out in front of me and I used to find solace in the actual cutting of the coupons. I get it. I love the rush of getting a “deal” or “bargain”. But unless you are an extreme couponer and have the space to store all of it, coupons typically only save you about 25% off of your regular grocery bill. I didn’t grab those statistics from the internet. I went on grocery trips and calculated it each time. I even used coupons at the dollar store and the result was still the same.

I shop at Aldi and will sing their praises all day long. I do not get the excitement of finding an unbelievable price in a sales ad or opting into a buy one get one at Publix. I don’t clip the coupons and try out products I never knew I wanted until I had a coupon for them. I just shop at a store that has exactly what I need at a minimal price. Could Wal-Mart have better prices? Maybe, but the change I might be spending at Aldi is far less than the impulse purchases I would make at Wal-Mart. I have to know myself. I have to know that I don’t like stress and I don’t like temptation. If you have the will power for it, more power to you.

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Though Aldi is my primary store it is not my only store. I also shop at Sam’s Club for meat and tortillas. Aldi has both of these but not exactly what I am looking for. Both breakfast burritos and lunch burritos are made in the monthly meal plan and regular old flour tortillas just weren’t good enough for me. Sam’s Club has a pack of tortillas that have added fiber and protein and make me feel like those breakfast and lunch burritos are more like meals.

Sam’s Club also has fantastic prices on meat. Since I have a monthly meal plan and know that if I need the meat for this month, I will also need the same type and portion next month, there is never a question of how or when it will get used. A large skinless salmon purchased at Sam’s Club is enough to make four full dinners. That is potentially four months worth of salmon. However, buying in bulk like this does require a place to store it, which brings us to number two.

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2. Where To Store It

Find a way to store your food. Obviously making food last for a month in a place as hot as Florida is not always an easy task. Your deep freezer will be your best friend. All the meat goes in the deep freezer almost immediately except for the hamburger meat. The hamburger I will portion off into one pound increments or make into patties as needed for the month’s recipes. Fresh vegetables like onions and green peppers get diced and put into one cup increments in Ziploc baggies. These I keep in my kitchen freezer for easy use while cooking. Now, in our family, sometimes milk doesn’t get used quite as frequently as expected either so I will portion that off into recycled plastic jugs (mayonnaise and peanut butter jars work great) and freeze that as well.

The freezer isn’t just good for the raw materials. I also freeze leftovers or go ahead and marinate some meat and veggies and freeze those too. Like I said, your deep freezer will be your best friend.

What to do with all the non-freezable stuff? I am very grateful that Captain Cupcakeasaurus built me a large shelving space in the hallway that we call our pantry. I hope you have a large pantry or shelving space or hallway (though pantry is preferred) as well. Remember that thrill you got when finding a sale in the ad paper? Well, a similar thrill rolls through you when you see your pantry at the beginning of the month. All the shelves fully stocked and awaiting my use remind me of the pantries they show on Top Chef or Chopped.

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Whether you are buying in bulk, monthly meal planning, or couponing, you will definitely need a place to store it. There is nothing worse than buying a month’s worth of food and then not having room to fit it all in your refrigerator or have half of it left out on your counters.

3. When To Shop

Make your shopping day and your prep day two different days.  Some may think this is a no-brainer. Well, I didn’t. I thought that if I could get all my shopping done in one day, then I could also get all my prep done in the same day. Voila, I would have everything done in one day and not have to worry about it for another month. I must be delusional. Trust me, you will want these to be separate days. The idea is to reduce stress. You save money to reduce financial stress. You only shop once a month to reduce social anxiety stress. You prep on the second day to reduce… well, I’m not sure what that stress would be called but we are reducing it, dang it!

Also, prep day can be fun if you make it so. I have had prep days where I laugh with my fiancé while chopping onions. I have had prep days laughing with my bestie on speakerphone while chopping green peppers. I have had prep days watching Netflix on my phone and drinking Moscato while precooking ground beef. Please notice that my prep days include laughter with those I love, Netflix and wine. What could be less stressful than that?

Those are my tips to help you stay sane as you start out on your monthly meal planning journey. Let me know if there are any other hurdles you’ve faced while meal planning or any additional tips you’d offer to others starting. Thanks for reading and helping make life taste sweeter.

 

Why I Monthly Meal Plan

The reason why I monthly meal plan and how it can pay off for your family too.

Why I Monthly Meal Plan, Meal plan guide for busy family, Cost of monthly meal planning

In How To Start A Monthly Meal Plan, I shared that my family and I use a monthly meal plan system to feed our family healthy, delicious meals each month. However, I didn’t really get into the reasons why we chose to go this route.

Life Changes

I used to be a full-time working single mom who completed online classes and managed my household all on my own. This meant I was familiar with living on a budget and barely making ends meet. Being the only adult in the house also meant I was very comfortable making all the decisions without consideration for anyone but my son and me.

Things change, as they often do, and now I am a stay at home mom with a breadwinner partner and I must make considerations for the entire family. The new role was difficult for me to adjust to at first. I couldn’t help but feel controlled and I hated the idea of being “taken care of”.

The Job of Being a SAHM

So I approached being a stay at home mom like a job. The title of Home Manager was now my new position. I created a household binder and developed a family budget and monthly meal plan. My duties included taking over keeping track of schedules and bills and knowing the ins and outs of our household. Making what I do a job was the only way I could get my mind wrapped around my new role and really embrace it.

Captain Cupcakeasaurus was used to living the bachelor life and spending what he wanted when he wanted. Must be nice, right? Well, he now had a partner and child to think about and we were more expensive than I think he realized. We have some debt we want to pay off and a wedding to plan so we developed a budget that would allow us to do just that. Our monthly grocery/food budget is $400. I will warn you, the first month this will be hard to match. There will be things you don’t currently have in your pantry or your primary store won’t have all the ingredients you thought they would. It is inevitable so don’t beat yourself up too bad if you go over. The next month will be easier, I promise.

Why I Monthly Meal Plan, Meal plan guide for busy family, Cost of monthly meal planning

Month of Meals Math

I was developing our plan over the summer so I was figuring three meals a day for three people. Now, that my son is in school and eating breakfast and lunch at school, I don’t have to account for nearly as much. As mentioned in How To Start A Monthly Meal Plan,  we accounted for dinners six nights a week and the ability to eat out at least two times per month. The way I separate the budget for groceries is $325.00 for groceries and $75.00 for eating out. Of the grocery portion, $300 is used at the beginning of the month and $25 is saved for the mid-month milk and bread run.

Are these numbers exact? No. Will the cost of eating out and groceries be the same for your area? Probably not. Can you manipulate the budget to fit your family’s needs and the prices for your area? Absolutely. If you need help doing so, please just ask. It isn’t easy managing a home or staying on budget or trying a new system out without helpful resources. I read a ton of information online and then tweaked their suggestions to meet my own needs and still had some adjusting to do once put into practice.

Why I Monthly Meal Plan, Meal plan guide for busy family, Cost of monthly meal planning

Calculations Are In

Now we can all whip out our handy-dandy calculators to really show the benefits of monthly meal planning. $325 divided by 3 people equals $108.33 per person for the month. To estimate on the larger months, we will say a month has 31 days and that would leave $3.49 per person per day. Three meals a day would then give each person $1.16.

What? No way! I can’t feed someone a delicious and nutritious meal for $1.16! The vending machine costs more than that! Yes, you can feed your family for that amount and I’m going to show you how. But, just for giggles even if your monthly grocery budget was $500 straight for groceries, you’d still only be spending $1.79 per meal per person for a family of three. It can be done and once you start, you won’t ever want to eat out again.

Where can you feed a family of three for $3.50? That trip to McDonald’s will seem ridiculous because you’ll be buying junkie food that doesn’t even really taste good and paying nearly ten times as much for it.

But, just for giggles even if your monthly grocery budget was $500 straight for groceries, you’d still only be spending $1.79 per meal per person for a family of three. It can be done and once you start, you won’t ever want to eat out again. Where can you feed a family of three for $3.50? That trip to McDonald’s will seem ridiculous because you’ll be buying junkie food that doesn’t even really taste good and paying nearly ten times as much for it.

What To Exclude

I do feel like I should add a disclaimer. My family, in an effort to live healthier, decided to primarily drink water. So we do not spend money on soft drinks. Some juices are purchased but not many. We also do not include alcoholic beverages in our grocery budget. A decent rule of thumb is if food stamps don’t cover it, our grocery budget probably doesn’t cover it. Groceries also do not include any paper products, cleaning products, or our cats’ food.

Why I Monthly Meal Plan, Meal plan guide for busy family, Cost of monthly meal planning

Why I Monthly Meal Plan

So the real reason why I monthly meal plan is all in the numbers. I take pride in knowing I can feed my family for less than $5 a meal for everyone to have a tasty and nutritious dinner at home. Family is created at the dinner table. Take a look at the history of holidays and cultures around the world. People celebrate the people they love with food.

Every night I can bring my family around the dinner table and listen to their day, I know I am blessed. I know that I am doing my job as home manager and making the system work. We are saving our money to provide for our future, I am feeding them meals that will nourish them and comfort them. Hopefully, my son will one day tell his children about these dinners and think of me. That is why I monthly meal plan.

How To Start A Monthly Meal Plan

An easy guide on how to start planning a monthly meal plan to feed your busy and hungry family on a budget.

How To Start A Monthly Meal Plan, Grocery Planning, Family Meal Prep

My best friend is also a stay at home mom and I consider her one of the smartest women I know. She and I have similar views on parenting and homesteading and it is nice to have someone to play ideas off of and to complain to when those ideas don’t quite work out the way we planned. When I get discouraged I remember that she has two kiddos at home versus my one and if she can do it, then surely I can too.

Our friendship is not a one-way street. So when she told me about her weekly meal planning, I considered giving it a shot. I had never meal planned before in my life. You mean people know what they are going to eat before dinner time the day of?!? I had no idea.

So I spent some time online and discovered that the monthly meal plan sounded like something I could possibly manage. I hate shopping. I mean I hate the going to a store and spending more money and time than I intended and being exhausted and ready for pizza at the end of it. For me, there is a  narrow line between thrifty and comfort. I could easily see the benefit of having my groceries delivered to me, but, frankly, I’m not going to pay more for something I can do myself. A once a month trip sounded like it could work though so I set out to start.

If you are thinking about starting a monthly meal plan, here are a few things to consider first. The monthly meal plan is not for everyone. Whether it be because of the budget, food preferences, or produce availability or just that you and your family don’t like it, there may be some reason that monthly planning doesn’t work for you. That is okay. I don’t suggest it for everyone but it works for us. Since I spent some time on it and the bestie was inspired to try her own version, I figured I’d share my experience.

How To Start A Monthly Meal Plan, Grocery Planning, Family Meal Prep

When To Shop

First, you will want to figure out when you want to do your monthly shop. The beginning of the month is when people get paid and receive food stamps, so often the stores are more crowded at that time. This doesn’t stop me from going at the beginning of the month, I just choose to go in the morning on a weekday to avoid the crowds.

 

Where To Shop

Second, I strongly suggest choosing one primary store to do your shopping. Multiple stores mean multiple receipts, which usually also means more money spent and who wants to travel around to different stores all day? I chose Aldi as my store of choice. If you have one near you, I strongly recommend going there just to try it out. They do not take coupons and some of their products are off brand but if you are not brand specific and would prefer a lower base cost than trying to do the math on coupons and sales then it is well worth it. Also, if you are a couponer, then you already know that the sales are weekly and not monthly and this meal plan may not be for you… or maybe, just maybe couponing isn’t for you.

Flexibility

Third, even though it is called a monthly meal plan, it doesn’t mean that I can’t pick up things if I need them at the two-week mark. This is usually my bread and milk run. I just include this mid month trip in the budget and account for it accordingly. This monthly meal plan does take patience and it takes about a month or two to really get the hang of it. I’m going into my fourth month now and I am still finding ways to improve the “system”.

Making It Work

Alright, now that you have the basics and you’ve decided to proceed with this crazy monthly meal plan idea, let’s get planning. For my family, I first came up with theme nights. I find this helps with answering the “What’s for dinner?” question. You can use the ones I do or create your own that fit with your family and your schedule.

How To Start A Monthly Meal Plan, Grocery Planning, Family Meal Prep

 

Daily Food Themes

Mondays

We have Meatless Mondays which are our one night a week to eat vegetarian.

Tuesdays

Home Cooking Tuesday doesn’t quite have the nice alliteration ring to it but this is the night I make the comfort food I grew up on and know by heart without a recipe. (Edit: I have since named this night Tried and True Tuesdays. Now, that alliteration I can get behind.)

Wednesdays

My fiancé (Captain Cupcakeasaurus) and I are gamers and have a weekly game night hosted at our house. I realize this isn’t considered normal for most families but almost everyone has some sort of activity that prevents them from being able to cook that night. Crockpot Wednesday is perfect for when someone is at dance class or soccer practice or whatever else your busy family is getting into that night.

Thursdays

We have Culture Night Thursday, again I need help with catchy alliterations for these days of the week. (Edit: This is now Taste the World Thursday) Culture Night is an attempt to expose my family to dishes from other countries. They may not be authentic but it mixes up the menu a bit and lets us explore new cuisine.

Fridays

Fish Friday is pretty self-explanatory but I include all seafood in this fish definition. Shrimp even qualifies for Fish Friday.

Saturdays

Pasta Night is Saturday (Edit: Noodle Night! Gotta love that alliteration again.) and includes almost anything with noodles. We are a carb friendly family and I’m not sure I could go without my pasta again. I have previously done the Atkins diet and though I lost weight for a while, I really missed my oodles of noodles.

Sundays

Sunday is set aside for leftovers or eating out. We don’t eat out often nor do we need to, but I allow a day for it so we can budget the eating out as well. 

 

Recipe Collecting

If you are a Pinterest user, go ahead and create a board for each day of the week minus Sunday of course. When I see recipes I want to try or something that just looks too delicious to pass up, I’ll pin it to the appropriate board. (Edit: My Pinterest now has a board for each night so you are welcome to steal ideas from there.) At the end of the month, we sit as a family and discuss what we want to eat the next month. My son has some of his favorites that he loves and definitely wants to have them on the menu during the month.

How To Start A Monthly Meal Plan, Grocery Planning, Family Meal Prep

The Math

I try to choose five recipes for each day of the week. If you notice that comes out to 30 recipes and ta da you have a month worth of meals! Now you are ready to make that monthly meal plan work!

As we continue, I hope to share with you all the recipes I have personally tried on my own family. We will discuss more about the monthly meal plan process, creating the grocery list, and that dreaded first grocery trip when the cashier asks if you are feeding an army. I will also then go meal by meal, sharing all my successes and failures with you. It will be fun, I promise!

Of course, I’ll add in some more cupcake recipes along the way because after all I aim to make life taste sweeter and you’ll want one to reward yourself after all your meal planning. Feel free to ask questions along the way and share your own experiences with monthly meal planning. We are in this together.