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Meal Planning for a Month: Shop

Once you've got your plan of meals, then it's time to make your grocery lists and then head to the stores to finish the process. I've messed this process up a couple of times so I hope you can learn from my mistakes. 

1. Make your ingredient list

I used to just go through every dish and write down the ingredient list. I landed up with a giant list of ingredients that I had to go back through and sort. The main reason this method didn't work was that three weeks into the month I had no idea which dish needed the green bell pepper. 

What I have started doing is getting four sheets of paper. Each sheet represents one week of the month. I write each individual dish down, underline it, and write down all the ingredients needed for that dish. By doing this method, I'm able to have the ingredient list for each dish at my fingertips. This way, I know which recipe needs that green bell pepper!

I should mention that at this point, write down ingredients that you need for breakfast and lunch.  I explained in the last post that breakfast and lunch for us is usually pretty repetitive, so it's easy for me to write down the few staples that we need.  

(You can see here I have week 1 and 2 in separate columns along with each dish and their
 ingredients written underneath each corresponding week).

2. Sort your grocery list
This is probably the most excruciating and terrible part of this process. Now that you have your ingredient list compiled, it's time to combine all the ingredients into a cohesive shopping list. 

I sort my grocery list by food group (dairy, protein etc.) because that's how I make sense of everything. I later sort it by store (that part is easy- don't get intimidated!) I go through all my ingredient lists and write down all the dairy items that are needed. If I need 4 cups of cheese in one recipe and 2 cups in another, I'll go ahead and combine them on my grocery list and write "6 cups cheese". That way, I know the total amount of that ingredient that I'll need for the month. 

The most crucial part in this step is note which fruits/vegetables/perishable items will be used in the second half of the month. We do go to the store once halfway through the month to replenish our fruits, veggies, and milk supply because some things just don't last the entire month! (But almost everything is fine for two weeks). If there's a particular ingredient that will be used in the second half of the month, I put a "2" next to it. By doing this, I'm able to easily see what ingredients I won't need to get on my first trip, and then I'm usually able to write a "second trip" shopping list really quickly.

(My master grocery list sorted by food group)

3. Figure out your stores 
Once you have all your ingredients compiled, it's time to sort the shopping list by store. If you shop at one store for everything, you can just skip this step and get shopping. We shop at three main stores- Costco, King Soopers, and Walmart (Sprouts on the occasion). 

Instead of re-writing every ingredient (because at this point I'm really just ready to shoot myself), I use a highlighter system to sort by store. I take my grocery list (sorted by food group), and highlight all the Costco items in yellow, Walmart items in blue, and King Soopers items in pink. 

I'm a super visual person so this system works for me. Figure out something that works for you, but don't make it too hard on yourself (as in, don't rewrite your whole list if you can help it).  

(My master grocery list sorted by food group and then highlighted by stores. Anything
that's not highlighted are items I already had or was going to purchase on my mid-month 
shopping trip).

4. Hit the stores
By now, you probably have a couple page long grocery list that is pretty and highlighted. You're also probably exhausted and ready to go to a bar instead of a grocery store. I'll be honest- I usually plan my menu on a separate day that I shop. Doing both in the same day is just too much. Muster your courage, and get out there and shop. A few hours later you'll come back with 2.3 million grocery bags, and you'll collapse on your couch. You're almost done my friend, one more step! 

(My shopping buddy this month. No, we didn't take a selfie in an 
aisle of Costco, why would you think such a thing?)

5. Finish food prep and put away groceries. 
We usually have a couple things to prep when we get home. The most common things we have to do is shred rotisseirre chickens and put them in individual freezer bags and separate the big packages of chicken breasts we buy into smaller freezable packages. Occasionally I'll cook some pinto beans and chop some fruit or veggies. Most of the times I'll do the chicken, put away all the groceries and call it a day. 

I also will take 5-10 minutes to go back through my grocery list and write down every ingredient that has a "2" next to it on a sticky note. That way, my grocery list for the middle of the month is already compiled and I don't have to worry about it!


Phew, you made it friend. Planning a monthly menu is a lot of work. Now do you see why you shouldn't jump into it right away? The first time I did it, the whole thing took probably 8-9 hours. Now it takes me about 6 hours and I'm hoping to get even quicker. It's a lot of work but it gets easier every month. And I cannot tell you how much it is worth it. 

For the past year, Mondays usually were my meal planning and grocery shopping day. It would only take me 1-2 hours total but I had to do it every single week. Now I spend one Monday a month, and the other three are free for whatever else I want to do! 

My shopping trip in the middle of the month usually isn't longer than an hour, leaving me able to spend my days off not grocery shopping. 

This plan will save you money: less time spent in the grocery store = less impulse buys = money saved. It requires planning and time, but it is SO worth it. 

To finish off the series, I answered some FAQs and compiled a list of tips. Please always feel free to email or comment with any other questions you might have! 

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  1. I keep trying to be organized like this but it never happens. I have recently started organizing my list into sections of the grocery store, so that helps a little. Great post!

  2. I was so glad to read that you don't make your list and shop on the same day!! That would be exhausting. Once again, you are an inspiration!!


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