I don’t like to toot my own horn, but here I go… I happen to get a lot of compliments on my monthly meal planning system, and I have to say, it is pretty awesome (toot-toot!).
I’m a busy mom of two very small children and meal planning keeps me organized, saves money, and ensures my family is sitting down together each and every night to eat a healthy and delicious meal. I know there are a ton of ideas out there for meal planning, so naturally, I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring and share what works for me, in real life, as well as my tips and tricks for success.
List of Meals
I keep a list on my phone of all the meals I regularly make and that my family enjoys. This keeps me from wracking my brain for meal ideas and keeps me on track for feeding my family healthy, and easy weeknight meals. When I first sat down to think about what I routinely make I only had about 10-12 meals, but I’ve slowly added to my repertoire over the past year, and my list is now up to 34 meals.
Create a Calendar
I only plan for dinners (I typically eat leftovers for lunch) so I created a document with space for one meal per day…it looks like this:
But you could create something that also includes breakfasts and/or lunches, and is on your computer or your phone, whatever works for you. Just make sure its re-workable for every month. Nothing more boring than eating the exact same thing all the time!
Plan Your Month of Meals
I used to do the weekly meal plan thing, but it was just too much work having to sit down every week and figure out what we were going to eat for the next seven days. With a monthly meal plan, I sit down once every 30-31 days and write down dinner for every day of the upcoming month. Boom. Done. I literally don’t have to think about the “what” for another 30-31 days…genius!
This is the only part of my meal planning that I do weekly. Due to my family’s needs and schedule, I like to go shopping twice a week. On Sunday I’ll sit down with my calendar and see what we have going on that week, and what my meals look like and figure out which day I’ll hit the grocery store (and which stores I’ll go to). I usually go Tuesday and Friday, although I will occasionally use the weekends for my shopping.
Tips and Tricks:
- Keep it simple! The key to meal planning success is to not attempt too much. Most, if not all, of my meals can be cooked up in 30-40 minutes, max, or in a slow cooker.
- Browse through cookbooks to get ideas, or copy some of your favorite restaurant meals to add to and/or update your meal list. I like to try one new recipe per month and if it’s easy and delicious I add it to my list, if it isn’t easy or delicious I move on!
- One of the biggest things to remember when meal planning is that it’s really not about what you WANT or FEEL LIKE having for dinner on any particular evening. Nope, it’s about eating what you put on the calendar. That’s why it is so important to have a list of meals you regularly make and enjoy.
- Trying to save money and/or the environment? Plan a whole week of meat-free meals. Since you’re planning so far in advance you’re more likely to stick to your plan. Your wallet, and a chicken or two will thank you.
- Should you choose to eat meat, buy in bulk at your local grocery or warehouse store and use that to help guide your meals. I put a small snowflake symbol next to my chicken or ground beef dinners to remind myself I have the necessary meat ingredient in my freezer.
- Don’t forget to plan for nights out and leftover nights. I write this directly on my monthly meal plan calendar so I can easily plan ahead.
- Use a theme for each night to help you plan. Creating a meal plan for 30-31 days can be daunting, and I find it useful to label each day with a theme suck as “Meatless Monday”, “Taco Tuesday”, “Wildcard Wednesday” etc.
What is your meal planning process? What tips and tricks can you share to help us all meal plan a little bit better? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.