I know that I’m not alone in feeling the pressure of deciding what to make for dinner every day. I used to wait until the day of to start thinking about what I was going to whip up that afternoon. It created anxiety for me every day because I didn’t have a plan. While this was stressful, it was also wasteful because I didn’t grocery shop with any intentionality.
I realized several years ago that I couldn’t keep this type of poor planning up for much longer. It was affecting our budget and it was using precious brain power (can I get an amen?) every day. As we added more children to our family, it became even more important to find a way to eliminate the stress of figuring out meals on the fly.
I enjoy the act of cooking. I like chopping and mixing ingredients and creating my own dishes from scratch with inspiration from various places. I haven’t really utilized much crockpot cooking and we don’t own an instapot. I really love to cook at the stove and slowly watch things come together. There are times when I will use the crockpot, but it’s very infrequent. Anyone else prefer to cook this way? So, what was my solution? Enter monthly meal planning!
Monthly Meal Planning
Weekly meal planning didn’t appeal to me because that was at least four times a month I’d have to devote time to. I don’t know if that is laziness or efficiency. I’m going with efficient. So, monthly meal planning it was!
1. Create a list of popular family meals
I started by creating a list of our favorite family meals loosely categorized by theme (Mexican, Italian, American, Asian, etc.). These are meals that everyone in the family generally likes, won’t create a scene at dinner with, and generally provides joyful results when served. Those are miracle meals, am I right?? What are some of your family favorites? The meals that just about everyone in the family will happily partake in?
2. Find a way to organize and display meal plan
I then found a blank monthly calendar via Pinterest and laminated it. (I have since created my own calendar to fit my style and decor. Check it out here for your own copy!) I wasn’t interested in a paper calendar, but more something I could just wipe and reuse every month. I keep mine on my fridge. I can check this every morning as soon as I enter the kitchen, to make sure I’ve pulled out anything that may need to thaw.
3. KEY STRATEGY: Themed dinner nights every week
I decided that the easiest and quickest way to get meals on the calendar would be to keep Monday through Friday as theme nights throughout the month. For instance, Mondays are simple “American” dishes, Tuesdays are Mexican night (Hello, Taco Tuesdays!), Wednesdays are “Brinner” nights, Thursdays are Italian or Asian nights and Fridays are generally always homemade pizza night. Saturdays and Sundays are a little more loose because of weekend plans, needing to eat up leftovers, getting a meal out, or keeping it simple because I need a break from the kitchen.
4. Look at your month and get it written down
So then I take a fine tipped wet erase marker and begin to fill in the month. I start by looking at our plans for the month and note if we will be away from home on a specific day or out of town for an extended period of time. Then I assess our pantry and fridge/freezer situation. If there are things I need to use up, then I try to plan meals around those ingredients first. I use the last month’s successful meals, reference our favorite meal sheet and add any meals I’ve been wanting to try out. I generally will start with a specific day of the week and plan each of those for the month. For instance, Tuesdays… tacos one week, quesadillas the next, tortilla soup the following week, and maybe taquitos the last week. Then I will move on to another day of the week and plan all of those. Maybe Wednesdays… overnight french toast casserole one week, sausage biscuits and green smoothies the next, pancakes and bacon the following and you get the idea.
5. Finalize the month and plan grocery list
By this point the month is pretty much filled in. I will look at the weekends and the meals leading up to Saturdays and Sundays to assess how many leftover meals we may have for those two days every week. Sometimes we get a meal out on the weekends and the other day we just do something really simple (sandwiches, smoothies and cereal, etc). I will try to use up ingredients we already have first and then I start building my grocery list for everything else we will need for the first week. I grocery shop once per week usually on a weekend day. Sometimes it stretches to a week and a half or close to two weeks, but we just don’t have the space for all of that food at once. Each weekend I just look at the week ahead and make my list for that week only.
You may have figured this out by now, but I do NOT use coupons. I am pretty much a strict ALDI shopper at this point. We have to keep our grocery budget low, but I also don’t want to be driving to 2-3 different stores each weekend just to get something for $0.50 cheaper somewhere else. If I stick to my meal plan and grocery list, we generally have no issues sticking to our budget. I keep our recipes simple for the most part, and usually I have no problem finding everything I need at ALDI. Every once in a great while I will have to grab something elsewhere. I try to avoid that… because again I’m
I think I got distracted…to summarize: I look at the coming week’s meals, add any ingredients we don’t already have, and I hit up ALDI. Super easy!
6. Breakfasts, Lunches, Snacks + Lists
If you are wondering about our other daily meals, I will address that briefly for now. We eat relatively the same things for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks each week so those are easy to just assess and add the things we are low on to my list. (I plan to write another post on how I do weekly meal plans for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks.) For my shopping list, I use an app called ListEase. It’s basic and has a checklist feature that I like. I add to it throughout the week when I notice we are low on something. I have different lists for ALDI, Costco (I do a run there about once a month for certain items.), Target, etc. If I didn’t keep a list I would never remember everything, and if I kept a paper list I would lose it or forget it when I went to the store. I organize my ALDI list in sections according to the store layout that I shop in the most. This way I can make sure I only have to walk down each aisle one time. Unless I get sidetracked, which unfortunately does happen.
7. Final Thoughts
The key here is to come up with a plan that works for your family. If the idea of meal planning for a month seems daunting, just try doing it and use themed dinner nights to help you come up with ideas. Fill in as many days as you can. You may be surprised with how easy it actually is. I sometimes will ask my girlfriends for their meal plans for the week or month to inspire me with new ideas. This has helped to ease that anxiety that I felt with trying to make these decisions constantly. I also involve my kids in meal planning by asking them what they think we should have when we are writing out the month. I believe that meal planning is essential to staying within a budget and to minimize food waste. We rarely throw food away. I actually pride myself on it. I can always find a way to use something, or there are so many things you can freeze before it goes bad. You also have the freedom to change things around during the week if you feel it will serve your family and your schedule better. Let me know if you try monthly meal planning! I’d love to hear how it went for you and your family!
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