The following is a post by contributing writer Alicia of Your Vibrant Family.
It’s 5:30 p.m., and once again you have no idea what to make for dinner.
So many of us struggle with meal planning! In fact, about six years ago I got fed up with this cycle and began monthly meal planning. This simple routine of planning meals for the month saves me oodles of time and trips to the store (which means it also saves my family money).
I promise—planning your meals for the month only sounds daunting. It’s really not that scary, and there are so many awesome meal planning tools that make the process easier!
Here are my top tips for creating a realistic monthly meal plan. Instead of creating a strict, rigid meal plan, let’s talk about creating a helpful, grace-filled meal guideline flexible enough for your family’s busy lifestyle.
10 Top Tips to Monthly Meal Planning That Works
1) Pick a time every month to make your plan. For me, that’s around the 25th day of the previous month. Consider when it makes sense for your family.
2) DIY meals or meals from others? Do you want to make your own meal plans, or have someone else do it? I personally love creating my own meal plans and have been using Plan to Eat for four years now to do it! Or here and here are two of my favorite meal planning services (meal plans made by others). You can read more about both of these in this post: Cooking Sanity Savers: 2 Secrets of Monthly Meal Planning.
3) Consider repeating and rotating your meal plans. For example, you could create eight to ten weekly meal plans (or use pre-planned ones) and then vary those throughout several months. This makes planning meals for the month that much easier!
4)Plan the meals around the month’s activities. Once you’ve determined what you’ll be eating, arrange the type of meals (leftovers? slow cooker meal? freezer meal? more labor-intense meal?) based on each day’s activities. For example, I try to plan either leftovers or a slow cooker meal on Tuesdays because we are gone most of the day and then have to eat dinner quickly before our evening Bible study.
5) Leftovers are your friend. Whenever possible, cook up enough to feed your family for more than one night, or consider dinners that offer enough extra food to make a variation of the original meal (cook-once-eat twice-type meals).
6) Consider making freezer meals. I’m a huge advocate of freezer meals! Check out this post for my best tips. Also check out this one on how to have a Family Meal Prep Day—an awesome way to get everyone involved in the bulk meal prep!
7) Plan a few days into the next month. Ideally you’ll be planning your meals at around the same time each previous month (and shopping subsequently after), but we all get busy. To keep things flexible, I try to plan a few additional meals. This also has come in handy during those times when we had unexpected company or if we went through our food faster and needed extra food.
8) Be flexible with the meal execution. There are times when I look at what meal I’d planned for that day and I think, “Yeah, that really doesn’t sound good right now.” I think it’s a good thing to create flexible meal plans for the month in order to keep a sense of freedom. Is it really a big deal to switch Thursday’s dinner with tonight’s dinner? Probably not.
9) Take it slow, if need be. If you’re a day-to-day-kind-of-meal-planner and the idea of even planning meals for one week is daunting, take this process one step at a time! Just plan meals for one or two weeks, and once that gets comfortable, work up to a month. Remember that some planning is better than no planning!
10) Find a meal plan rhythm that works for your family. Planning meals for the month can be fun (no, really!). Find out what your family loves. Does your family enjoy rotating the same 10-15 dinner recipes every month? Or do they prefer to try a handful of new recipes each month along with their favorites?
Enjoy planning meals for the month! Share in the comments below your favorite tips for making a month meal plan work for you.