When I first heard that people planned a month of meals a time, I was a little smug. Those people weren’t looking at their weekly grocery ads to plan their meals so they could plan whatever was budget friendly for the week. How could they predict what would be on sale three weeks from now?
Then, month after month, I got knocked off my high horse when I’d way overspend my grocery budget because I ran out of time to plan meals one weekend. Or because the Fareway add hadn’t come in the paper and I kept thinking I’d go pick one up but then it was too late. Or because the meals I planned were expensive. Or because I never used up all the produce I bought.
But even though my system never actually worked, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around monthly meal planning. It all changed my friend Sarah did No Cook November, which involved crock-pots, and my mind is definitely wrapped around crock-pots. Specifically this one. And then posts like this one, which had been floating around in my mind for a long time started to click.
So, in December, I made a monthly meal plan. But it didn’t go very well. I dabbled in some organic produce, tried way too many new recipes, did a lot of baking, and made lots of little trips to the grocery store and was just as over budget as usual. I felt like I was on the right track, so I decided to try again in January.
Here are my ground rules:
- Breakfast for dinner once a week – We like this, and it’s usually pretty cheap.
- Pasta once a week – Dexter would eat spaghetti every day if I let him. (This is not an exaggeration, because this is what he did before we were married.) We use whole wheat pasta.
- One freezer meal a week – I’m planning ahead to make sure there are leftovers for this. I also made a pot of butternut squash soup just for freezing this weekend just in case.
- Leftovers, freezer meals, or from-the-pantry meals on the weekends. If we have none of these, I’ll just eat a PBJ.
- “Humanely-raised” meat option once a week for the recovering vegetarian that is my husband.
- Plan at least one side dish, otherwise I’ll spend the whole budget on main dish things and go to the store every day for side dish veggies.
Here is our menu for the month:
1-Pumpkin soup from the freezer
4-Risotto in the crockpot (with carrots, peas, and chickpeas), salad
5-Lentil tacos (filling from the freezer), quinoa and black bean salad
6-Waffles, eggs, fruit
7-Baked spinach and cheese noodles in the crockpot, carrots
8-Pork chop, corn, green beans, mashed potatoes (I might have freezer soup for my main dish)
9-Make Moroccan Lentil Soup for the freezer/lunches
11-Vegetarian Curry in the crockpot, rice
12-French toast (made with panettone from the freezer), eggs, fruit
13-Lasagna, salad, bread
14-Freezer soup, bread, vegetable
15-Burgers (fake for me unless I cave), baked beans, baked fries
18-Falafel in the crockpot & lots of fixings
19-Spaghetti, salad, bread
20-Rachael Ray’s healthy huevos rancheros, whole wheat cinnamon rasin biscuits, fruit
21-Lentil tacos from the freezer, quinoa & black bean salad (possibly also frozen)
22-Sweet & sour chicken with mango lettuce wraps
25-Barbecue “chicken” (or beans or tofu) and cornbread casserole, vegetable
26-Broccoli & Pasta Bianco (a Campbell’s recipe I’m using frozen, homemade mushroom soup for), salad, bread
27-Freezer soup, bread, vegetable
28-Pancakes, eggs, fruit
29-Eat out to celebrate (hopefully!) being under my grocery budget
So far, I’m $3 under my “weekly” budget. This bodes well, because I was able buy some of the “bad list produce” organic, be on main dish at house church, and buy ingredients for two crock-pots full of soup that will go straight to the freezer. There’s a chance we’ll run out of milk before the end of the week. I set my budget higher than my “ideal, superwoman, impress all my homemaker friends” budget because work takes up so much time and we’re trying to make some ethical changes, but this way I’ll have some success to keep me going, extra cash at the end of the month, the option of buying sale items in bulk at the end of the month, and the option of tightening the budget next month.