Mom, what’s for dinner? I used to dread that question so bad until I learned how to meal planning for a month. And let’s be honest, having the responsibility of feeding your family every day is draining! As a working mom, I have struggled with finding the time and energy for dinner to be an enjoyable experience. But meal planning has been life-changing for my family and me.
In this article I share some tips I have learned about meal planning and how with consistency, this practice can help you save time and a lot of money. Not to mention that it will also help with your sanity!
6 Steps To Save Time And Money Meal Planning For A Month
The first time I thought about meal planning for a month, I thought you had to make a list of 30 breakfast ideas, 30 lunch ideas, and 30 dinners. Laughable, right? Totally! So that was the first silly but actual realization. Meal planning for a month is not about having a different dish every day. Instead, it is about making your life easier every day.
Another misconception about meal planning for a month is that you need to do all your grocery shopping in a single day. I recommend that you shop weekly to make sure you are consuming fresh products and not wasting the leftovers.
The following are seven tips I recommend you to follow to get your meal planning journey started.
1.- Set A Monthly Budget
Everybody talks about meal planning and focuses on the dishes. However, before we even start brainstorming hearty family dinner ideas, we need to understand precisely how much money we have to spend on food. So, your first step is going to be setting up a monthly budget for groceries.
Before I started meal planning, I used to spend between $1,200 and $1,500 per month at the supermarket. I know that is crazy! Don’t even ask me what I was buying because I couldn’t tell you.
I noticed that many of us struggle with overspending at the grocery store because we justify it as a need. When, in reality, a lot of what we buy is really a want. Meal planning allowed me to create awareness around my spending.
Now, my monthly budget for groceries is around $1,000. Sometimes I go over by a little, and other times I stay under budget, which is great. As a financial coach, I have worked with many families who struggle with the same issue. Budgeting and meal planning on paper has been the best solution for me and my clients.
This is a screenshot of my monthly calendar where I track my grocery store visits and note any special events that may incur extra grocery spending. For example, in the case of December, we spent a little extra because of Christmas and New Year’s dinners.
save money eating out
One of the benefits of meal planning is saving money on take-out, fast food, or going out to eat. For that reason, I manage my grocery and eating out expenses in different budget categories. I believe that groceries are necessary, and eating out should be considered a treat and not a need in most cases.
If you have no idea of how much money you should be spending on groceries or food, check out these two articles. I break down some budget percentages and grocery shopping averages depending on the size of your family.
- What Percentage Of Your Income Should Go To What
- How Much To Spend On Groceries Per Month
- Meal Planning For Beginners
After you set your monthly budget, you need to take a look at a calendar. Most months, you will need to budget your money for four weeks, although occasionally, your month will have five weeks. It is essential to know how many weeks you are budgeting for because you will fall short unless you budget extra for the fifth week.
Divide your monthly grocery budget between four or five, accordingly. That will be the weekly allowance for your groceries.
2.- Check Your Family Calendar
Once you have figured out how much you can spend every week, you need to check your family calendar. Note any activities that impact dinner time, like kids’ practice, working late, grocery shopping trips, special occasions, etc. You want to be aware of those things to plan your dinner choices around that.
Schedule Your grocery shopping
For instance, I usually do my grocery shopping on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings. I can’t do supermarkets on the weekends. They are too crowded, and usually, people are rude. Plus, I like to enjoy my weekends, and grocery shopping does not sound like fun when you have to brace for impact every time you pull into a different aisle.
Because I shop during the week, I don’t like to arrive home and still prepare a meal from scratch. So, what I do is I plan on eating leftovers that day to make my life easier.
consider your family’s schedule
Also, because my kids have different activities during the week in the evenings, we don’t have many opportunities outside the weekend to have family dinners. But, on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday night, we are all home. So, I know these are good days to try a new recipe or make a nicer dinner and sit together at the table to enjoy it.
Understand your family’s schedule and commitments so that you can plan dishes that fit your needs. If your family has a crazy schedule, as we have had too, you can plan on making meals that are easy to reheat in the microwave. That way, everybody can get a bite whenever they get home, and you don’t have to become the catering queen of the house, serving dinner at different times all night!
3.- Use A Meal Planning Book Or Planner
I tried all methods of meal planning. I wrote notes on my cellphone, put a template up on the fridge, and signed up to receive dinner plans via email. None of that worked for me. The one thing that has allowed me to stay consistent is using an actual meal planner.
Using a meal planner helps me to stay organized. Also, it allows me to put together my meal plans and grocery shopping lists on the same spot. Besides, I collect meal ideas, recipes and track my spending as well.
My meal planner is the place where everybody writes down what they need from the store. So, teach your kids and spouse to add to your shopping list the things they need.
I know there are many meal planners out there, but after trying several, I realized that they were missing the budgeting element, which is essential to meal planning. So, I went ahead and designed a meal planner too. Make sure to check it out if you don’t have one already.
4.- Plan Your Meals And Grocery Shopping Weekly Using My 3-2-1 Method
Now that you know how much money you have, what your weeks will look like, and how busy you will be, it is time to plan some meals. As I said, I recommend that you focus on creating a weekly plan.
To make your life easier, I recommend the 3-2-1 method. Shop for three breakfast options, two lunch options, and one dinner option per day.
Are you excited about cooking dinner every night? Nope, me neither. But don’t worry, you won’t. I have a great trick to show you. But first…
three BREAKFAST OPTIONS
Your breakfast options should be easy, quick, and shoot for semi-healthy as well.
For instance, my breakfast options include:
- Toast or bagels
- Cereal and fruit
- Eggs and precooked bacon (for the weekends)
My kids chose what they want to eat and accompany it with a glass of milk and their choice of fresh fruit.
two LUNCH OPTIONS
My lunch options are quite simple:
- Turkey or ham sandwiches
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
Again, I am a working mom and don’t have time to get fancy or make gourmet meals over here. I like to get a bit fancier on the weekends when I am in the mood and occasionally make eggs, bacon, and pancakes or waffles.
My daughter is also now a teenager, and she loves to cook, so lately, it has been her making us pancakes and biscuits on the weekends. You can save the yummy time-consuming options for the weekend as well.
one dinner OPTION
And finally, stick to only one option for dinner.
My dinner meals during the week are usually an all-in-one dish, like a crockpot soup recipe, a baked casserole, or pasta. On the weekends is when I have time and energy to do more time-consuming meals.
When it comes to dinner, this is the best tip I can give you. Double the recipe so that you can have an entire dish to eat as leftovers. We do this all the time, and as a result, most weeks I only have to cook three or four times.
Get My FREE Meal Planning Recipe Book
If you have no idea what to make for dinner, get started with my favorite hearty family meals. You can make all seven dishes for less than $100.
In this free recipe book, I give you the shopping list, food cost, and instructions to make your life easier. And the best part is that depending on your family’s size, you will probably have enough to eat leftovers for lunch as well.
5.- Invest Your Time On Making Three Or Four Dinners Per Week
By now, I hope you are getting the hang of meal planning for a month. If you do the planning work, you will find that you are spending less time in the kitchen, going through the drive-through, or eating out.
Now, I recommend that you only focus your energy and time on making about three to four hearty, delicious dinners. As I said earlier, you want to double the recipe and use the extra food to exempt yourself from cooking on a busy night.
If you make it a habit of doubling your recipes, you can get by every week with three or four dinners. To make our lives easier, we also do pizza night one day of the week.
What Meal Planning For A Month Looks Like
So, if you are only making three to four dinner meals per week, you only need to come up a dozen recipes or dishes.
3 dishes x 4 weeks = 12 Meals to plan for
I have a list of favorite dishes that I already know how to make by heart. But I am also always looking for new things to try because it can also get boring to eat the same.
My go-to place to come up with new ideas and recipes is Pinterest. When I see something that looks delicious and easy enough to make, I save it. You can check out my collection of meal ideas on My Meal Planning Recipes Pinterest board.
Pizza Night, anyone?
On Friday nights, I have zero energy left to make dinner. We decided to turn Friday into pizza night. The family loves it, and Walmart has a great selection of ready-to-bake fresh pizzas we can choose from without busting the budget.
If your kids are old enough, it is time to consider delegating breakfast and lunch duties. I know some of you may have choked reading this, but believe me, you won’t regret it if they are old enough.
During the pandemic, I found myself spending even more time in the kitchen. Since my kids started school at different times and had their lunch schedules, they pulled me in to make their meals. Within days I knew that being an on-demand waitress and cook was not going to work.
TIME TO DELEGATE?
I decided to pull the plug and gave them the news. “You are on your own for breakfast and lunch, and yes, you are expected to clean after yourself in the kitchen,” I declared proudly!
I am happy to report that nobody has gone hungry, and the kitchen has not caught on fire either. Yes, bread crumbs are everywhere, and dirty dishes sit in the sink for longer than I care, but I don’t mind reminding them to pick up.
Delegating breakfast and lunch making to my teenage kids has been a game-changer for me. So, if you can, consider it as well!
6.- Use The Cash Envelope System To Budget For Costco Or Sams
I love to save money on groceries, and although many people like to go to Costco or Sams to get better deals in bulk, I don’t shop there. It is not that I don’t like it. My problem has to do with the size of my pantry. It’s tiny!
I do all my grocery shopping at Walmart, Aldy, and Kroger. But, if you are a Costco or Sams fan, I want to recommend that you use the cash envelope system to save money every month for your Costco or Sams grocery haul.
Putting money aside even during the months that you don’t shop at those stores will help you balance your budget. I hear from my coaching clients that they don’t know how to budget for groceries because they always overspend at Costco. Well, with the cash envelope system, you will fix that problem right away.
Budget For Your Costco Or Sams Haul
Figure out how much money you think you will spend in a year at Costco. You can do this by looking at your previous bank or credit card statements. Then, divide that number by twelve and save that amount in cash in an envelope every month.
When you go to Costco or Sams, use the money from your cash envelope for your shopping. This little change will help you keep your budget from blowing up every time you buy in bulk.
In Conclusion: How To Meal Planning For A Month
Meal planning every month can help you save tons of time and money on groceries. Start by figuring out a monthly budget for groceries. Then, check your calendar to see how many weeks you need to plan. Come up with dinner ideas that work for your family activities and life. Use a meal planner book to put everything in writing. And I mean everything, from your daily meals to your grocery shopping list and expenses.
Also, shop for groceries every week and make sure to keep it simple. Follow the 3-2-1 method to plan your meals. Double your dinner recipes so that you can eat leftovers the next day or save those for a busy night. Finally, if you are a fan of Costco or Sams shopping, make sure that you are setting aside cash every month in an envelope. Use those funds for your bulk purchases to avoid blowing your grocery budget.
Questions? Leave a comment below!
You got this! If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments section below. And don’t forget to download my free meal planning recipes for a week; they are easy to make and work for every budget.