It’s August! School is starting soon and life is about to get really crazy, am I right? Well, today, I’m sharing with you a few tips and tricks for monthly (yes, I said monthly) menu planning that will make your life so much easier.
Yes, friends, I actually like to plan our family’s dinners on a monthly basis. And, no, there’s no pattern to the days (meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, and whatnot). Yes, it can be done even when you’ve got a bunch of different people going in a bunch of different directions. And, no, there’s no magic formula for doing so.
Call me nuts, but monthly menu planning is one of my very favorite mom-hacks.
But why monthly?
We’ve talked weekly menu planning here on the blog before, of course. And I get that planning a month’s worth of meals may seem a little intimidating at first. But I have found that spending a little time now to save a lot of sanity later is totally worth it! Which is exactly why I do it.
Order and routine are my friends. I thrive when there are lists and tasks and my time is laid out neatly and predictably. That’s the way I like to run my days and that’s the way I like to run my kitchen. Taking a couple of hours one day a month saves me so much time and stress and brainpower over the next few weeks!
And it’s not just time and brainpower that I’m saving, but money, too! Planning ahead is a huge budget saver.
I’m also a firm believer that there’s no one right way to do anything. Therefore, this post isn’t going to be a my-way-or-the-highway kind of thing. Take the tips that tickle your fancy and leave the rest. So, let’s get to it, shall we?
Tip #1 – Gather the right tools.
When it comes time to menu-plan for the coming month, there are three tools that I use.
- My Blessed is She planner
- My cookbooks and recipe binders
- The wishes and desires of my family
While I use the Blessed is She planner because it’s amazing and has weekly menu planning and grocery list sections already included in the layout, any monthly calendar layout will work.
Bonus Tip: Always use a pencil. There will be lots of erasing and moving things around before the final product is complete.
Tip #2 – Look ahead!
Before you even begin planning meals, look ahead in your calendar. Are there going to be supremely busy evenings? Are there nights when Dad will be traveling? What days would be best for crockpot meals or leftovers? What are the kids’ practice schedules like this month?
Make note of these things in your calendar first and use that information when you’re planning. I promise it will save you heartache later.
Tip #3 – Don’t try to do it all yourself.
Here’s what I mean by tool #3 up above. The wishes and desires of my family are important things to consider! Before I even start to plug dinners into days on the calendar, I ask my family what sounds good to them.
There are five other people who live in this house besides me and they all have distinct likes and dislikes. I ask each of them for 2-3 ideas of what they would like for dinner that month and I make a list. That works out to 10-15 meals that my brain doesn’t have to come up with that month! Score!
Bonus Tip: I mark on the calendar whenever dinners are anyone’s particular “pick.” That night, the person whose pick it is gets to lead the dinner prayer for the family. Just another way to make them feel special.
Tip #4 – Plan to not cook.
Well, that seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Hear me out, though.
Three of my favorite meals to plan are these: Leftovers, Eat Out, and FFY (Fend for Yourself). They don’t happen every week, but they are lifesavers nonetheless. And, as our boys get bigger (and bigger and bigger), I find that leftover night doesn’t happen nearly as often as I’d like. However, planning these into the calendar ahead of time still has a couple benefits.
First, they act as breaks for me. Any week that I can get away with cooking dinner only 4 or 5 times instead of 7 is a bonus. Second, they allow for some flexibility in the plan. If I need to move things around within a week, those are the easiest days to rearrange. And third, they are that many days less each month that I need to be creative with.
Tip #5 – Now fill in the rest.
OK. By now, you’ve looked ahead in your calendar. Your family has made their requests known and you’ve plugged in their picks. You’ve also made sure to mark out a couple days a week for leftovers, FFY, or eating out.
This is the point where it gets simultaneously tricky and fun. This is where MOM (or whoever is planning the menu) gets to fill in the rest of the days!
Look wherever you need to for inspiration. Maybe you’ve got a taste for something particular, maybe not. Maybe you want to try out some new recipes, maybe you want to stick to easy and reliable. That’s totally up to you! Fill in the rest of the days with whatever floats your boat.
Bonus Tip 1: Don’t think that every meal has to be several intricate courses or completely homemade. Planning for hot dogs or Papa Murphy’s take ‘n bake is still planning!
Bonus Tip 2: Look for ways you can utilize make-ahead or freezer meals. If you’re making spaghetti, double the sauce recipe to freeze for making baked ziti some other time. Making a roast? Make a big one and freeze what doesn’t get eaten so you have the basis for soup later.
The Bottom Line
Now, I’m not going to go so far as to lean on the old adage, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” If you feed your family — Success! But I hope that you take a tip or two from this post and it makes your life just a wee bit easier. If you do, will you let me know? Also, if you have your own tips and tricks, let me know that, too! Let’s help each other out, yeah?
Regardless, have a great August, a wonderful school year, and bon appetit!