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An easy guide on how to start planning a monthly meal plan to feed your busy and hungry family on a budget.
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.
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.
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.
Daily Food Themes
We have Meatless Mondays which are our one night a week to eat vegetarian.
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.)
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.
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.
Fish Friday is pretty self-explanatory but I include all seafood in this fish definition. Shrimp even qualifies for Fish Friday.
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.
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.
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.
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.