Meal planning is hard enough as it is. But when you are single, in debt, and short on time? Forget about it, right? Wrong! It can be done, my friends! I am going to show you how easy it can be to plan for an entire month of meals in less than 3 hours using 6 simple steps. How is that for valuing your time?
What do you have on hand?
I do a routine inventory of my kitchen items once per month – on planning day. This gives me a quick reference guide to peek at while I am looking at recipes I may be interested in. In addition to simply naming off the ingredients, it is important to take note of the amount remaining of each item – sauces, spices, pounds of poultry, etc.
You may be thinking an inventory is very time consuming. Not true! I inventory once per month right before I need groceries. When you make your grocery store list you will already have items to add into inventory.
Besides, inventories are the perfect way to decrease waste. Waste not, want not!
Freebie inventory spreadsheet to come!
How many days are in the month? And how many meals do you plan on eating out?
I am going to use April 2017 as my example. There are 30 days total. That makes for a raw 30 breakfasts, 30 lunches, and 30 dinners. Also, 30 snacks if you are into snacks – I am not, so I will not account for them.
I am budgeting $60.00 total to eat out on for April 2017. This means that I will most likely eat out 5 times in April – lunch only.
I will also spend a three day weekend with family, so that’s three days to not account for in the big picture.
And I have one event at dinner time where there will be food that I do not have to purchase, so one dinner can be taken away.
30 breakfasts – 3 days = 27 breakfasts
30 lunches – 3 days – 5 work lunches = 22 lunches
30 dinners – 3 days – 1 event = 26 dinners
What are the weekly sales?
This is really important! To save time, I do not clip coupons for my groceries. And I shop at one store only. None of that flitting from store to store business. (#aintnobodygottimeforthat) If I had a Kroger where I lived, I would shop there – Kroger sends you personalized coupons in the mail. FREE EGGS! I heart Kroger. (#notanad #ireallydoloveKroger) Alas, we are limited, so I shop at Albertson’s because I really dislike the crowds at Wal-Mart.
My local store pumps out new sale papers on Wednesdays. I use the app or view it on my computer from my email. I highly recommend that you check out your own grocery store’s website and sign up for emails and their smart phone apps.
Back to the sales paper – I fly right past most of the items in the paper. The only things I am interested in are meats, produce, dairy, canned food, and the baking aisle. Once you start paying close attention, you will notice patterns in the sale cycles of the items you want most often. Think of it like Hobby Lobby – if it isn’t 50% off this week, it will be next week. Plan accordingly.
Once you get a feel for what is on sale and what will be on sale later in the month, you can start thinking of recipes.
What is my budget?
My monthly grocery budget is $120.00. Broken down, it is about $30.00 per week. However, my goal is to go to the grocery store only twice per month. The first trip being a giant haul. The second trip to get little things that are on sale or to stock up.
If you don’t have a well-stocked pantry, you will need to build it up according to your budget. Even if it means PB&J sandwiches or eggs for some meals.
You should also take into consideration whether or not you are trying to compensate for an added expense in the future. For example, I will need to board my fur baby for a few days in May and a whole week in July. Therefore, I will add in more of the cheap foods to compensate and try to save even more money for the next few months.
Now that you have your inventory, sales paper, and budget nailed down, you can start the fun part – looking for tasty concoctions to prepare for the amount of meals you will need for eating at home (see step 2)!
I have a public recipe board where I pin until my heart’s content. And I also have a private menu board set up for the month. This makes it easier to reference when cooking and preparing my grocery list.
This month I have to find 4 chicken recipes (serves 5-6 each) and 1 ground beef recipe (serves 5-6). I also need 2 breakfast recipes. This is mostly because my inventory shows that I have four 1.5 lb sacks of chicken in my freezer, and I need to use them up.
Prepare your grocery list.
Gather a master list of all recipes and meals you plan to prepare. Once you have crossed off some ingredients due to inventory, you can now divide your grocery list into what is and what is not on sale.
Congratulations! You have made it through all of the steps and should now have an entire month’s worth of meals. If you have money left over at the end of the month, you can either spend it on stocking your pantry, roll it over for next month’s grocery run, or save it for future use (like boarding your fur baby).
Want to see my monthly meal plans? I post them here!
Do any of you struggle with meal planning? Has this helped you plan meals? What would you do differently? Give me all the deets in the comments below.