Menu planning isn’t rocket science, and it doesn’t have to feel like torture, either. Here are step-by-step instructions, plus super helpful tips and tricks, to make once-a-month menu planning work for you.
Before You Plan
Make a Pinterest Board (or two)
Menu planning is so much easier if you have a bank of recipes to draw from. I get that thinking up 25 or 30 recipes in one sitting is tough. When you have those recipes already gathered in a couple places, it just becomes a matter of assigning recipes to each day. That’s much more doable.
This is where Pinterest comes in. I have two boards that I regularly reference when I create our monthly menus: a tried and true recipes board, where I pin recipes we’ve tried and love, and a recipes to try board, where I save recipes I definitely want to try in the next month or two.
To get yourself ready for month-at-a-time meal planning, make a couple boards similar to mine. Take a bit of time to go through your other food boards and repin applicable content to those new boards, and keep the boards in mind as you browse Pinterest throughout the month. You want a hefty amount of recipes to draw from when you sit down to make your menu.
While You Plan
Fill in What You Know
Start by filling in the nights that are already set. If you eat supper every Wednesday night at church, or Sundays are extended family dinners, write those in.
Next, take care of special events. For instance, last month was December. I knew we’d be eating Christmas Eve and Christmas dinners with family. In addition, we had at least a couple other family gatherings thrown in.
Just doing that will probably take care of at least a few nights throughout the month. Go ahead and add in pre-planned meals, too: Taco Tuesday, Homemade Pizza Friday, etc.
Hit Up Pinterest
Visit those boards you made and begin to assign a recipe to each day. Begin with new recipes you want to try and add in as many as you feel comfortable with. I aim to try one new recipe each week; don’t plan more new recipes than you can realistically tackle.
Next, fill in every remaining blank days with recipes your family has tried and loved. I plan supper for every night, even though I know we’ll resort to frozen pizza or eating out at least once or twice throughout the month (more on that below).
After You Plan
Take a Look
When you’ve scheduled a meal for every night of the month, it’s time to display your menu in a prominent place. You can hang it on the fridge, you can make a DIY dry erase calendar, or you can buy a magnetic monthly calendar. Just make sure you can see it easily (if you want to avoid that pesky “what’s for dinner?” make sure to hang it where everyone can see it.)
Make a List
Now that you know what you’re cooking for the month, make a grocery list of every ingredient you need, minus the ones you already have on hand. At the beginning of the month, shop for everything for the whole month, leaving off anything perishable that won’t be used before it spoils. The only trips you’ll have to make to the store throughout the month will be for those perishables, plus things you’ll likely run out of, like milk or eggs.
Tips and Tricks
- Use what you have. To maximize the money-saving aspect of meal-planning, you’ll want to take stock of what you have and plan meals around that. Check out your pantry and your fridge and make sure you include recipes to use those items, especially the ingredients that need to be used in the next several weeks.
- Plan for the whole product. To ensure I don’t waste food, I plan more than one recipe using the same product. For example, if I buy Texas toast to make French toast, I’ll plan club sandwiches as well, to use the rest of the loaf of bread. If I buy buttermilk to make homemade ranch dressing, I’ll also plan pancakes to use the rest of the buttermilk.
- Don’t plan for leftovers or eating out. Even though we’re bound to have leftovers at least a couple times a month, and we always end up eating out at least once, I don’t put those things in my menu plan. For one, I never know when we’ll have leftovers. Sometimes we eat more than I anticipate, or I end up packing leftovers for my lunch. The reason for not planning eating out is simple: the choice to go out is often spontaneous, so I’m not able to build it into my menu plan.
- Plan with your schedule in mind. No one knows your family like you do, so keep those quirks in mind as you plan. For example, we’re all so tired by the time Thursday evening rolls around. Even more tired than Friday, for some reason, probably because by Friday we’re invigorated by the weekend. With that in mind, I always plan something easy on Thursday, like breakfast-for-dinner or green chile chicken taquitos from the freezer.
Don’t miss the rest of the posts in this series, like: Cooking Tips for People Who Don’t Like to Cook and Tips for Getting Dinner on the Table (When You Don’t Feel Like Cooking).
What’s your menu-planning strategy? If you don’t menu plan, what’s holding you back? I’d love to hear from you!
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