How to Meal Plan for an Entire Month

When my husband & I started our debt free journey, the first place we knew we had to cut back was food. It's just the two of us, but we were spending anywhere between $900-$1500 on meals each month. Yikes. Most of that was because of morning coffee, buying lunch and going out to dinner for most weekend meals.

We decided to cut back, a lot, and since then we've gotten our bill down to under $500 every month while still going out to dinner 4 times per month and eating yummy home-cooked meals. Our trick is to plan our meals out an entire month in advanced and bulk-buy the ingredients. Today I'll be walking you through the entire process step-by-step so that you can do it too!

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When my husband & I started our debt free journey, the first place we knew we had to cut back was food. It's just the two of us, but we were spending anywhere between $900-$1500 on meals each month. Yikes. Most of that was because of morning coffee, buying lunch and going out to dinner for most weekend meals.

We decided to cut back, a lot, and since then we've gotten our bill down to under $500 every month while still going out to dinner 4 times per month and eating yummy home-cooked meals. Our trick is to plan our meals out an entire month in advanced and bulk-buy the ingredients. Today I'll be walking you through the entire process step-by-step so that you can do it too!

01. Make a Meal List

We wanted to save money, but we didn’t want to live on beans and rice either. The first thing we did to start meal planning was to make a massive list of meals we already know we love. We had a hard time brainstorming at the start, so we left the list on the fridge for a week. Anytime we thought about a meal we love, we’d add it.

Once we had a list (which ended up being 64 meals long), we knew we could rotate through the list without really getting sick of the meals. My husband is a great cook, so he’s pretty good at trying new spices and sides to freshen up a meal, but there are some great ways to keep things interesting.

For example, we added tacos to the list. In the last few months, we’ve had hard shell, corn tortillas, flour tortillas, shrimp, steak, pork, chicken, and veggies. We sometimes have lime and cilantro rice, sometimes Mexican rice, sometimes black beans, sometimes pinto beans. It’s all tacos but we never get sick of them because we mix things up.

You’d be surprised how hard it is to get sick of foods. Think about how often you order the same meal at a restaurant or get the same coffee order.

Once you have your list, I recommend making a digital version. I use ToDoist personally, but I’ll show you more of that in the video below.

02. Meal Planning

At the beginning of each month (or a week before), I’ll grab the Cultivate What Matters Meal Planning Sheet and plan my meals. I try to alternate what food we’re eating so we don’t get sick of the same flavors. For a simple breakdown, see below.

M - chicken / Hispanic food
T - shrimp / Italian food
W - steak / Chinese food
R - no meat/breakfast for dinner
F - free night (take out, restaurant, leftovers, cereal - let’s be real here.)
S - pork/crockpot meal (something that takes all day to cook or prep)
S - ground beef / American food

Meal plans change and get moved around during the month. My husband and I have a big dry-erase calendar in our kitchen that I write all the dinners on. If plans change or we’re not in the mood for something, we rotate meals.

Every Sunday night we go through the week’s plans and pull out the necessary ingredients from our freezer or add it to the grocery list for Monday pit stops (see part 4).

03. Making the Grocery List

Honestly, this is the part I dislike the most. So I tried to make it as easy on myself as possible. Attached to each meal idea in ToDoist are comments with a full grocery list for the recipe. I can easily copy & paste the list into my grocery list and then I’m done.

One huge time saver we’ve been using lately is our Alexa Dot. We got one last Christmas and we’re in love with it. One of the many handy features is that we can ask Alexa to add milk to our grocery list and it connects straight to our ToDoist grocery list. This makes it super easy to add things like toilet paper, eggs, coffee and other staples that run low during the month.

After we have our basic list built up, I’ll sort it into three categories.

  1. Things we can buy in bulk (meats, rice, toilet paper, oats)

  2. Things we only need one of (BBQ sauce, seasonings)

  3. Things we want to buy fresh and cheap (fruit, veggies, nuts)

Once we have our list, it’s time to go shopping.

04. Where to Shop

We shop at three different stores. That might seem silly but stick with me here. Our first trip is to Sam’s club - where we get all our bulk items. We usually don’t need a ton of stuff here since we can buy things like 15lbs of rice. We buy rice in Jan, we’re good until June. We buy dried beans in Feb, we’re good until July. You get the idea.

We only buy things here that we can easily store, things that can be used in multiple meals, or things I can split in half with my parents (yup, we go group grocery shopping for this exact reason, because no one needs 40 lbs of potatoes).

After our Sam’s club run, the next stop is Safeway. But I hate grocery shopping, so we use online grocery delivery. It’s WAY cheap than you’d think (we pay less than $10 for delivery) and we’re not tempted by all the pretty displays, *cough* Oreos *cough*, and candy. When we first started cutting back on grocery costs, this was the first switch we made and we saved at least $50 per grocery run by ordering online.

Once we have all the basics for our meals, the last piece is the fresh fruits and veggies. I don’t like to store these for much longer than a week, so every Monday after work, I run to Sprouts Farmers Market and grab what we need for the week, plus any staples we’re running low on.

We also like buying nuts, seeds, and dried goods from here so we aren’t wasting extra packaging. I got THESE reusable produce bags from Amazon that I take with me each week. We can’t avoid all the waste from our shopping, so I try to cut back where we can.

Whenever it’s possible, we try to plan our grocery trips in one day. Sam’s club in the morning, grocery delivery scheduled for that afternoon. That way we can prep and store all our food at once.

05. Properly Storing Your Food

When you get back from grocery shopping (especially if it’s a big trip), it’s tempting to put everything away as quickly as possible since you’re probably sick of groceries, but hold out just a little longer.

When we get home, the first thing we do is put any frozen or refrigerated goods away (frozen fruit, milk, eggs). Then we break into the meats. We use our vacuum sealer and split up our food into meals. We give ourselves extra portions for leftovers (that’s what we use for lunches) and add salt, pepper and any other seasonings that match the meals.

We vacuum seal the food and then write with a sharpie on the bag, which meal it’s for. Then we pop it in the freezer and it’s good for about 60 days (sometimes longer depending on what bags you use and what kind of freezer you have.

For our pantry goodies, we take everything out of the packaging and put it into jars. We don’t have much storage in our apartment so we use mason jars to store most of our food and save space. If there is anything we might not finish before an expiration date, we’ll write it on the bottom of the jar, but since meal planning, we haven’t even had to worry about it.

That might have seemed like a lot of work, but in reality, all of this can be done in one afternoon. Build up your system over time. Start with your meal list, then a grocery list, then plan for one week, then two then four. You’ll be surprised how much easier this is once you have the system in place.

For more info and a better look at the whole process, check out the video below:


So, what do you think? Are you going to take a stab at meal planning? What questions do you have about the process? Let us know in the comments!


Nora Conrad