The one thing I struggled with, though, was meal planning for an entire month. It's rare that I make it through a week and stick to my meal plan entirely, let alone a whole month! Often I will bump a meal into the next week if I just don't feel like making it, or if we get invited out to supper, or whatever. Having a monthly meal plan really made it difficult to work around this. So my solution was to stock up on basics once a month, but continue to meal-plan weekly. Friday is my big kitchen cleaning day, and part of that entails cleaning out the fridge. While I'm doing this, I make note of foods that need to be used up, and I use those to start the upcoming week's meal plan, combined with what's already in my pantry. Then I finish filling out the week's meal plan by making a small list of fresh ingredients that I will need, as well as basic things like milk, cream & cheese, and e-mail it to my husband to pick up on his way home from work Friday nights. In order to save some money, I'm trying to create meal plans based on seasonal foods, which means sticking to basics during the winter. Lots of things like potato soups, lentil soups, stews, etc. Also, I'm finding that I can store a month's worth of things like potatoes, onions, carrots, and garlic, without having to pick up more throughout the month. In the summer, when the farmer's market picks up, we'll start using a wider variety of produce again. We're also sticking to basic fruit that stores well during the winter, like apples.
It's taken a bit of tweaking, but I've gotten a good idea of what quantities we need of each item. In my Handyshopper shopping list, I've started writing in brackets beside each item how many of that particular item I go through in a month. If I run out of that item before the month ends (like vegetable oil!), I increase the quantity I have in the brackets. Then when I make my monthly grocery list, I compare how much of something I have in my pantry with how much is in the brackets, and add to my list accordingly. For instance, I usually go through about 8 cans of diced tomatoes. So I have on my list Diced Tomatoes (8). On grocery list day, if I still have 2 cans in the pantry, I add 6 to the list. For things like toothpaste and shampoo, I've found the best solution is to always have a full package stored in addition to whatever is open. So as soon as I open one of those things, it immediately goes on the list. Same goes for toilet paper & paper towels (the only disposable things I still buy!). If you want to try once-a-month shopping, I would highly recommend spending a month just tracking how much you use of everything (I wish I had done that first!). Then you will be much more successful right from the start! If you want to try it, but it's not financially feasible to buy a month's worth of food at a time, try sneaking up on it! This week, buy a month's worth of toilet paper. Next week, you won't have to buy toilet paper, so use the extra money to buy a month's worth of rice. Doing it this way is a good way to gradually work your way into it, without having to have a month's grocery money up front.
It might sound like a lot of work, but now that it's up and running it's really not! I'm exhausted after my big shopping day, but it's so worth it to know that I don't have to do it again for another month. Especially in the winter, when it's -25 with windchill, like today! It's nice to know that my pantry is still pretty full. It also insulates us somewhat against bad weather, power outages, etc. If you're used to shopping every Saturday, and you end up having a big storm Friday night and you're snowed in for a few days, you might run out of food. By storing a month's worth of food at a time, you greatly reduce your risk of this happening. Even if we don't get out for our fresh food run, I could easily feed us out of our pantry and freezer for a few days, if not longer. I think it's also saving us money, probably because I'm sending my husband out for the quick weekly trips, and not browsing the aisles picking up one or two extra things, which always adds up.
Do you shop weekly or monthly? I'd love to hear about your experiences, and what works for your family!