MONTHLY MEAL PLAN
[Confessions of a Mama of 8]
Stress, frustration, tears, and woe: this was my frequent reality at dinner time because the food wasn’t ready, my people were crying from hungriness and low-blood sugar, and I was trying to fight through a new recipe. With meat that wasn’t thawed yet because I had forgotten to plan ahead.
If any of this rings a bell with you, read on!
I never used to meal plan until this past year. In fact, I’ve been trying to figure out a meal planning method that actually worked for my life (feeding 10 people daily, a wide range of cuisines we love, lots of littles, a couple of picky-eaters) that I could maintain.
It is with great joy I now share with you the successful method I have found, hoping you find some helpful ideas too! Adapt and modify it as you need for your own life. This is supposed to lessen your stress, not increase it.
1. Schedule about 30 minutes to meal plan for the first time (this is only because of the extra time making the Menu Guide List that you will use each time thereafter). After this first time, it should be relatively faster – more like 15 mins, or less!
2. Assess your current season of life. Be very honest. Do you have infants, young children, erratic schedules, late night commitments, or heavy workloads?
Do you deal with special food requirements due to allergies/sensitivities, or super picky people? Is it easy for you to get to the store/get groceries or will you be trying to use produce or food you raised or already have a lot of?
Is it cold outside (scheduling soups, stews, chilis, etc) or warm (planning salads, outdoor grilling, lighter fare)? What do you have on hand in your pantry/freezer?
3. Make your Menu Guide List, keeping your current season and what you already have on hand in mind. This means simplify and go for maximum efficiency over fancy or complicated meals.
Try to get at least 10-15 regular meals that you and your family eat and generally enjoy. Ask your children for their suggestions and input, if you want (I do – it helps me remember meals I forget about, and also lets them feel involved and less likely to complain about what’s planned!)
Some friends I have use a smaller number of repeating meals. I tend to go bigger – often using up to 20 meals. Make this list ideal for you, and keep it in a place you can reference often!
*UPDATE your Menu Guide List as your life/schedule/the weather changes. Be honest about meals that just aren’t working well for you anymore, and need either updating or replacing.
An important category to include on your Menu Guide List is your Hero Meals! These are the 3-4 meals that you can make quickly or easily that are generally well-liked by a majority of your family, which you always have ingredients for, that you can make without stress. If it’s something that you find easy and enjoyable, put it on the list. Try to get at least 3. And find a cape to wear when you make them – one of our favorites are these amazing baked hamburgers!
4. Find a calendar format you want to use (Google calendar, a paper calendar, a monthly planner, your phone, whatever you find works well for you), and note the days that already have appointments or commitments – anything that will impact your time to prepare an evening meal.
5. Begin putting in your Hero meals on the days that will contain the highest stress-level or the shortest available prep-time.
6. Fill in any days that are “Family Tradition” meal days – like Taco Tuesdays, or Pizza Fridays, or Leftover Mondays… whatever it is that you routinely make or eat on a specific day, write those in! Our Friday tradition is this amazing al fresco-style supper!
7. Plug in the meals from your Menu Guide List on the rest of the days, trying to keep a rational flow – For example, if you’re having a roast on one night and you know you’ll have leftovers, plan a basic stew or nachos with the leftover meat within a day or two afterwards.
CONGRATULATIONS! You did it! An entire month of meals planned and suddenly you’re feeling empowered and positive about the weeks to come because you know that you have a plan in place!