Monthly Meal Planning in 5 Easy Steps

I have had a few conversations recently about monthly meal planning.  Questions have arisen about how to do it, why there is a need to do it, how I have not planned well since we moved and need to get back to it…so I thought it would make a wonderful blog post!

I do monthly meal planning for these reasons:

1.  I want to be organized.  Having meals planned ahead of time helps accomplish this goal.  It is so nice to have it done and not to wonder what in the world we’ll have for dinner!

2.  I want to use my grocery budget wisely.  This helps me to do so.  I am able to eliminate needless last minute trips to the grocery store by planning ahead.  It is also tricky when buying mostly organic foods.  It can be very expensive.  This helps me to choose less costly meals while still allowing for more costly meals as well.  By planning, I can use my budget accordingly to allow for both.

3.  I want to be wise with my time.  This saves me time in the long run on a few fronts: less time spent in the car and at the store, less time wondering and trying to figure out what to fix, and less time trying to simply scrape something together (though it still happens sometimes!)

4.  I want to freeze some meals.  This enables me to plan out which meals are best for doubling and then freezing.

5.  Currently, I want to use up the remaining beef from the cow we bought last year.  Planning ahead helps me to remember to take it out of the freezer to use it!

With that said, I have found that monthly meal planning is the most efficient method for me.  It might sound overwhelming, but it’s really not!  I want to show you how I do it and you can decide if planning by the month works the best for you or not.

Plan on setting aside 45 minutes to an hour to create a monthly menu.  I typically do my meal planning for the next month during the last week of the current  month.  I just completed June’s menu plan on Saturday morning.   Since I have small kids, I had to break it up into about two or three sessions, but it’s ideal to find a solid block of time in which to sit down and plan.

A note on meal planning software or online programs:  I have used a 30-day trial of Plan to Eat which I have seen mentioned on several blogs.  I hate to be the one clanging symbol as many women like it.  But, I did not.  I found that it took much more time to plan my menu due to the fact that I had to type all of my recipes into the database.  I had to go through and re-sort the grocery list and it was just a huge headache by the time it was all said and done.  So, I keep with the method I have used for the past few years.  But, if you are just starting, you might like what Plan to Eat has to offer, so check them out.

With that said, here’s a step-by-step guide to how to menu plan for dinner (we’ll talk breakfast and lunch after):

1.  Gather your favorite cookbooks or recipes.

2.  Get either a blank calender or paper numbered with the days of the month.  Here is a free menu planner I created and use.  Feel free to download it.  There are calendars available for the remainder of the year.  I like using a calendar because I can make note of when we plan to have company or when we’ll be out during dinner.  This helps me adjust the monthly menu accordingly.

3.  Have several grocery lists nearby.  While planning, it is easier to write out the ingredients you’ll need to purchase so that you don’t have to go back and do so later.  I print enough of enough for weekly shopping (produce usually needs to be purchased fresh weekly).  If there are non-perishable items needed for recipes later in the month, I can get them the first week and thus make my subsequent shopping trips shorter.  My goal is to make a big trip at the first of the month and “maintenance” trips during the rest of the month.  If this is too overwhelming, just plan the menu!  Sometimes I just meal plan and forget about the grocery lists.

4.  Now, for the sake of good stewardship and ease of scheduling, I have theme nights.  I would recommend doing something similar as it helps make the process go faster once you have a system established.  Here are my themes:

Sunday:  Snacks or leftovers

Monday:  Beef

Tuesday:  Beans

Wednesday:  Vegetarian or chicken (about twice/month)

Thursday:  Salad w/bread or muffins (sp/summer), Soup & muffins or bread (fall/winter)

Friday:  Any of the above

Saturday:  Breakfast

If we are having company, I use one of the recipes I have set aside for hospitality.  Stay tuned for a special post about it!

5.  Start planning!  Since I have themed nights, I usually go through and plan all of my Mondays, then Tuesdays…

Now that you have your dinners planned, doesn’t it feel good!  You can sit back and relax.

You might be wondering what I do about planning for breakfast and lunch.  Truth be told, I have a rotating menu plan for breakfasts as follows:

Sunday:  Granola

Monday:  Quinoa & green smoothies

Tuesday:  Millet

Wednesday:  Granola & green smoothies

Thursday:  Eggs & muffins

Friday:  Muffins & green smoothies

Saturday:  Oatmeal

It might sound boring, but the possibilities for the combination for a green smoothie are almost endless and I can spice up any of the grain dishes a number of ways.  It works for us!

I don’t generally plan my lunches unless I am having guests.  We eat leftovers, eggs (almost daily!), salad…I usually have lots of produce and other “fixins” around to be creative.

Here is a free weekly menu planner I use sometimes if I want to see my weekly meals instead of just a whole month’s worth.

Stay tuned tomorrow for my June menu plan.  I’ll talk about meals that I plan to freeze and how I do it!  Later in the week, I’ll share my hospitality menus and my plan for freezing breakfast items.

Do you menu plan?  If so, how do you do it?

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2 Responses to Monthly Meal Planning in 5 Easy Steps

  1. Angela says:

    Hey Kelly!
    Thanks for sharing your blog. Lots of food for thought here. I’m inspired to try a monthly meal plan–hope I actually do it! I’m also going to show your blog to my sister this weekend who’s interested in parenting resources as she is the mother of a formerly compliant, newly willful 13 month old boy and expecting baby number two in January. Does that spark any blogging thoughts???

  2. Erika says:

    This was one of the first posts I read on your blog, and I wanted to let you know that it was just the encouragement I needed to move from weekly meal planing (which I dreaded each week) to monthly planning. Since three weeks pass without me having to think about planning, I actually don’t mind sitting down to do it at the start of each month. :-)