Monthly Meal Planning: Eat Better and Save Money & Time

 I’ve been in a rut after the holidays–feeling stressed, uninspired, and like I’m always playing catch-up with my grocery shopping. I love to cook, like, I love to cook, but it was getting to the point where I couldn’t even figure what to make for dinner. I felt like I was spending too much money, wasting food, and just generally working way too hard. So I decided to brush off my old Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheets (something I started working on last year) and use them this month.

Plus, I’m sharing them with you: one, because hopefully they might help someone else, but two, I would love feedback on their usability, etc. Help me make them better!

Download my Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheet now, and then I’ll break down my method. Note: This is an example, not a complete list of items you would need to make all of these meals. This is because I had some items on hand, so I didn’t need to buy them.

This is a six-page Excel workbook that I’ve found very helpful. But first, as with any project, you should establish your goals. Here’s what I’m trying to accomplish:

  • Feed my family a variety of meals, but:
  • Choose recipes that have common ingredients
  • Go only once a month to WinCo (an amazing, large, cheap grocery store we have with dozens and dozens of bulk bins that is a 20+ minute drive for me, hence the once-a-month schedule)
  • Save time (both cooking and doing dishes) by making large quantities of meals and freezing/rotating them
  • Be as zero waste as possible by shopping from the bulk bins using my own containers, and by shopping wisely and selecting common ingredients (see above) so I use everything up

Here we go!

Menu

Monthly Meal Planning

As you can see, I plotted this out via several categories, beginning with dinner (which is my top priority). To help jog my creativity and make meal planning easier, I try to choose a pasta or rice dish each week, a taco (Taco Tuesday!), a soup, a meat or other entree, and seafood. Monday is devoted to either Kraft Macaroni & Cheese with a vegetable or grilled cheese and tomato soup (or something else I have in the freezer that is virtually instant). I like Mondays to be easy. As a rule, I only plot five or so dinners per week, because we may go out to dinner or eat leftovers.

Lunches are basic–I pack a bag for my husband and feed myself and Sarah sandwiches or leftovers.

Breakfast is my crucible, so planning really helps me. Categories include muffin or cake, smoothie, griddle, or yogurt. I used to have eggs in here, but I’m not a huge fan and our son Sid’s been saying he hates eggs, so we’re taking a break.

Snacks are pretty self-explanatory–for me and Scott to munch on, and for Sid after school. Desserts are also standard.

You’ll notice that some things repeat every couple of weeks this month: spaghetti, salmon, muffins, sandwiches, cookies. I’ll be making large batches and freezing them (and freezing half our fish and lunch meat) for simplicity’s sake.

Master Shopping List

I can only show you a small portion in the screenshot–this ended up being a list of 83 items! In addition to food, I went through and figured out what items we needed for cleaning, personal care, etc. I then added categories for stores (I’ll be shopping at four places: WinCo, the People’s Co-Op–I can get oils and such in bulk there–Fred Meyer, and Flying Fish, our local fish market), department, how much I need, and what week I need to buy it. Then I sort by week, store, and department.

I try to buy as much as I can in Week 1: non-perishables and freezables, weekly dairy and produce, etc. Then in Weeks 2-4, in a perfect world, I’d only need to pick up the weekly dairy and produce at the store. It never works out that way, but I can dream . . .

Week 1 Shopping

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.08.31 PM.png

I then copy and paste each week’s items in their own spreadsheet. Again, I can only show a small portion of Week 1–it contains a whopping 59 items. The only thing I would do to improve this is to move the departments around to mirror how the store is actually laid out–produce, then deli, then meat–but I’ll continue to refine this until it’s just the way I want it–then I can save it and pull it out every couple of months and save myself some work. In an ideal world, I would have four or five perfect months planned out that I could rotate and update, depending on what I have on hand.

Week 2 Shopping

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 4.08.43 PM

I won’t bore you with screenshots of the rest, I just wanted to show you the difference in the rest of the month–11 items in Week 2, baby! I’m living the dream! I’m only buying cavatappi pasta at Fred Meyer’s because they don’t sell it at WinCo and it’s my son’s favorite.

Sunday I went out to WinCo and did Week 1’s shopping. While I bought tons of food, including a whole chicken, four pounds of chicken breasts, two pounds of shrimp, ground beef, Italian sausage, bacon, breakfast, four pounds of dried beans, 25 servings of fruit–and on, and on–it totaled about a quarter of what I usually spend on groceries in a month, so I’m hopeful!

So what do you think? What changes would you make? I’ll continue to blog weekly and let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I’ll link to a bunch of the recipes I chose, in case you’re interested!

Banana-Spinach Smoothie
Chicken Soup With Rice
Chicken Hash
Coconut Braised Spinach With Chickpeas and Lemon
Cowboy Cookies
Coconut Curry Spaghetti Squash With Shrimp
Free French Vegetable Soup
Kale Smoothie with Pineapple and Banana
Pumpkin Smoothie
Refried Beans
Roast Chicken and Potatoes
Sid’s Chicken
Spaghetti
Strawberry-Flaxseed Smoothie

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5 thoughts on “Monthly Meal Planning: Eat Better and Save Money & Time

  1. Holy cow you’re organized! I didn’t exactly make resolutions this year but I hoped to get more organized and cook larger vats of food to last throughout the week. I like your lists. I used to have a checklist for everything I usually buy, slightly organized by various categories and I would just tick off what I needed when I ran out. I think I need to revisit this idea. I’m all out of several spices right now and I’ve just left the jars out on the counter which looks cluttered cause I’m out of a bunch of them. A spreadsheet would hide the clutter! Thanks for pinging me about your spreadsheets 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ally says:

    Love the organization! I have similar spreadsheets for our meal planning, although we mostly focus on breakfasts and dinners, with lunches usually being leftovers or basic soup or sandwich options. I would highly recommend that you download a Grocery App for your phone for the shopping lists, rather than using spreadsheets though. You can add different lists for different stores, and even customize the layout of the shopping list to put things in the order for the specific store layout. We tend to rotate our options so I even have different shopping lists for the different rotation choices, so you could easily make your Week 1, Week 2 etc lists. Takes a little bit of work to set up initially to enter the items, categorize them appropriately, and customize the layout to match your store, but so worth it in the end. Makes it so much easier for the actual shopping! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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