Okay, friend, you might be thinking that it’s impossible to start planning your meals a month at a time. I was right there with you until a year and a half ago! But now I can tell you that it really does save time every week and money every month! So promise me you’ll have an open mind, all right?
Our Meal-Planning Story
When my husband was growing up, his super-organized mom had a monthly dinner calendar. I remember the first time I traveled to meet his family for Christmas, and I could see exactly what we’d be eating for dinner for the rest of the year! I was impressed, to say the least. Fast forward a year to our marriage, when I was often scrambling at dinner time to figure out what I’d be serving my fighter-pilot-in-training for supper every night.
Being a fairly organized person, I created a weekly meal planning system that worked for our family for the next dozen years. I always felt that planning meals a month in advance was only for the ultra-organized. I mean, how would I even know what I’d feel like eating in 30 days’ time? And what about the weather? I wouldn’t want to plan chili for an unexpectedly summery day or plan to grill during a downpour, right?
How Monthly Meal Planning Saves Time
It wasn’t until I hired a mom coach a few years ago that the idea of a monthly meal calendar breached my consciousness again. I was in the middle of a course called Buck-a-Meal Bootcamp when I was given the challenge to plan our dinner menu a month at a time. I was at a point where I really wanted to get more efficient with my time, so I gave monthly meal planning a try.
First, I sat down with a blank calendar and simply wrote down a dinner meal for every day of the month. Of course, there were some nights I knew we’d be traveling or be eating dinner elsewhere, so I had about 26 meals to come up with. It took me about twenty minutes to consult my husband and kids about their preferences and fill in my entire monthly calendar. I couldn’t believe it! Before this, my weekly system took about 10 minutes of planning every week. So doing the math, I’d just saved myself at least 20 minutes for the entire month. As a busy moms, we’ll take it, right?
Instead of having to sit down every single week to work out our menu, I now consolidate that time into a single planning session for an entire month. I L.O.V.E. planning meals a month in advance!
How Monthly Meal Planning Saves Money
Not only does planning our meals a month at a time save time, it also helps me to save money. When I started to plan meals a month at a time, I was able to cut my grocery bill by $500 a month. For real, y’all. The money savings has come mostly because as I plan our meals a month in advance, I think about what ingredients from one meal can easily carry over to another. When I have the bigger picture of a month instead of a week in mind, it makes it a lot easier to consider which ingredients to buy each week.
Also, because I have a more defined list of the ingredients and food we’ll need at the store, I shop with intention. When I prep my list before placing my grocery pickup order, I simply make sure to stick to my list!
How to Plan Your Meals a Month at at Time
Are you ready to try planning your meals a month at a time? Here’s what you need to do:
Opt for a Digital Calendar
Choose a monthly digital calendar. You could do a pretty paper version that you display in your kitchen, but you’ll have to take the time to write all of your meals down for every. single. month of the year. And then, when the year is over, you’ll toss that calendar AND all the work you dedicated to planning your meals all year. (Plus, I’ve got a super cute WEEKLY menu printable freebie for you to use below!) I HIGHLY recommend keeping your monthly meal plan digitally. I keep mine in Numbers on my iPad.
Here’s why: now that I have been doing this for more than a year, I don’t ever have to go and type in all of the meals for a month. I just change the year of the calendar month and keep the exact same menu! Trust me, no one remembers what we ate a year ago!! This little hack literally takes seconds. I’ve got a monthly meal plan faster than the kids can ask, “What’re we having for dinner?”!
Sure, I may move some things around each month to reflect our vacations or other scheduled events that vary from year to year. And for variety, I typically add 2 or 3 new meals to try during the month. But making a few simple tweaks is SO much quicker than coming up with a whole new plan. So choose your digital platform and create a blank monthly calendar. Easy!
Make 3 Lists
Next, make 3 lists of meals. One will be a list of meals that you eat year-round that the majority of people in your family enjoy. (I’ve yet to meet a family where all of the kids like all of the same things …. what would that even be like?!)
The second list is for meals you love to serve when the weather is cold. Think of warm, yummy comfort foods like this enchilada casserole. Don’t forget to add soup to your cold weather meals list too! My absolute favorite is this delightful paleo chili that is sure to warm you from the inside out.
The third list you will make is for meals you enjoy making when the weather is hot. Think of grilled meats and veggies, cool salads, and picnic foods. I highly recommend this amazing Greek-style grilled chicken salad from CookingforMySoul.com and these mouth-watering Monterey chicken sandwiches from Le Creme de la Crumb.
You want your all-season list to have about 20 meals on it. Aim for at least 15 meals on each of your cold weather and warm weather seasonal lists.
Place Meals on your Calendar
Next, populate your calendar with the meals you’d like to serve each day. I enjoy making theme days to make this process even quicker: Tuesdays are often Mexican-inspired, Wednesdays are Italian meals, Fridays are variations of homemade pizza, Sundays are often some type of breakfast food. Seasonal or new meals typically fall on Mondays and Thursdays because those are the least busy days for our family. Sticking to theme days makes planning our meals a month in advance very easy!
Definitely modify your theme days to fit your weekly commitments! Remember, if you do this on a digital calendar, you will only need to create a monthly meal plan 12 times (once at the start of each month). Once you have a years’ worth, you only need to change the year of the calendar in your program and you’ll be set in seconds!!
Post a Weekly Meal Plan in Your Kitchen
Get a weekly meal calendar to display in your kitchen. (There’s a super cute FREE printable one down below! You can even pick your own color!) Print it out and frame it. All you need is a dry-erase marker so you can write directly on the glass. Just wipe it off each week and you’ll be good to go! My 11-year-old especially loves to see what we will be eating in advance.
At the start of each week, I consult my monthly digital meal plan so I can write it out on my framed weekly planner. If I see that we’ve had some new events pop up, or that I’ve got a ton of extra grilled chicken leftover, I can quickly and easily modify my plan. I already have a baseline established in my monthly calendar. If I know the weather is going to be chilly, I may add a meal from our cold-weather list. The process of writing our weekly menu takes less than 5 minutes when I already have it created in my monthly digital format. Saving time as a mom = it’s a beautiful thing.
I hope you’ll try this! Are you ready to start planning your meals a month at a time?