The benefits of planning a monthly menu are considerable. The caveat here is that planning for a month works for my family. You may find that a week or two weeks worth of meals works best for yours.
The Benefits of Monthly Menu Planning
-The Big Three: I save time, energy, and money.
-My family eats healthier because we don't eat fast food.
-My family eats better quality meals because we have more time to prepare home cooked meals.
-I don't scramble for supper ideas at 5 pm on a weeknight.
-I spend less money because I don't waste food.
-My family spends more time together because I am not at the store or in the kitchen. We're seated around our table, enjoying a homecooked meal.
-I have a greater variety of meals to choose from on any given night.
-I can build my menu around couponing, stockpiling, and seasonally grown foods. Cha-ching!
-My family has developed an eclectic palette because we are more willing to try new things from different places and not just the same old, same old.
-I can plug in events we have booked on our family calendar, being prepared for less involved meals on certain nights or more lunches on vacation weeks, etc.
-I'd be lying if I didn't include that I love to cook. It's one of my favorite things to do and planning a monthly menu is so much fun to me. If I had no other reason, I'd plan for the month just because I personally enjoy it.
How One Fabulous Mama Plans for a Month
So, how do I compile 30 meals for my family of five? You can google lots of ways to meal plan, friends. This is the One Fabulous Mama way. It doesn't involve a database and a spreadsheet. Just a blank calendar template and my creativity.
At the end of the month, I do the following:
1. I take an inventory of what's in my pantry and freezer.
2. I check out that week's sales ads.
3. I open up the blank calendar template and print two. I use one as I am planning and a nicer, neater version for the fridge.
4. I add any commitments our family has- concerts, volunteering, appointments, etc.
5. I add any family favorites to the template. I know we will eat some meals once or twice a month. Things like sausage jambalaya, ziti con salsa aurora, and pancakes are gonna make the menu no matter what.
6. I pull out any recipes I've bookmarked from online or in a cookbook. I thumb through my recipe box for inspiration as well.
7. I ask each member of my family if there is something they want on the menu this month. If there is a birthday, she or he gets a special Birthday Meal and I plan that as well.
8. I use what I have from my pantry and in my stockpile as well as what I've taken from cookbooks, the internet, and my family, and I build a menu.
9. I pay special attention to not to duplicate like meals. I don't want to serve pasta more than once a week etc.
10. I try to plan so I use what I have efficiently. (For example, if we are having biscuits and sausage gravy one night, you best believe we're making our own pizzas the next. The reason? I fry up a pound of sausage crumbles and use half in the gravy and half the following night as a topping for pizzas. If we are having slow cooker spaghetti one night, we'll be having a casserole with the leftover sauce later in the month. If roast a chicken one night, we'll be having chicken salad or chicken fajitas later in the month. You get it? No point in wasting anything, right?)
11. After I have developed enough meals for the month, I compile a grocery list.
12. I copy the final menu and keep one on the fridge and one in my coupon organizer.
Meanwhile, once the month is rolling along, I hit the stores weekly for specials. This is not to be confused with my beginning of the month Big Grocery trip. This is how I create a stockpile for the next month and beyond. If I encounter a special on meat or dairy or vegetables- something that needs to be consumed immediately- I will replace one of our planned meals, saving the meal for the next month.
The key to not overcomplicating this process is to look at your menu one week at a time. Use the steps I listed above. If you don't already keep an inventory of your pantry and freezer, start one now. (How else will you know what you have?) If you don't stockpile using coupons, then you'll eliminate that part of the process.
I spend about 30 minutes planning our monthly menu. Sometimes, longer, depending on what we have going on that month.
A Sample Menu
The list of meals for August looks like this:
1. tacos, beans, rice
2. pancakes bacon, fruit
3. greek salad with steak, cantaloupe
4. spaghetti, bread, salad
5. pizzas, salad, apple slices
6. buffalo chicken nuggets, twice bakes potatoes, green beans
7. grilled pesto chicken sandwiches, pasta salad, fruit salad
8. jambalaya, cornbread, bananas
9. waffles, sausage
10. grilled stinky cheese burgers, home fries, watermelon
11. curry chicken, thai noodles
12. empanadas, bean burritos, rice, corn medley
13. jerk chicken, rice, fried plantains, rolls
14. chili dogs, french fries, watermelon
15. stromboli, bread sticks, spinach salad
16. stir fry, wonton soup
17. dinner out
18. hippie chili mac, bananas and grapes, rolls
19. sub sammies with chips and applesauce
20. samosas, saffron rice, green beans
21. tuna melts, pasta salad, chips, oranges
22. tilapia, rice pilaf, broccoli
23. casserole and french bread
24. mile high nachos
25. grilled pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, peas
26. tomato soup and grilled cheese
27. barbeque pork sammies, salad, baked beans
28. crab cakes, rice medley, spinach salad
29. biscuits & sausage gravy, grits casserole, cantaloupe
30. dinner out
I cross off meals as we use them and we jump all around the month. Just because a meal is written on a certain day, doesn't mean we have it that day.
I pick up fresh fruit and veggies as needed. More so throughout the summer natch.
We eat a lot more sammies and grilled foods when it is so hot. My winter menu would include a lot more stews and baked items.
If this were during summer vacation, the menu would include breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
During the school year, I pack leftovers or homemade treats for Johnny and Bailey.
Since the two younger ones and I are at home during the day, I have another monthly menu just for lunches. We tend to eat a lot of leftovers and salads.
We all eat cold cereal, muffins, or oatmeal for breakfast.
I don't get locked into what's on the menu. If we all really want something that's not on the menu and we can afford it, we abandon all of the planning and get what we want! The key to saving money AND to being happy is being flexible, friends.