monthly meal planning

Monthly meal planning for your busy family

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Imagine this…it’s time to go grocery shopping. Thankfully, you have spent time monthly meal planning, and you have a list of everything you need. Because you are prepared, you are in and out of the store in no time. Not to mention, you have stayed under budget.

Once you get home, you quickly put away your groceries. If you have time, maybe you even meal prep a few things by cutting up vegetables or cooking a large batch of chicken or ground beef.

You have a list of dinner meals that you are going to cook for the next month. You can pick and choose which meals you are going to eat and when you want to eat them. Maybe you hang that list of meals somewhere in your kitchen so you whole family knows how they can help get dinner on the table.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Meal planning doesn’t have to take the fun or spontaneity out of your meals. Instead, it allows you to prioritize the other things in your life. You won’t be scrambling at the last minute to come up with dinner. You can plan for fun events and even plan for the not-so-fun nights when everyone is busy, and you can’t think straight.

Simply put, meal planning puts you in the driver’s seat.

Challenges to Monthly meal planning

There are so many advantages to meal planning that it’s practically a no-brainer. We’ll talk about those advantages in a minute, but let’s discuss what might be stopping you from meal planning.

  • Life gets in the way. With so many other things, meal planning might not feel like a priority. And that’s okay. I have those months too. But when I take the time to do my monthly meal planning, my life runs so much smoother. My family is happier. We have less melt-downs at dinner time.
  • You are afraid it’ll kill the fun. Everyone loves a little spontaneity. My husband loves cooking new things. Instead of letting that stop us from meal planning, we just build it in days for my husband to cook whatever he wants. If some spontaneity is important to you, give yourself a night or two a week where you can cook something new.

Advantages of monthly meal planning

Meal planning helps you…

stay out of the drive through

Everyone has those days. The days when all you want to do is grab a burger from the drive through. Doing that occasionally isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But eating out often can hurt your budget and isn’t that great for your health. If you already know what you are going to make that day, that’s half the work. You are also more likely to pull out that frozen chicken earlier in the day when you know you are eating chicken for dinner. You are more prepared, both mentally and physically when you have a meal plan in place.

Simplify your life

The hardest part of cooking dinner, for me, is coming up with something to make. I am not great at thinking on my feet. I don’t have my husband’s uncanny ability to look in the fridge and come up with a great meal idea. Having a list of meals that I can make is essential to my survival as a mom and a normal functioning adult. It gives me one less thing to think about every day.

Save money

I love monthly meal planning because it saves us so much money! Of course, it means we don’t eat out as much. But meal planning also saves us money because it helps us know ahead of time what things we’ll need to purchase. Having that kind of plan let’s me buy groceries in bulk, buy clearance items or items on sale, and even grow our own vegetable garden in the summer. Simply put, we save money when we have plan because we can purchase groceries that are less expensive.

Save time

Have you ever gotten sucked into Pinterest by searching for dinner ideas? I have. Searching for recipes online is fun. There are so many options. We even have some great recipes here on this site. But I get pulled into the online world of yummy looking recipes. It takes me so much time to decide, and also remember what I have in the fridge that will coordinate with those recipes. If I’m not careful, searching for a recipe every single night can really suck up my time. Meal planning once a month condenses all my planning efforts into a single session. It saves me so much time!

coordinate meal prepping efforts

Do you meal prep? Preparing all, or parts of a meal can really save you time.

When I had my last baby, I prepared so many freezer meals beforehand. It was so nice to just pop a freezer meal into my crock pot on days when I didn’t feel like cooking with a newborn. Most of the time, I’m not that coordinated in my efforts. But I do like to do meal prepping in pieces.

For example, if I know that I’ll need browned ground beef for several of my dinner recipes this month, I’ll purchase ground beef in bulk at the beginning of the month. When I get home from the store, I like to brown several pounds and package it up to put in the freezer for later. It’s actually a lot easier to brown three pounds of ground beef once rather than one pound of ground beef three times.

Eat healthier

Meal planning at our house means that we are relying less on packaged foods and takeout dinners. Our home-cooked meals are generally healthier and better for you. You get to choose what you put into your meals, and how you cook them.

Plan for dietary needs

Do you have a family member that has special dietary needs? Monthly meal planning will help you plan for those needs. You can eliminate unwanted foods and plan for alternatives when needed.

Waste less

Want to know one of the best ways to cut down on your grocery bill? Stop wasting so much food! I can tell you from experience that when we don’t have a meal plan, we waste a lot of food. Vegetables that I intended for certain meals goes bad sitting in the fridge. With a meal plan, you only buy what you need for your meal plan. You can (and should) build in days in your meal plan to use leftovers.

Eat better meals

As much as we all love frozen TV dinners, they can’t compare to a good homemade meal. Even if you aren’t the best cook, your cooking will improve as you keep trying. Your meals will be better with a meal plan.

Share the workload

Do you have a husband or teenager who could help prepare dinner, but they are clueless? Let’s be real, it’s not always their fault. If you are the primary grocery shopper, your family doesn’t always know what you have planned to make for dinner. You might not even know. Thankfully, it’s easy to change that. Your family will be much better prepared to help with dinner if you have:

  • A monthly calendar filled with dinner plans.
  • Ingredients for those dinner plans.

Think how nice it’ll be to have some help cooking dinner when you’ve had a stressful day. That is what meal planning can do for your family!

How to create a monthly meal planning template

I know it seems overwhelming. But, monthly meal planning doesn’t have to be crazy stressful. You can do it! Here are some tips to help you be successful.

Keep track of family favorites

Every family has their favorite recipes. They might be a special recipe passed down through generations, or a recipe you pulled off from the internet. It doesn’t really matter. Just make a list of your family favorites. List of every dinner meal that your family loves to eat. I aim to have between twenty and forty recipes that we can pick and choose from, but you could extend it out farther if you’d like.

Save and gather recipes

Do you have a good place to save your favorite recipes? When we were first married my husband bought me a recipe box. Over the years we’ve saved our favorite recipes in that box. It has become a goldmine of goodness. I also love binders, so gathering a binder of your favorites is a great option too. Just make sure you gather all your favorites in one place. That will make it easier to plan your grocery list and shopping trips.

Plan for leftover days

The nice thing about cooking regularly at home, is that you’ll almost always have leftovers. My kids don’t love leftovers. Sometimes I don’t love leftovers. But leftovers can make for a quick dinner. Leave at least one day a week where you plan to eat leftovers for dinner. This will help you clean out your fridge and reduce waste. It’ll also give you day off from cooking.

Family traditions and themes

I love family traditions! We have a family tradition of eating pizza every Friday night. I’ll be honest, my seven-year-old loves pizza a lot more than I do. Because of that, we’ve found ways to switch things up. We don’t always do homemade pizza. Sometimes we’ll order out. Other times I make a French bread pizza. We’ve even made pizza fondue (it was a hit!). But every week my kids know that we’ll be having pizza on Friday night.

In the past, we’ve also done Soup and Salad Sundays. There are so many options for weekly meal traditions. Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, and more! Get creative. My husband had a friend growing up whose family would eat popcorn for dinner every Sunday night. Their mom took the night off!

Not only is it fun but doing pizza every Friday night makes my meal planning a lot simpler.

Give yourself a day to try new things

I mentioned that my husband likes to try cooking new things. I put him on the schedule for a weekend day when he’ll have more time to shop for and cook the things he wants to try. It’s always a fun little experiment and it doesn’t disrupt my meal plan because I give him a space in the schedule.

Limit shopping trips

One of the big benefits of planning meals for a month is that it means I am in the grocery store less. When I plan ahead, I only need to do a few shopping trips a month. I can plan for a whole month, pick up most of the nonperishable foods at the beginning of the month, and shop for the fresh produce when I’ll need it. Limited shopping trips means spending less on impulse purchases too!

Plan on back-up meals

I always keep a few frozen meals in my deep freeze. Not because we regularly plan to eat frozen meals, but because sometimes life gets in the way. Your planned meal gets burned. You don’t have enough time to get things done. You get sick.

Having a plan for your meals sure helps with all of those tough scenarios, but in the event that dinner seems impossible, you’ll need a back-up plan. Planning on that will make it seem like less of a catastrophe.

Meal prep and plan ahead

I love meal prepping. It saves me so much time. You can cook up a huge crock pot full of chicken to shred and refreeze to use in meals throughout the month. If you’ve got an afternoon at the beginning of the month, it’ll make your life so much easier. Chop veggies. Cook meat. Pre-make these awesome meatballs. You’ll thank yourself later.

Create a habit of meal planning (set alarms/pick a time, etc)

One of the hardest parts of meal planning is doing it. It seems so much easier to put it off and fly by the seat of your pants. In our house, we try to do our meal planning near the 1st of every month. We coordinate this meal planning with a large shopping trip at the beginning of the month. 

Meal planning and shopping has become a natural part of the beginning of every month. But you can do it whenever you’d like. If you need help remembering, set an alarm on your phone or put it on your calendar. Prioritize meal planning. It shouldn’t take more than an hour or so and you can have an entire month of meals planned.

When you spend time creating a monthly meal plan, you are saving yourself time in the long run. It’ll allow you to save money, coordinate meal preparation efforts with your family, and even cut down on the time you spend in the grocery store. Don’t get discouraged if it takes you a few months to really get a feel for what you and your family like. You’ll tweak things as you go. You’ve got this!

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