House For Six

Meal Planning Part 1: The Plan

Deme Crinion9 Comments
There are so many different ways to crack the meal planning nut.  I've tried everything from planning out meals a month at a time to flying by the seat of our no-plan-whatsoever pants.  Then there's bulk buying and prepping frozen meals for the week or month, shopping according to sales and planning around the food you've already purchased, and I'm sure a dozen more ways to approach planning meals.   One thing is certain though - when I plan in advance, I save us money and waste less food.

So, after weeks of frantically coming up with our dinner plan for the day around 4pm, it was time to go back to the most effective method for our family:  a monthly meal plan, with a weekly shopping trip.  It takes a little more work up front but saves me tons of time in the long run.

I'll break up how we attack this into a 3-part mini-series this week....the planning, the shopping/prepping, and the actual execution/cooking.  Today I'm sharing how we come up with our meal plan for the month.

First off, why plan a whole month at a time?  Why do that to yourself?

I never even considered planning out meals a whole month in advance until we were at a friend's house for a bocce tournament and I noticed a monthly meal plan on the fridge.  Skeptical, I asked how well she was able to stick to it, and she said that not only do they stick to it but they have for several years.  After trying it myself, there are a few reasons it's now my favorite way to plan our meals too...

1.  A monthly meal plan keeps me from my standard" in-a-pinch" easy meals and keeps my family from enduring the same 7 meal rotation every week.  It's easy for me to get stuck in a rut.

1.  We can plan easy meals for busy days on the calendar and start thinking about meals for any fun events for the month well in advance.  Hello, St. Patty's Day!  I needed time to research the perfect Shepherd's Pie recipe and scour Pinterest for creative Irish inspired dessert recipes...that I may or may not have actually made.

3.  A monthly meal plan makes for less stress when I sit down to plan my grocery lists each week.

4.  I'm overly excited about lists and calendars

So, what does the process actually look like?

Just before the start of the month, I sit down with four things:   

-Our family calendar  
-A blank printed calendar
-Last month's meal plan
-My recipes

I used to do all this in Microsoft Word, but now I print off one of these calendar sheets I purchased from Jen's IHeart Organizing Etsy Shop  Because they're pretty.  And why not use something pretty.

First, I take a look at our family calendar and make note of any holidays or days we might want to do up a special meal.  This month we have St. Patrick's Day, the Mr's birthday, and our anniversary to celebrate.

Then I fill in any standard reoccurring meals.  Friday is pizza and movie night around here, so that one's usually a given.  But our family is also catholic and during the season of Lent, we don't eat meat on Fridays.  I had a few meatless meals from a frozen meal exchange, so I included those for Fridays in March.

Then it's time to crack open the recipe vault (more on that in the next post).  I fill in the remaining days, trying not to repeat meals from the last month.  Unless they are a favorite.  I also identify any days on our family calendar that might be busy or include an evening commitment - I'm sure to jot down an easy meal or crock pot dinner on those days.

During the winter we do more soups/stews and now that the warm weather is finally showing up, we'll be scheduling more meals on the grill.

There have been times I wanted to try out a new recipe every other day and other times I stuck to my comfortable old stand-by's.  Now, I try to schedule a new recipe every week or two.

James usually takes leftovers for lunch the following day, but if I'm planning a meal that I know yields a huge portion, I will either freeze half for another night or schedule a dinner of leftovers later in the week.

When it's done, it looks something like this:

This is not set in stone and there are definitely times we have to shift things around or adjust our plan.  I write it out in pencil (or you could laminate it and go with dry erase) so that I can make quick changes as needed.  Having a plan makes it so much easier when it comes time to make the grocery lists, shop, and actually cook.  All coming up in the next two installments of this mini-series!

 *Anyone else out there a monthly meal planner?  What are your tried and true way to meal plan...or do you just wing it?