Monthly Meal Plan

The term "once-a-month cooking" {OAMC} is a common concept for saving time with meal prep throughout the month.  With this plan, you prepare your monthly meal calendar and shopping list, grocery shop, then spend a day preparing make-ahead meals for each of the days of the month, storing the prepared items in the refrigerator and/or freezer.

Although I've dabbled in this style of planning I decided I wasn't a OAMC type of girl.  I am, however, a plan-ahead-for-some-of-the-month type of girl as I like to save time if I can.  Here's my style of planning:

Getting Started
Initially this seems tedious and difficult, however, once you've got a system down it really is easy and saves both time and money.   On the computer, I made lists of all main courses, sides - carb, sides - veggie, lunches, breakfasts and desserts that I typically use.  I broke them down into season, because this is how I cook.   

I go through my pantry, refrigerator and freezer to ensure I utilize some of the products I currently have on hand for the montly meal list.  I also go through the sale flyer for the week and pick recipes that work with sale items.

I take a blank monthly calendar and for each day of the month fill in a breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. {desserts are only made once per week, at the most, much to the chagrin of my darling husband}.  During the veggie growing season I leave the veggie portion blank for the most part and cook what is fresh and available in the garden on that date. 

While I'm making the meal plan, I also keep an ongoing shopping list.  I list items such as "potatoes" and marks after them such as "I I I".  This means I need 3 sides of potatoes.  For something such as cheese I write "cheddar cheese - 1c." and marks "I I I I I I".  This means I need 6 c. of cheese for my recipes that month.

I also store all my recipes on the computer, making it easy to go back and forth between the list, calendar, shopping list and recipes.

-sample monthly meal calendar-

Monthly Grocery Shopping
I recognize this seems overwhelming, and perhaps unreasonable for some, but it seems to work for me.  The main thing I wanted to accomplish was to lessen the amount of times I went to the grocery store per week.  You could certainly accomplish a similar goal by grocery shopping 2 times per month if that works best for you.  I made a master list of all the items we typically stock in the kitchen and I check an item once I've used the last of it.  Additionally, I take my list I made while prepping my monthly meals and conduct an inventory prior to my shopping trip to add to it as well.

Monthly Make-Ahead
Once I'm back from grocery shopping, any meats that I purchased I determine if they will be prepared with or without marinade.  During the spring and summer months we grill a lot, so I typically would prepare meats in marinade more often.  If that's the case, I portion the meat for a single serving in a freezer bag, whip up the marinade, add it to the bag with the meat and freeze.  This way, when it's time to take it out for that night's meal, the meat is un-thawing in the marinade and I don't have to remember to add it or take the time to make it.

my freezer organization - baskets from the Container Store

At this time I also take a look at the monthly meal plan to determine what my bread, rolls, pizza crust, pie crust, etc. needs are.  I then make each of these to store in the freezer until needed. 
  • Bread is baked, cooled, packaged in a freezer bag and put in the freezer. 
  • Rolls, pie crust and pizza crust are frozen prior to baking with the baking instructions written on the bags so I don't have to look up the recipe each time. 
  • The same holds true for scones and cookie dough - both frozen prior to baking with the instructions written on the container/bag. 

Not only is this helpful for the monthly meal plan, but also if I need a last minute change for the day's meal I have items ready to go and can quickly make the adjustment without worrying whether or not I have the ingredients on hand.

Additional things I prepare for the month:
  • Veggies can be cleaned, cut and stored according to use.  
  • Pancake mix {the dry ingredients} can be measured and stored in a sealed container so you just measure and add the wet ingredients when it's time to prepare.  
  • Any sauces, marinades, dressings, syrups etc. that are capable of being stored for a week or more in the refrigerator are made and set aside for later use.  
  • Any fruit that is starting to go bad from the previous month's shopping is turned into skillet jam, syrup, quick breads, etc.
  • Rubs, spice blends, etc. are measured and mixed and stored on my spice shelf.
As I mentioned previously, it certainly takes a bit of effort the first time or two you plan ahead for the month, however, the time it saves you for the remainder of the month makes it all worthwhile.

A quick note on the grocery shopping.  I've discussed this style of meal prep with others and the number one question seems to be - how do you shop for sale items if you only grocery shop once a month?  don't you spend more on groceries?

My answer is - I'm always watching sale fliers and if I see a great deal on meat, fruit or veggies then I buy in bulk.  But that's all I purchase when I go to the store mid-month otherwise, it really isn't a savings. 

Happy meal planning!

More Meal Planning Tips Article can be found {here}.


Diane said...

You are so organized. You should give a class.

Annnightflyer said...

Our menu will be including lots of venison and fish.

Anna said...

This is impressive! I've heard about the OAM shopping/meal planning but you did a great job of explaining it. I can see how something like this would be really useful as my (3) boys grow older!