Monthly Meal Planning. Create a monthly meal plan to take the guesswork out of shopping, preparing and cooking dinners to help you save time and money.
No matter how much I would love for things to stay the same, life is constantly changing. One of the things I have found hardest to deal with as a mom is adjusting to life’s changes. Each season of life brings with it different joys and challenges, and what worked last year may not work anymore with babies now eating solid foods, picky toddlers, older kids, school, after-school activities, jobs, etc.
I used to be very much on top of cooking and planning out our meals. I was frugal, used coupons, shopped the sales and planned our menu once a week. Lately, our lives have been hectic and we have been eating out much more than I would care to admit. I knew what had once worked for us was not working at this stage of the game.
Monthly Meal Planning
Instead of simply throwing up my hands and admitting defeat, I knew I needed to come up with a new plan. So, I decided it was time to create a monthly meal plan.
This has been a game changer for us. Now we eat at home almost every night. I no longer feel like I don’t know what to cook. We are not having the last minute scramble of trying to figure out what to make, how quickly we can defrost something, and deciding it is too much work so we just order pizza instead. And since we are having each particular meal only once a month, there are fewer complaints from my kids about what we are eating.
Free Printable Blank Calendar
To create my monthly meal plan, I started by printing out a blank calendar.
Download: Blank Calendar
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Plan Monthly Meals by Category
Across the top of each column, I listed different categories for dinners:
- ground beef
- crock pot
Once I had the main categories figured out of what we eat the most, I started going down the row and adding our family favorites. This was easy to do since I have my family favorite recipes all filled out.
The great thing about doing a menu or meal plan this way is that you are not having the same dinner all the time. Breakfast for dinner and crockpot meals are both quick to pull together. I have to do a little more planning in the morning for anything I am cooking in the crockpot, but at dinner time, we are ready to eat with little prep. This is especially important when we have after school activities like dance or soccer practice. Those are the times we tend to reach to eating out and fast food, which is not good for any of us or our family budget.
My husband is a hunter so we have a lot of ground deer and elk meat in the freezer. I try to cook at least one meal a week with ground meat.
If I know we always have a particular side dish with a meal, then I added it to the calendar as well. For example, we almost always have refried beans with tacos. Other than that, I am pretty flexible with what we eat with our main dishes. We usually try to add a carb and a vegetable side with each meal. I often get whatever is on sale and fill that in each week.
I purposely did not add dates to this calendar. Even though I assigned a category at the top of each column, these are just loose guidelines for the week. I may need to do breakfast for dinner on a Tuesday when we have soccer practice, but the next week on Tuesday we will have chicken. I don’t like to be completely tied down when I meal plan.
When writing out this calendar, I also thought about what things might work well for leftovers for another night’s dinner. I planned for ingredients I could use up in a week or two for ingredients I don’t buy all the time. This will make it easier on our budget and cut down on how much food gets thrown out from going bad.
Shopping for Meals
I still shop once a week, but it is so much easier to pull out this monthly plan, see what I am going to make and write a grocery list out. On weeks I have less going on with more time to be in the kitchen I will try out new recipes from my recipe binder or Pinterest. When we have busier months, I can feel confident we are eating delicious home cooked meals almost every night of the week without having the same thing over and over again.
Another bonus from doing this is we are saving money. Grocery shopping is almost always cheaper than eating out. Before I was buying groceries, not cooking, throwing out food, and we were still eating out. It was a total waste! I am not as frugal as I once was with clipping coupons, but knowing exactly what we need for each meal and shopping the sales where possible has really been saving our monthly food budget.
What tips do you have for making meal planning easier?
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