Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How I Shop and Plan Meals for a Whole Month

I dread grocery shopping. I mean, if I could pay someone else to do it for me, I probably would. (Any volunteers?) Seriously though, I decided a year ago that I was DONE with weekly shopping trips. Gone are the days of spending a whole morning every week pushing around a cart full of groceries and squirmy, fussy babies. No more ruined nap times and spending hours loading everything into the cart, then onto the checkout stand, then back into the cart, then into the van, then into my house, and then finally putting it all away, all while my kids scream for food and tear into anything they can get their hands on.

Now I do all of my shopping and meal planning for the whole month at once, and it has changed my life.

True, I still dread that one shopping trip, and it's still a huge pain, but I can usually get it done when Ben's home so I don't have to take the kids. And the best part is, of course, I only have to do it once a month! It's honestly a huge load off my shoulders not to have to plan a weekly shopping trip anymore. Even when I do have to run to the store on the corner, it's usually just to pick up more milk or a few things I missed, so it's a much quicker trip. (Plus my corner store has a play area for the kids, so sometimes I go just to let them play...while I sniff all the candle scents and lotions. 😉)

When I posted about my monthly shopping trip to Costco the other day on my Instagram, a lot of people were curious about it. So to answer your questions, here's how it works for us, plus what I like and don't like about it.

But first, I asked my friend Stephanie, who also shops once a month, to share how it works for her. She gives a great run-down:

Basically, I sit down on the last weekend of the month and write down what we're having for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I do the same thing each week for breakfasts and lunches, so every Monday we'll have cereal for breakfast and tuna sandwiches for lunch, but I switch it up each month. Then I decide what we'll have for dinner each night. I try to see what I already have in the fridge and pantry for meals before planning new things I need groceries for. It was hard the first couple months, but after a while, planning that many meals got easier. 
I use frozen veggies at the end of the month and fresh stuff at the beginning. Also, I freeze our bread so it will last the whole month. Milk can be frozen, but I'm not really a fan of how it thaws out, so I actually get milk and eggs from our local grocery store. I started shopping once a month because we live 32 miles from a town with a Walmart and 63 miles from a bigger city with a Sam's Club. I hated dragging the kids that far twice a month--it always ended up being a long day, and the kids and I were always cranky! I just didn't want to go through that more than once a month. Plus, I always ended up forgetting something because I didn't have our meals planned. I would either have to drive 32 miles, or pick something up at the local grocery store, which is always more expensive than Walmart. So I was spending way too much every month and wasting a lot of gas. 
I love going only once a month, and I never forget anything because it's all planned out and I know exactly what I need.

 Amen, Stephanie! So, here's what my monthly meal plan looks like.

As you can see, it's pretty rough. I just jot it all down right in my planner, and like my friend Stephanie, I start with what I already have on hand--here, I wrote down a few things that needed to be used up in the top left corner. I picked what to make each night from a mental list of our favorite meals, and I wrote in a few new meals to try, too. We'll have fresher meals--lettuce wraps and fajitas--within a week or two of shopping, and meals like soups, stir-fry and paninis later on. I made sure to plan easy meals for busy nights, too.

I don't plan out breakfast or lunch, but I'm thinking of trying it out with this awesome re-usable printable from Melissa at Bless This Mess next month. (She has a great post on monthly meal-planning here.)

To sum it up, here are a few pros and cons to consider if you're thinking of trying a monthly approach to meal-planning and shopping. And if you keep scrolling down, I listed what I buy from Costco on a regular basis, just in case you're interested. Happy shopping!

  • I only have to do a big shopping trip once a month instead of once a week.
  • I get to shop at Costco! (The samples, the food court, the gadgets...it's just more fun than the average grocery store!)
  • If I really don't want to make an extra trip to the store for whatever else I need, I can use Walmart free pick-up.
  • Ben can also stop by the store on his way home, again saving me an extra trip to the store with kids in tow.
  • When I do shop at the corner store, it's much quicker.
  • I have a whole month to make sure everything gets used up, instead of buying new stuff when old stuff is still sitting around.
  • It forces me to make do with what I have until the next shopping trip, saving me money.
  • I know exactly what I need to buy when I go shopping, so I don't buy extra stuff I don't need, again saving me money. (I know I'll get this question, so to be straight with you, I shoot to spend under $300 at Costco every month and $100 elsewhere, so that's a monthly budget of $400 for groceries and non-food household items like paper towels and diapers.)
  • With a whole month of meals planned out, I'm not always wondering at 4:30 what I'm going to make for dinner.
  • If I don't want to make whatever I have planned for that night, I can just switch it out with something else from another night, because I know I already have whatever I need on hand.
  • Buying in bulk at Costco means I don't run out of things as quickly--a lot of pantry last month to month, and quite a few items freeze well, too.
  • Produce from Costco comes in large amounts too, so we eat LOTS of fresh fruits and veggies while they last.

  • It took some time to get used to planning our meals for a whole month, and it does take some work. I didn't even attempt it when I dealing with "morning" sickness this fall--we survived on grilled cheese sandwiches, baked potatoes and breakfast cereal. 
  • Costco doesn't carry everything, and some things we prefer to buy in smaller quantities, so I do still have to make an extra shopping trip for those items.
  • Not everything lasts all month (milk, produce), so I either have to run to the store to restock or make do without. 
  • I have to store a lot of food. Before I had spare fridge/freezer in the garage, I was always short on space for frozen items, milk and produce. And without my decent-size pantry, I'd probably be stashing stuff in closets and under beds. 
  • Since we buy a lot of produce at Costco, it can be hard make sure all of it gets used up or frozen before it goes bad.
  • Like my friend Stephanie mentioned, we eat really fresh at the beginning, but we have to get by on canned or frozen fruits and veggies later on.

Starred items (*) I buy pretty much every month. Everything else I buy as needed. I listed the brand for items I'm particular about.

Bell Peppers*
Grapes/Strawberries/Blueberries/Raspberries (at least one of these, depending on the price)*

Kirkland Frozen Chicken Tenderloins*
Kirkland Organic Ground Beef
Pork Chops/Pork Loin
Bacon (freeze)
Sliced Ham or Turkey (freeze)
Kirkland All-Beef Hot Dogs (freeze)
Adelle's Sausage (freeze)

Orange Juice*
Sour Cream*
Cheese Sticks*
Tillamook Cheddar Block (I cut it into thirds and freeze)
Tillamook Shredded Cheddar (freeze)
Kirkland Shredded Mexican Cheese (freeze)
Butter (freeze)
Half and Half
Cottage Cheese
Feta Cheese
Cranberry/Grape Juice

Frozen Tortellini*
Frozen Peas
Frozen Corn
Frozen Broccoli

Tortillas (freeze)*
English muffins (freeze)

Canned/Pantry Items
Annie's Organic Macaroni and Cheese*
Granola Bars
Apple Sauce
Sliced Almonds
Bacon Bits
Annie's Organic Snack Packs
Fruit Squeeze Packs
Fruit Snacks
Canned Black Beans
Canned Diced Tomatoes
Canned Tomato Sauce
Canned Tomato Paste
Canned Pineapple
Chicken Broth
Prego Sauce

Brown Sugar
Olive Oil
Canola Oil
Garlic Powder
Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Seasoning Mix
Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing
Soy Sauce

Non-Food Grocery Items
Toilet Paper
Facial Tissue
Paper Towels
Aluminum Foil
Tide Laundry Detergent
Clorox 2 Stain Remover
Garbage Bags

Some of these items I could get at Costco, but I prefer to buy them in smaller quantities or from a different brand than what Costco offers. Other items I just can't get at Costco.

Tortilla Chips
Green Onions
Sweet Potatoes
Seasonal fruit
Sauces and condiments (mayo, mustard, etc.)
Baking ingredients and spices
Freezer/sandwich bags
Muffin liners
Hair/Hygiene Products
Cleaning Products

P.S. Jordan at Fun Cheap or Free also has a great post on making the most of your Costco membership. It's worth checking out!

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  1. Being a newlywed I appreciate buying in bulk and planning ahead. Thank you for taking the time to let us into your planning practices!

    1. You're so welcome! Way to be on it! It only too me 8+ years of marriage...lol!

  2. Love the post! Thanks for all the details !! I need to start planning too

  3. I wish i only went to the grocery store onceva month and not three times a week. Omg. Cosco food court is my favorite thing about the place...lol. love that you have it all layed out here, its actually do able!

    1. I'm so glad to hear that, thanks for the feedback! I love the food court too...!!!

  4. I do something very similar! Love how you laid this out for folks :)

    1. Thanks Abby! Glad you found something that works for you! You go girl. ;)

  5. I was wondering how I could break down my grocery shopping method with my monthly budget. The way you broke it down makes sense now. Do you coupon when you shop?

    1. Glad that helps! I'm terrible at couponing!! I've tried so many times but it's not for me. I feel like I personally save more by buying exactly what I need for that month. I'm open to tips!!

  6. Nice! I'll definitely implement this practice into my health journey. I really need to make meal planning more practical to my life.

    1. It can be hard at first (it's still hard sometimes) but now when I don't I feel lost! It definitely helps me eat healthier too. Way to go with everything you're doing!

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  8. Thanks for sharing! I wonder how powdered milk would do to help stretch until the end of the month? I agree that I don't like freezing it, but when I go to the store for a gallon of milk I end up spending $30. 😁

    1. I do that too! Lol! Now that we have an extra fridge in our garage though, I can keep several gallons at a time. That helps us get through without having to go to the store every week!