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Meal planning for a month seems like a daunting task. Actually, something you would believe would be very overwhelming and time-consuming.
You can barely figure out dinner for tonight. Let alone for tomorrow night! And now, you are wondering how in can I plan meals for the next month.
It is something I have put off doing over and over because I like to use fresh produce and catch the weekly sales. And was under the ill-advised concept that was the best way to save the most money.
However, the spring of 2020 has blown up my typically shopping patterns (just like everyone else around the world). Thus, I had to do a crash course in learning how to meal plan for a month. Plus the added challenge of only shopping one store for everything.
Surprisingly, I love the result of meal planning once a month.
Enough of asking myself, “how do I make my meal plan easier?” By planning meals for the entire month, it has helped me immensely and shortly, I will explain why.
You are going to learn how to meal plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
So, if you are like me and have been forced into monthly meal planning, it is not the end of the world. In actuality, it is refreshing because you will spend less time on the meal planning task, less shopping trips, waste less food, eat well-rounded meals, and save money.
There is no better time to start menu planning!
If you are a little hesitant on making it work for you, think about the stress meal planning creates in your life. That is a reason to give it a try!
Let’s dig in and learn how to meal plan for a month.
Why Meal Plan?
There are plenty of benefits to meal planning. But, first, let’s look at some real life scenarios…
Driving Around Mom –
Once she picks up the kids from school, she is constantly shuttling kids from place to place. There is barely enough time to eat dinner. Let alone time to cook a healthy meal for her family. Too many times, they find themselves picking up takeout in between activities. She keeps promising herself that next week or next month will be different and she will start meal planning for the family.
Working Couples –
The last thing either of them wants to do is think about what is for dinner. It has been a long shift for both of them. They are exhausted and too tired to think about what is for dinner. They quickly decide on takeout from their favorite place. However, deep down, they want to change so they can start saving for a house downpayment and go on vacation.
Family with Littles –
Oh, that witching hour… it always seems to happen at the busiest time of the day. Right when you are trying to figure out what’s for dinner. You are scrambling trying to figure it out when your 2 toddlers are having a meltdown and the baby is crying. You settle for Mac and cheese for the kids. The parents savage whatever is left to eat and drop exhausted from the day. They strive for healthy meals, but just can’t get everyone on the same page.
Stay at Home Orders –
This hit everywhere in the spring of 2020. We were asked to stay at home unless you needed essentials like groceries. In addition, we were asked to shop less often and plan to buy groceries for at least 2 weeks. I wish I never had to include this as a possible reason. But, it is our current reality and finally pushed me to meal plan for a month (and now I love it).
Meal planning will help avoid all of this.
#1 – Save Time
First of all, you will save time.
You will save time trying to figure out what is for dinner. Less time shopping at the grocery stores. Who doesn’t want to save time on such a necessary task?
Plus you will always know what is for dinner.
#2 – Save Money
This one is key! The primary benefit of meal planning is saving money.
When meal planning for the month, it is easier to spread out the higher cost meals with the cheap meals.
That way you can stretch your grocery budget even further. Honestly, meal planning is one of the key ways to save money on groceries.
Also, since you are shopping less often (the goal is once per month), the temptation to grab a couple more items each trip is completely eliminated. Thus, you will end up saving at least 10% of your monthly grocery bill.
#3 – Save Energy
This one is huge for me personally. As we all know, moms were many hats, and many times, it is a challenge to keep all of the balls rolling. We are always on the verge of complete exhaustion.
By meal planning once a month, it takes all of the steps and combines them into one big task instead of a bunch of smaller tasks. At the end of the day, you will save energy – both mentally and physically. Plus you know everyone is eating healthy, well-rounded meals.
#4 – Variety of Meals
This is probably one of my favorite tactics.
You can spread around the types of meals, so you don’t feel like you are eating the same thing over and over.
Each Week Pencil In:
- Chicken Meal
- Beef Meal
- Plant Based Meal
- Meal based on pasta
- Meal based on rice, quinoa
That leaves you two more slots to fill in your favorites. Obviously, this will vary for everyone based on dietary preferences and choices. But, it is a nice framework to figure out the answer to the age old question, “What is for dinner?”
How to Meal Plan for A Month
This process is similar to what you would find in meal planning 101. The key difference is you are specifically menu planning for a month.
1. Start with Favorite Recipes
You can do this step alone or with your family. Figure out what are your favorite recipes that you should cook more often. Many times, it is beneficial to get input from your family and kids because you want everyone to eat and not waste food.
Over time, you will constantly be adding to your favorites list. Believe me, you will end up with more than a month’s worth of favorite recipes to make for dinner.
Also, add in any new recipes you want to try.
This list will be your family go-to recipes!
2. Start with Monthly Meal Plan Calendar
To help you out, you can find plenty of monthly meal planner templates in our free printables area.
This step can be broken down a little further.
Next, look at your calendar – the one with appointments, practice schedules, and everything else.
On days that physically cooking a meal would be impossible, choose to crockpot a meal or plan a meal out. Mark those on the meal planning calendar.
Then, spread out the types of meals you eat to give the most variety. Everyone’s preferences are different, but here is a starting point:
- Beef meal
- Chicken meal
- Plant Based meal
- Meal with pasta, rice or quinoa
- Meal with beans
- Themed meals – Taco Tuesday, Soup Night, Pizza Night,
Take your favorite recipes and start filling in the calendar days.
Just alternative meat meals with plant based meals.
This is a great way to spread out the expensive ingredients with the cheap foods and start saving the most money possible.
Pro Tip: Write everything in pencil. Things may come up and change your plans. You may have extra leftovers and need to skip a meal. By using a pencil, it gives you the flexibility to make adjustments as needed.
3. Grocery Lists
Now, it is time to make your grocery list.
The first time you do this step it will take the most time because you are reviewing what you already have in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Going forward, you can keep your grocery list accessible and easily add items when you run out.
For me, I listed everything out that we buy at the stores we frequent the most. (Okay, my little assistant took the task of typing.)
You can do this with a printable meal plan template or spreadsheet. Do whatever works best for you.
Once your grocery lists are created, then keep it accessible so you can easily add items throughout the week. Next time, when you are ready to meal plan for a month, grab your current grocery list and start adding what you need for the month.
I promise this process is way simpler when you actually do it. After my first time, it takes me 30 minutes to plan out meals for a month.
Bonus Tip – Menu Planning for a Month
Learn to freeze extra meals.
This is key for any family who finds the evenings busy and with little time to cook.
It takes very little effort to freeze a second meal.
Grab my favorite stands and start stuffing a 2nd meal when you are cooking the current one.
Also, if you need a little help getting started, I highly recommend MyFreezEasy.
Meal Plan for Breakfast
I’ll admit there is no way I personally want to plan every single thing our family eats for the whole month. That isn’t me. But, I do want to have everything on hand to make what we generally eat for breakfast.
This is what we have on hand for breakfasts:
- Pancake / Waffle mix
- Fruits and Veggies for Smoothies
- Breakfast burritos
I will admit meal planning for smoothies was a bit trickier especially daily smoothies for four people. So, I made a list of 20 smoothies that we wanted and made sure to add the ingredients to my grocery list. Many of the fruits are bought in bulk already frozen. The only thing I needed to freeze was extra spinach because fresh only lasts about ten days or so.
To make the mornings easier, we batch making breakfast burritos three dozen at a time. The kids love helping with the task and the freedom of being able to make their own breakfast.
If you prefer, you can plan out breakfast meals for a month using the same method as for dinners.
Meal Plan for Lunch
Once again, planning out every single lunch is too much for me. So, I just ideas for lunches for the family. This list varies slightly when we are packing lunches for schools vs being home on breaks.
In an effort to save money, the adults take leftovers from the previous dinners as their lunch. This cuts down on eating out expenses immensely. Plus, we enjoy the meals we make.
For lunches, personally I don’t want to overcomplicate things. But, feel free to plan out lunches using the same method as menu planning for dinner.
Meal Planning for Snacks
Oh, the snacks!
If you have kids, you know exactly what I mean.
At every turn, they are constantly hungry and wanting a snack.
Make a list of the snacks you want to have on hand.
For us personally, we have a shelf of snacks that anyone can get. One in the pantry, another in the fridge, and the fruit bin.
There are two ways to figure out how many snacks to have on hand. You can be specific and plan out the total number of snacks needed. Then, divide them out among everyone’s favorites.
The another way is learning how fast you go through snacks. This is what we do. To start out, I wrote the date on the box of snacks to get an idea. This isn’t a perfect or scientific method. But, it helps us to know what to buy at the store.
How Much Does it Cost to Meal Prep for a Month?
The cost of planning is free. We have free meal planning templates to get you started.
To answer the question on the cost to meal prep for a month will depend on a few factors:
- Are you cooking at home?
- Using a meal plan subscription service to help plan your meals?
- A meal delivery service like Sun Basket or Hello Fresh will cost the most money.
Most of the meals we make in this house cost under $10 per meal, which equates to 6 servings. So, the cost per serving averages $1.66. Obviously, some meals like salmon are going to cost more and others like rice and beans are lower. This is why meal planning for a month helps you to even out how much you spend.
30 Meals @ $10/ per meal = $300 for cost to meal prep dinner
The above example was how much we spent when a group of friends gathered to make a ton of freezer meals. So, I know it is possible. Also, I know you can lower the cost per meal down if you choose.
From there, you need to layer on the costs for:
For example sake, let’s say you spend $100 each on breakfast, lunch, and snacks; then, $50 on drinks.
In this example, the total cost to meal prep for a month would be $650.
For a family of 4-6 people, that is an awesome amount to spend on groceries!! Also, it is what the USDA Food Plans considers as thrifty.
If you are planning for a couple, your cost to meal prep for a month would be significantly less.
Are you Ready to Plan a Menu?
Hopefully, this in-depth post has covered everything you need to know to meal plan for a month.
I guarantee you… This meal planning process will save you time, money, energy, and hassle.
That is what you want and need right?
Yes, when shopping you will be purchasing a ton of food and one time. If financially that is difficult or fridge / freezer space is a concern, then meal plan for a month and grocery shop two times a month.
If you want to save money on groceries, shopping less often and meal planning will help you immensely.
Start to plan your menu! Tag us on social media and show us your monthly meal plan.