Learn how to plan your meals and grocery shop for an entire month with this step-by-step guide!
Never have I ever grocery shopped for more than a week at a time - until this week! I figured that with stricter and stricter stay-at-home orders being enforced throughout New York State due to COVID-19, I would try to make my next grocery trip go a little farther.
So, I spent the past few days planning our meals for the whole month. I know, it sounds crazy right? Well I can officially say that planning meals and writing a grocery list for a whole month is a pretty big operation, but with a good podcast and a few glasses of wine, it's totally possible! If you want to try and make the most of your next grocery trip by shopping for the whole month, keep reading as I break down the process step-by-step!
Planning Your Meals
First things first, you need to decide what you're going to eat for the month by planning out your meals. Start by planning all your dinners, then your lunches, then breakfasts, and lastly (if necessary) snacks/drinks/miscellaneous! When you break up your planning like this it will keep your organized, reduce overwhelm, and make sure you don't miss anything! I personally like to start with dinner because it requires the most planning in our household. We love to try out new recipes, get creative, and it's not uncommon that we spend a few hours cooking dinner each night! But feel free to plan in whichever order feels most comfortable for you.
If you're wondering how on earth you're going to come up with thirty different dinner ideas, let me swiftly ease your anxiety. You don't have to come up with thirty dinner ideas! Not only would it be difficult to plan, but it would be super expensive to make a different meal every day of the month. So plan on making some (or all) of the recipes you come up with a few times!
To get started brainstorming dinner ideas, come up with big categories (like pastas, soups, tacos, etc.) and figure out how many times throughout the month you want to make that type of food. Keep in mind that you aren't thinking about specific recipes at this stage. Think about what kinds of meals your family likes to eat and start from there. Keep track of your list on a Google Doc or Microsoft Word document. I find it's easiest to type out your list rather than hand write it because we are going to be expanding underneath each category.
To give you an idea of how you should format your list (and if you need category inspiration too), see what mine looked like below.
Stir Fry 2x
Quick Meals 2x
Yes, that only adds up to 29 dinners which makes me one or two shy of a real month, but that's not too shabby for my first time doing this! Now once you've got something to go off of, it's time to start filling in specific recipes under each category. Don't forget that you can (and should) make some recipes two or more times! For example, if you wanted to make tacos 5 times throughout the month like me, you could make the same taco recipe five times or if you're feeling more adventurous you could make one taco recipe two times and another taco recipe three times! It all depends on how you like to cook!
Tips For Choosing Recipes
Incorporate what you already have in your refrigerator and pantry
Look in your fridge to see if you have any produce that will go bad before the month is over. If you do, make sure you pick out a recipe that'll use it up! It'll prevent unnecessary food waste and save you some money! The same thing goes for your pantry. If you have boxes of pasta or cans of beans, find recipes that will use them up!
Look for recipes that call for many of the same ingredients
To avoid having to buy too many random condiments you'll never use again or big packs of vegetables you'll only use half of, find recipes that call for the same ingredients! For example, if you like a recipe that calls for half a cauliflower, you should look for another recipe that will use up that other half.
Keep your recipes saved on a specific Pinterest board for easy access
I do practically all of my recipe research on Pinterest because there are tons of amazing recipes and it's easy to keep track of the ones I like. I have a Pinterest board that contains hundreds of recipes I want to try, but I created a separate one for all the recipes I was making this month. This way I could easily find them when it came time to make them!
Once you've decided on your specific recipes, write them underneath the greater categories you wrote out before. Below you'll find what my list looked like at this stage. I've also linked all of the recipes I'm making so if something looks yummy you can check it out and add it to your own list! (If a recipe doesn't have a link it's because we make it up ourselves).
Vegetarian Fajitas 2x
Stir Fry 2x
Quick Meals 2x
Plant-Based Sausages 2x
Now that you know what you're making for dinner, it's time to think about lunch! For me, lunch is a meal I never plan for so I usually end up throwing a bunch of random things from the kitchen together. But because I wanted to stick to my once-a-month grocery shopping trip, I made sure to plan out my lunches. Because if I didn't, I would end up getting hungry in the middle of the day and eating foods I had set aside for dinners!
I find that the easiest way to tackle lunches is to come up with three or four quick and substantial recipes that you can rotate throughout the month. That way there's not a lot of guesswork, you won't need to purchase a ton of extra ingredients, and depending on what exactly you choose, you could even meal prep them! So decide on your lunch recipes and the amount of times you'll make each one, just like you did with the dinners. Our lunch plan looked like this:
Bento Boxes 6x
Frozen Burgers 10x
Kale Salad 21x
Chickpea Sandwiches 6x
Breakfast is pretty easy for us because we each eat the same thing every morning. (And because I know you're wondering, I have avocado toast topped with sauerkraut and Ryan usually has a protein shake)! We just needed to determine the amount of ingredients we'd need to last us the whole month. However, if you like to get a little more creative with your breakfasts, use the dinner and lunch planning method above to determine what you want to make and how many times!
Creating Your Grocery List
Now actually writing out the grocery list is where it gets a little tedious, but it will be easy because all your meals are planned! It's basically just a matter of copying the recipes.
Before you start writing down ingredients, be sure to check how many servings the recipe makes and adjust according to your family. I have a very bad habit of making a whole recipe that makes like 6 or 8 servings when I'm only cooking for two, which means I often end up with lots of leftovers that go to waste. So whether you need to multiply or divide the recipe, make sure you only cook for how many people you're serving. If you need to alter the recipe at all, make sure you write it down next to the recipe on your list so you remember when you go to cook! It can look something like this:
Cauliflower Tinga Tacos 1x (Half Recipe)
Plant-Meat Tacos 2x
Black Bean Street Tacos 2x (Double Recipe)
To start writing your grocery list, take each recipe one at a time. Ask yourself if you are multiplying or dividing it and how many times throughout the month you are making it. Then, taking those things into consideration, be sure to write down each ingredient and the exact quantity required for the month underneath the recipe. It's super important to write down every ingredient, even the ones that you know you already have. Here's my example for Cauliflower Tinga Tacos:
Cauliflower Tinga Tacos 1x (Half Recipe)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium cauliflower
1 garlic clove
1 chipotle pepper in adobo
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cumin
6 corn tortillas
1 cup cabbage
1/4 cup cilantro
After you've done that for every recipe, it's time to consolidate all of the ingredients into one list. I think it's easiest to open another Google Doc and have that one open side-by-side with the list of recipes and groceries you just created. Start by copying the ingredients over to your new list and when you come across an ingredient you've already written on your new list, add the new quantity to the quantity that's already listed. Now you have a complete list of everything you need for the month, down to the exact amount! If you're feeling extra organized, arrange your list by section of the grocery store (produce, dairy, canned goods, etc.)
Before you jump in your car to hit the grocery store though, go through your list and "shop" through your kitchen, removing the ingredients that you already have from your grocery list. This will ensure you don't buy anything more than exactly what you need!
Creating a meal calendar
The trickiest thing about prepping your groceries for an entire month is making sure that nothing you buy goes bad before you can use it! That's where creating a calendar comes in handy - knowing which meals you're going to have on which days. Take note of the most perishable ingredients you're purchasing and plan to use those first. And if you can, take advantage of freezing ingredients that you aren't able to use right away. Check out The Spruce Eats for great resources on how to freeze a variety of different food items!
I hope this post is helpful in planning your next grocery trip! Stay safe and healthy, friends!