let's talk meal planning. (& grocery shopping.)

02 April 2012

what's cooking.

it's seems yall are always interested when i post my recipes. <--yayyy!!!
so i thought it would be okay to devote a whole post to meal planning and grocery shopping.

i know everyone is different when it comes to meal planning and grocery shopping.
some people fly by the seat of their pants, some people plan weekly, and some people plan monthly. <--yes monthly.

we are one of those families that plan our meals monthly.
in doing so, we also shop monthly. <--i know, but it totally works for us.

here's what we do:
around the 30th or so, i ask all of the family members what they would like to eat for the month.
the kids almost always say the same things: mac & cheese, alfredo, & pizza.
hubby & i generally mix things up according to the month, the season or if we're expecting guests.

after i get everyone's input, i sit down and plan out the meals for every day in the month.
it might sound a little daunting, but it generally only takes me an hour or so and then i'm done planning - for a whole month!!! <--it makes my life SO much easier.

like most families we have "special" nights.
example: pizza night, taco night, etc.
take us for instance, we have mexican night every tuesday and italian night every thursday.
and the trick to not getting bored is that i alternate within that theme.
one mexican night we'll have tacos while another mexican night we'll have mexican gumbo.
i think that by having these "special" nights, it helps plan our meals.

while planning the menu, i always leave one "open" slot per week.
this bodes well for having a "leftover" night or a night to go out to eat.
so with all that being said, if you take out all the "special" nights and "open" nights, the meal planning is easier.

obviously other things contribute to my meal planning.
things like holidays, guest request, sports banquets, etc.

on top of our main meals, i have to consider breakfast & lunch foods as well as snacks. <--sometimes even desserts :)
to me, this is super easy planning because i know what my family consumes at these times so i just add these items to my shopping list.
keep in mind that summer time requires a bit more planning because we have extra mouths home from school.

and on top of all that, i have to consider things that we buy & need on a monthly basis.
things like tea bags, flour, sugar, etc.

note: i don't buy certain staples for the whole month.
things like milk, eggs & bread.
there's NO way i could store a month's worth of milk at our house. <--not gonna happen. lol.
and everyone wants fresh bread. and fresh eggs.
so even though we do a big shopping trip once a month, we'll stop and grab something here or there as needed.

so after all that planning, i make my shopping list.
we shop at few different stores. <--again, it sounds like a pain, but we save LOTS of money by doing so.

another thing that i do is add a few items to the list to make up an extra meal or two.
i really like having extra meals just in case. cause you never know.
instances these meals are used for: a friend is in need, no leftovers, it's not in the budget for going out to dinner, the church is having a potluck, etc.

we get all of our meats directly from our local butcher.
i highly encourage all of yall to look into finding a local butcher.
not only are all the meats WAY fresher, but they generally have better prices, better cuts, and better selection.

we generally get the remainder of our grocery list from walmart.
after years of comparing prices with our local grocery stores, walmart almost always has the best price. <--and this is name brand stuff.

oh and obviously if it's summer time, we'll get fresh produce from local farmers &/or produce stands.

after shopping for our monthly groceries, we come home and divvy up our goods.
example: we'll buy 10lbs of ground chuck, so we'll come home and divide it into "meal" portions and place them into freezer ziploc bags.
we also have a section in our basement where we store canned goods and extra groceries that won't fit in our kitchen pantry.

it sounds like alot of work, which i guess in hindsight, it is.
BUT at the end of the day . . .
the planning takes about an hour, the shopping takes a few hours, the storage takes about an hour, and then i'm done. <--for a whole month.

and as yall can see, i write the weekly menu on our kitchen dry erase board.

i know someone will ask, so here's the monthly food budget for our family of 6:
@$75-$150 at the butcher, depending on our choices. <--things like roasts, ribs & steaks quickly change our total. lol.
@$300-$400 at walmart, depending on our choices.
@$100 for here & there shopping. <--extra milk, bread, eggs &/or emergency sweet tooth attacks.

so how do yall do your meal planning and grocery shopping?!?!
inquiring minds want to know.

♥ rachel

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Michele said...

Lots of great tips. I plan about a week in advance or totally cave if I see a good recipe.

Mary Grace McNamara said...

Pretty much the same as you, only not for a month at a time. I only have my kitchen fridge/freezer, so I cannot store very much. We do have lots of pantry storage, so I always stock up on staples when they are on sale. I make my menu, then my list and then I do my shopping. It's the only smart way to do it, and saves so much money and anxiety in the long run.


craftytammie said...

we actually buy a whole cow and pig at once - we have a deep freezer for all that meat, which we split with my parents. i love not having to buy meat during my weekly grocery trip. i really only plan out about a week at a time. and we don't stick to it very well. :)

Sharon - Lilabelle Lane said...

I am pretty much the same as you but I do it fortnightly. I dont plan my meals in as much detail as you as I tend to "wing" that bit based on what meat is on special at the butchers. So on a Wed I will go to the buthcers , get the meat, then to the green grocer and get the fruit and veg then come home and jump online and do my grocery shopping (Supermarket). I have it all set up now in lists online so I just have to tick the boxes :o) That takes me 5 mins max .... lodge the order, pay the nominal $5 fee and let someone else do my shopping and deliver it to me at my selected time. They even upack it onto my kitchen bench :o) and like you I go back for fresh milk as needed :o)

Anonymous said...

We plan out a week at a time, when I've had the time to think about it! Unfortunately, I'm kinda bored with our routine meals and am struggling to find something else.

We do a lot of fresh fruit and veggies, which I think add up price-wise. We get our meats from Costco, which seems to be the cheapest, and we freeze them in "meal" quantities. We do make weekly trips to Costco for fruit and milk and other necessities that we happen to be "out" of.

I wish I could plan it all on a monthly basis. I like your theme nights. That might help!

There's no way we could keep it to about $750, though. For a family of 3, we're at $900. I wonder if it's because we live in California and things are just more expensive or some other reason. I don't buy a lot processed / packaged foods, mainly fresh meat and veggies.

CathyK said...

I am a weekly kind of gal! I pull out a bunch of cookbooks and decide what recipes to try. I have three types of meat in the week...chicken, pork, and beef....and one meatless dish. I rarely make the same recipe twice!

Robin (RsIslandCrafts) said...

I shop monthly. No matter how much I ask/plead Hubby and the kids they never tell me what they would like to eat. I like the idea of having certain meals on set days.

I have a deep freezer so I like to keep stocked up with frozen veggies,fruits, and meats. I also keep the pantry well stocked with the basics so if I come across a recipe I want to try I usually have what I need in the house. I have been able to save alot of money by shopping monthly. There are always "extras" in the cart when I shop weekly. I need to check out some of our local butchers to see what their prices are like. Right now I am buying our meats from BJ's and everything else from Walmart.

charlotte said...

Now it's just hubby and me, but we do what we've always done. We plan a week at a time. We leave one night open for leftovers. We try to coupon and buy sale items. We stock up on non food items when on sale, like toilet paper and cleaning products. Hubby does most of this, always has. He enjoys it and I appreciate it.

Heidi Staples said...

There are seven of us in the house -- my parents, my husband, me, and our three kids (we bought a house together almost 4 years ago). I do the major shopping about twice a month at Costco, and then we fill in the cracks at the local Sprouts market, similar to Whole Foods. Meal planning is done on a weekly basis, but this can easily be thrown off by our crazy schedule. My dad is a pastor and my husband is a teacher, so things often come up at the last minute. The blessing of having four great cooks in the house, though, is that we can often share the cooking duties...definitely a plus!

Catherine said...

Wow I'm impressed that you do this monthly. I used to be a just wing it type of cook because I like spontaneity and variety but have just started meal planning weekly and absolutely loving it. I go through my recipe books and choose a couple of new ones each week which gives us variety. My family too likes having the menu planned and written on a note on the fridge.

Shannyn said...

I'm a couponer, although can't be an Extreme one, Ontario laws are party poopers.
So when the flyers come weekly, I check what we have vs. what's on sale vs. what we need. Takes about an hour usually to check the pantry, and double check. Then I sorta plan things out...sorta...hee. I am a foodie though so no real budget is set, I just don't go crazy.
But I'm totally about the planning stage; it may take a bit of time but the time i save cuz everything's already in the cupboard is worth it.

jackiero said...

Goodness, moi is typeless for words. Okidookee, my brain is clear....I knew you were awesome Rach, but bygolly-goodness, you are elevated up to super-awesome. How did you begin this, did you have a uba-relative with super meal-planning brain-cells? Totally impressive! Call me 'a fly by pants wifey', I tried to meal plan once, family didn't want what they saw on the table, times that many times. Now I basically shop the sales with oodles of coupons....in 2011 we saved over $2,900 just with sales/coupons(this doesn't reflect discontinued items at discounted prices), but this way of shopping is very time-consuming. I'd prefer Rach's system & then I'd have more quilting time ;D hummmm....

Laura said...

We buy all of our meat from the local butcher now, too. I love it!

Gooses Bags and Gifts said...

OMG - I spend at least $500 weekly for our family of 5 (and 3 of those people are under 4 yo). AND...we butcher a calf every so often and therefore rarely buy beef.

Having said that - I do plan weekly when I'm with it. Planning monthly might be interesting, and result in fewer weekly repeats.

Tsoniki said...

Wow that's a great dollar amount for a family of six! Impressive! We probably spend that much and it's just me and three kids (one of which is a two year old). When my husband is home, we spend more. I do some meal planning, but not total.

Jennifer O. said...

For my family of three, we shop $300 monthly. I am not a planner, I've tried. It does not work in my house hold. I buy fresh fruits and veggies. Some times frozen friuts and veggies. Meats: chicken, fish and some pork. I avoid beef but buy ground turkey meat instead. I keep the staples around like rice and pasta. My spices are kept current. Oh, I do NOT buy any processed foods, they are to expensive and have way too much salt. As for holidys and guests a little extra cash is thrown in to cover the cost since they are not an every day accurence. I do portion out meats and other things. As for stores I hit Aldi's first, then Buehler's, then Wal-Mart. But I do love Meijer's the most! Also in my defence it helps to be a trained cook. I just know what to buy and what not to. Along with when to buy and when not to buy. In all honesty its ends up being a common sence thing too.

Erin Marie said...

We've recently landed on something that works for us.

On Saturday, we pick out Bountiful Basket (bountifulbaskets.org) and we usually get the extra veggie pack. We unpack it and then figure out meals to make that use up the produce we got. I love this because FINALLY, my husband helps out with picking out meals to make. I hated making menus by myself.

Then, I go shopping with one of the kids (one-on-one time) while the hubs stays home with the napping baby and the other kid (one-on-one time again). And I bring home the groceries and lunch (McDonalds, Panda, something quick, easy, and bad for you).

Then, we pick which meals we want to make each night off the list. I don't plan a meal each night, though I do take into consideration how the day is expected to go. Tuesdays are a quick, easy meal since hubs has a meeting. Saturday and Sundays are more involved because I have the extra set of hands to help with dinner and/or the kids. If I have something going on, a crockpot is a good meal to have that night. Things like that.

And just this month (as in yesterday), I've started writing down what we had for dinner each night, so that later on, if I'm stumped for ideas, I can look back and see what we've had and use those.

Molly said...

This is really impressive- I have tried to plan monthly but my hubs generally will decide he doesn't feel like eating what I had on the menu- I think he has an aversion to planning ahead! It is just him and I and we both work from home- we are both pretty health conscious and avoid fast food and processed food at all costs. What I have come up with to save money and make sure we both eat well and are happy is this... I pick a country each month and shop/meal plan based on which type of food we are eating that month. I still shop weekly- but many of the staples in each country go from meal to meal, so it is very cost effective. This past month we have been eating Thai foods and one trip to the local Asian specialty market at around $40 gave me all the special staples to create 7 unique meals. Then I get the fresh meat/veg weekly at Walmart- and we eat the same 7 meals all month. For Breakfast we have the same thing daily eggs for him, yogurt/bananas for me- and for lunch we generally have leftovers from the night before. By doing this I have become well versed in cooking all different types of food, and by changing it up monthly it keeps it from getting boring and feels special and like we are traveling! I know this might not work for families with kids, but as 2 adults I thought it might be interesting to share what works for us. We spend around 125-150 dollars for the first week of the month and around 60 dollars a week for the rest of the month. Next month we will be touring Italy- and I will be trying my hand at making my own pasta- should be fun!!

Debbie B Sam said...

Pretty awesome - I do none of the above. Last time I went full blown out grocery shopping was February 8th, and spent $345. It's just me and the boy usually, so it's really simple dishes. I do go to our local grocer and get fresh meat and produce about 1 time every 2 weeks. We do tend to order out alot because after a 10 hour day at work, this Momma just doesn't feel up to cooking ALOT.

Suzette said...

We plan a week at a time plus I buy meat in bulk and freeze it, plus my husband hunts so we always have game in the freezer. I plan some meals around the freezer, some around fresh local produce, and some around our work schedules. Once you do it for a few months, it gets really easy and it's worth it when you see how much money is saved. We spend $500/month for our family of 3 adults (including eating out). And, yes, our menus include treats like steaks and we eat breakfast at home and pack our lunches.

Melissa said...

My grocery habits are the exact opposite! Living within walking distance of three grocery stores, not having a family, and having a lot of dinner meetings for work, I just buy whatever I want when I'm going to use it. Essentially no planning...it can be very fun, but it's tough when you don't know what you want and don't have something already planned! It also gets expensive - lots of little trips add up to way more than you realize!

Josie McRazie said...

Have you ever seen the weekly meal planner in the Rachael Ray magazine! I love this concept! She has a shopping list and recipes for the week and it is in a cute little booklet that pulls out of the magazine! I love it!

Cliodana said...

wow you're an amazing planner! you're right it's an easy way to reduce the grocery bills and you don't have to ask yourself everyday... what to eat for dinner!
I did that before having my triplets! but honestly I have to go back to that planning.... my favorite moment was the time with my cup of coffee in the morning with all my cooking book and piece of paper to mark all the receipe I plan to do... but with the kids, less time to take coffee but maybe if i try again... well thank's for the little push you gave me!

tmgrable said...

I was hoping to find all your receipes at the bottom and that was going to be my planning for the week! Would love to try them!

Esch House Quilts said...

We plan dinners for the week every Sunday morning - then my husband goes to the grocery store and buys what we need. Planning makes cooking dinner less stressful for me because I already know what we are having and I have all the ingredients. It is such a time saver to avoid all those last minute trips to the store to get something you need for dinner.

When our girls were smaller I did more bulk shopping, cooking and freezing, but have gotten away from that these days.

Heather said...

We used to meal plan. We really should get back to it. It does save a considerable amount of money because you don't buy 'just in case'.

Oh to live in the US though. Our grocery bill is closer to $800 for a family of 4 here in Canada. If you want fruit & veggies, milk and eggs and bread and a little meat, you pay the price. We don't generally eat a lot of processed foods and that is expensive.

Dirt Road Quilter said...

Back in the day, when the kids were young, we planned monthly, but it was a necessity since we lived 150 miles from town. :) Now we are empty nesters and town is 30 miles away - too close! :) Still, we ranch so we always have a freezer full of beef and DH hunts and we fish. So chicken is all we buy for meat. I have a garden and that helps with produce. So fun to stroll out there and pick dinner. Our chickens provide fresh eggs...or they will soon. I often cook up 10# of ground beef or chicken with onions and a few spices and store it in the freezer. Makes for a nice head start on lots of meals. We often have unexpected company. People just tend to pop in becasue they are driving by so I have to be flexible because more often than not, they arrive during a meal. When I cook for a a crew of 10-12 cowboys for 2 weeks, my meal planning escalates. :)

IHeartQuilting said...

I plan weekly right now. I do use coupons and do price-compare from the local stores' weekly ads. Every now and then I will pull out an old cookbook, and do a whole week of new meals to add more to our selection. Years ago, I did a 'cook for a month' routine - I would spend basically a whole weekend making meals for the entire month for the freezer for me and the 4 kids. As a working single parent back then, that was a huge help during the busy work/school week. I do find we spend less if we don't have to keep running out for the extras, so I try to limit our shopping trip to just one a week to avoid the impulse buys. That doesn't always work, of course. :)

c said...

I do not have the luxury of spending that much, I only get 89.00 to feed one person a month

Megan said...

I plan and shop weekly right now. I try to have different nights set aside for different themes: Mexican, Italian, pizza, soup/stew, something new, eat out or leftovers, bachelor night for my weekly bee meetings. I know I could save $$ if I shop at more than one store, but right now, I value the convenience of fewer errands. What's for Easter? I'm fixing ham for the first time. I'm excited/nervous!

tammy in ak said...

As a single mom raising 3 teenagers, I work full time and quilt client quilts after work I dont get much time for meal planning so I have a subscription to Savingdinner. com. Every Tuesday they email me the menu, recipes and the shopping list for the week and I goto the store and then the kids and I trade off on who cooks what each night. There has not been a recipe that we have not liked so far, we have been doing this for a couple years now the meals are all fresh veggies and meats no cooking from a box.
Tammy in Ak

Life In A Pink Bunny Suit said...

Reminds me of my days as a military brat...planning the menu for a month with the Mom, creating a grocery list, and going to the commissary with the family.
Take care of yourself!

lisa said...

thank you for sharing! I am happy with my method for now, but it was great insight and a different way to think about it. I am sure you aer happy with how you do it, but here's what I do:

I am a working single mom of two kids. Once a month (sometimes up to every 6 weeks) I do one BIG grocery run, usually to costco. I then spend the day making frozen meals. I usually have minimal cooking to do with it (brown meat, melt and mix these together...) and then because I have a family of 3, I can put the dishes into 2 8x8 pans instead of one 9x13 or so. I use two of those a week, one crock pot meal a week (stew or chili most the time) and can freeze left overs of that! one "take out" night (we draw from a hat and then I set teh card aside until everything's drawn...mexican, chinese, pizza, teryaki, mcdonalds, taco time, and greek are the choices, then we start again!) so that leaves me with two meals to plan a week....add fresh bread, salad, favorite veggies and we are good! my weekely bill is usually $30-$40 with milk, meat, cheese, bread, cereals, yogurt, and sometimes a treat for mommy.

Holli said...

I do it by the paycheck, payday is grocery day. All the menu is planned out, but not according to date. I plan 14-17 meals (pending on how many days til next payday) then I make my hubby pick from the list each day at dinner. He's only home 1/2 the nights (military life) so I make sure to plan 1/2 the meals for a family and 1/2 for just me and the kids.
Meats from the butcher,
Certain bulk items from Costco
Most groceries come from a store called Meijer, local to my area I think, better prices than wally-mart.
Then I'm done, I'd do a whole month if I could, but I don't have a place to put that many groceries yet. Maybe next house will have a basement!

Christina Gilman said...

I tend to meal plan about a week at a time. I seem to have a hard time cooking for just the three of us, so I often don't plan 7 dinners, since 4 will usually keep us in enough leftovers.

The other big things I do are bulk buys and a lot of stocking up over the summer when I can get produce from our farmer's market. I do some canning and load up the chest freezer with veggies and fruits. Non-perishable stables I get in bulk. Which means that my grocery store runs are pretty much limited to eggs and dairy (we're vegetarian).

Anonymous said...

We have been taking a class called financial peace university (by Dave Ramsey)... anyways, befor that, I would kind of guess at a make-shift menu for the week while I was at the grocery store. We were spending (for our family of 5) around $250 a week! When we started the program I started to plan meals weekly. and we have cut our bill to less than $150 per week. After reading what you do, I think I will try to do it for the entire month. Thank you for the inspiration!

Dairygal said...

Hey Rachel. Have you ever looked to see if anyone in your area sells beef? We live on a dairy and sell to locals our sters (boys that are not reproductive anymore) as half or quarter beef. Our customers love it, because they get a years worth of beef, cut and wrapped for a great price. Just an idea if you haven't looked into it. (Also, at the county fair in your area you can purchase sters, pigs, lambs, goats, maybe even chickens this way too. You buy the animal, tell them which butcher you use, and pay the cut and wrap. It can be more expensive than contacting the farmer directly, but you are helping out a 4-H or FFA kid in the process. If you have questions let me know, this is sorta what I do for a living :-p (other than my OCD quilting habit).

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