In our house, we try really hard to sit down to a family meal of some kind each night. That sometimes means we're eating in weird places - the RV, at a BMX track, on the front porch or even on rare occasions, at the dining table (who knew it could be used for that??). Since dinner is one time we get to regroup as a family, we try to make sure there is a plan so we aren't scrambling around asking what's for dinner every day.
Need some ideas for what to feed your crew? Check out what we are eating this month here!
A while back, our family began experiment. Instead of making a menu and going grocery shopping each week, we decided to try doing this monthly. This project had two goals. The first was to save my sanity and the second was to ahem, reduce the number of impulse purchases I make... Because I just NEED that cute lipstick and lawn gnome...
Here's why I love planning meals a month at a time:
- First - I can sit down and think about what's for dinner ONCE A MONTH. Not 30 minutes before we need to eat or an hour before company arrives.
- It's adapatable, which means it's easy enough to move meals around within the week
- I can swap some meals between days and weeks since the majority of the ingredients are purchased.
How do you get started? Grab your cup of coffee and a pretty notebook, your kids notebook paper (raises hand here), or your computer and let's get this thing done. Plan to spend an hour putting together your entire plan, including shopping lists. Not a bad time investment!
Step One - Monthly Meal List
Start by listing out the days of the month on one side of your sheet of paper. I also find it's useful to list the day of the week next to the date, which allows me to better keep track of the kinds of activities we have on the calendar for a specific day.
Next I take a look at my calendar to see what we have going on during the month and jot important dates on the meal plan, which helps me to schedule simple meals on busy nights. Simple like sandwiches, because on nights that we don't get home until 9pm this mom isn't cooking.
Let the meal planning begin! Now that you've done the prep, it's time to figure out what to eat. You know, the fun part. I rely HEAVILY on Pinterest to execute this part of the process. I keep a board that has dinner ideas that I reference and repin to a monthly board so all of the recipes I need are in one place. I also get feedback from the family about what they want to eat, and add that to the list.
When selecting your meals, be sure to plan what you feel comfortable cooking. I know in the summer we tend to grill a lot and have no cook meals since we don't have air conditioning. In the winter we like soups once a week and lots of bread. Tailor this to your month - if you know you're busy don't over commit and make crazy elaborate dishes every night of the week.
The biggest tip of all? Plan leftover nights! At least once a week we plan a night to finish up the leftovers from the week. It has made a HUGE difference in the amount of food we throw away and is a great break for everyone from cooking. I do keep a backup meal or two around just in case we end up with no leftovers, which occasionally happens even with a family of five. Generally this is some kind of pasta dish that can stay in the pantry for a long time and be pulled out for emergencies. Once your list is finished, I color code each week to make it easier to break out the perishable shopping needs in later steps.
In additon to this paper list, I add the menu to a shared google calendar for my family with each day's meal on it. This allows us to see what's for dinner even when we aren't at home.
Step Two - The Shopping Lists
Now that you have your meals planned, you gotta figure out the groceries you need to make those meals. Since one of the goals of this exercise is to reduce the amount of time you're spending in the grocery store, we do a big monthly shopping trip then do a quick trip to grab perishables for subsequent weeks. I make two lists - one for the non-perishables we need for the entire month (i.e. the BIG shopping list) and a separate weekly list that has perishables which need to be purchased each week.
To make the big shopping list, go through your menu and jot down the non-perishable items. You could be organized and break this out by area of your store... I just list everything as it comes up while I'm going through the menu. You do you... I also do a pantry check as part of this and refresh items we are low on such as peanut butter, sauces, granola bars, etc. The idea here is that any non-perishable item I would buy for any meal during the month gets put on this list.
As you're going through your menu, you'll run across perishables you need for each week. I put these on a separate weekly list so I don't have to revisit the menu and make a list each week. This month I'm even going to take this one step further and start ordering my groceries for these perishables through clicklist at Fred Meyer so I don't have to step foot into the store. Win!
Step Three - Go Shopping!
The final step is to take these lists to your store and get the goods!
The whole process took us a couple of months to perfect. Figuring out how much we needed to plan for a full month didn't happen right away. For the first two to three months, I had to add non-perishable items to the weekly shopping list that we didn't buy enough of. After doing this for several months now, I rarely have to do that and we seem to have figured out what we use on a regular basis.
I hope that this will make your day just a touch more streamlined, it's really rocked our world in a good way. Have questions about what works and what doesn't? Need a partner to tlak through a few things? Reach out, I'm here for ya!