The Benefits of Monthly Meal Planning
Over the last couple months I’ve had several conversations with friends about how hard it can be to get dinner on the table for our family every night. I thought I’d share how I’ve made the process a little easier for myself these past several months. For most of my adult life I have made a weekly meal plan on Sundays for the upcoming week. It is a chore that I had come to dread because Sunday seems to come back around so quickly. Then the pandemic hit and a shelter in place order was issued. I immediately put together a list of 30 meals that I could pull together from our pantry, fridge and freezer without having to rely on my usual weekly trips to the grocery store. Over the next month, I simply went down the list and crossed one meal off after the other. It was so nice to have a month of meal ideas at my disposal. I started to contemplate making a monthly plan on an ongoing basis instead of going back to my weekly ritual. I’m now 4 months into monthly meal planning and so happy with the outcome. There have been benefits I never even took into consideration.
Benefits of Monthly Meal Planning
SAVES TIME: It takes me the same amount of time to plan for a whole month of meals as it was taking my to put together a weekly plan. Once I have my cookbooks and saved recipes in front of me, it is just as easy to pull together 30 recipes as it was to find only 6-7.
SAVES MONEY: Scrambling to figure out what to have for dinner at the last minute often results in either eating out, ordering in or grabbing something that is pre-made. All of those options cost more money than making a meal at home. Have you ever added up how much you spend as a family eating out each week? This fact was driven home for us in January when we went over our monthly expenses. We were all set to give ourselves a pat on the back after participating in “dry January” and taking a month off from all fine dining. It turned out that seven inexpensive meals over the course of the month added up to $264. A few fast food meals, Saturday morning bagels, an Açaí bowl for lunch, a family pizza night, a Mexican meal and a couple ice cream cones was equal to almost TWO week’s worth of groceries that provide our family breakfast, lunch and dinner. Any type of meal planning that allows you to eat in more than you are eating out is going to save you money in the long run.
REQUIRES FEWER TRIPS TO THE STORE Before I started monthly meal planning I would often find myself making the rounds to Costco, Trader Joe’s and Safeway every. single. week. Now, I’m able to stock up on all my freezer items and non-perishables at the beginning of the month and just return to Trader Joe’s every 1-2 weeks for the perishable items we go through quickly (see my Trader Joe’s Grocery list HERE).
RESULTS IN LESS FOOD WASTE I am able to plan several recipes over the course of the month that take advantage of an ingredient that I buy in bulk or need to use up before a certain date. If I only need 1/2 cup of sour cream for a recipe, I’ll intentionally search for a second recipe to have later in the month that takes advantage of the remaining sour cream.
PROVIDES ME WITH A PLAN FOR NEXT YEAR I am so excited that my planning this year is going to leave me with a road map for next year’s monthly meals. As it is, we tend to bring our favorite seasonal meals back each year. I’m kind of kicking myself that I didn’t start keeping track of what I was making on a monthly basis earlier.
Tips to Make Menu Planning Easier
Trying to figure out 30 different meals can seem like a daunting task. During the last week of the month I turn to my cookbooks, pinned recipes and torn out magazine pages to help me pick. A piece of paper helps me brainstorm ideas and then plug the final results onto my calendar. Here are a couple tips on how I put together my list each month.
ASK YOUR FAMILY FOR INPUT Is there a meal they have been craving or a favorite recipe that you haven’t eaten in awhile?
SELECT SOME SEASONAL FAVORITES We have certain recipes we reach for more during certain seasons. During the fall and winter months our menu focuses more on soups, casseroles, braised meat and creamier sauces. Grilled fish, wraps, burgers, salads and pasta with fresh vegetables dominate our spring and summer menu.
THEME NIGHTS Salad Sundays (summer), Soup Sundays (winter), Meatless Mondays, Mexican Food Tuesdays (aka Taco Tuesday), Grill Fridays, Steak Saturdays are all fun ways to plug-in the foods you enjoy most on a certain day of the week and still allow for a lot of variety. As I’m making my month meal plan I pick four Mexican food recipes that work well for the season we are in or that we haven’t eaten in awhile and distribute them among the Tuesdays on the calendar. BFD (Breakfast For Dinner) is always a big hit with my family and we choose at least one night a month to make crepes, have an omelette bar or make a gourmet breakfast we wouldn’t typically have time for on a weekday. Having a theme on certain nights narrows down your choices a little and make the decision process feel easier.
GROUP YOUR GO-TO RECIPES Every month you are guaranteed to find at least a few chicken breast or pasta recipes on our dinner table. As I’m making my list, I’ll pick four recipes from each of our favorite go-to categories to add into the rotation. Don’t forget to include a few 20 minute meals for those nights that are extra busy.
BE FLEXIBLE I write my monthly menu in pencil because plans change. Some nights just call for pizza. I carry over recipes we don’t use to the next week or even month. This month I originally has a peach salad on the menu, but when I saw that peaches hadn’t made it to our shelves yet I switched it up and we had Must-Go instead (aka: all leftovers must go).
Once I’ve gathered a list of 30 recipes its a matter of figuring out what will work best on which night. I spread out recipes with similar main ingredients so that we aren’t eating chicken three nights in a row, schedule meals with less prep for busier nights and plug in meals that are good for a crowd on nights we hope to have company.
Whether you are a seasoned meal planner or contemplating trying it for the first time, I hope I’ve offered you a few ideas to make the process easier. If you are interested in saving time, money, grocery shopping less and simplifying your weekly to-do list try making a monthly meal plan for June. Check out this post where I share our June Menu Plan and recipes links.
Do you have a trick to make meal planning easier? I’d love to hear about it!