Meal planning takes up a lot of time. Over the last 5 years of my married life, I’ve tried numerous new recipes. In fact, during our first year of marriage I never once repeated a meal (besides our homemade pizza, and we varied the toppings)!! While that is all and good (and I’m glad I had that experience), I don’t have the time these days for that kind of planning and cooking. I have 2 boys under the age of 2 1/2. My husband and I are both involved in ministry at our church (and host our neighborhood church half of the time). Plus I’m trying to carve out time for writing and studying for my doula certification. We are busy.
If the meal planning is done, then I can spend my time thinking on others things, working on projects, or attending to my kids. And, not only do I want to menu plan ahead of time to save my sanity, but I want to meal plan to save money. When a meal doesn’t get done, we end up:
- spending money because we go out to eat OR
- spending more money because I buy ingredients inefficiently
I’ve done once-a-month cooking before, but it’s not very feasible right now. BUT I can still do once-a-month planning, OR what about even better – Once-a-year meal planning!! I’ve come across the concept of seasonal menu planning before, and last Winter/Spring I tried it out. I don’t think I exactly stuck to my menu plan, but it definitely helped me in planning out all the freezer meals I wanted to have ready to go before the baby arrived in March. And I did have a stocked freezer when Ebron arrived! So, I count it as successful.
At the beginning of December, one night when insomnia was rearing its ugly head, I decided to sit down and try this once-a-year meal planning concept, building upon the seasonal planning. Here, I’ll break down the steps for you so you don’t have to do it all at once like I did.
Step 1) Make a list of all of your family’s favorite meals
This step may take some time (especially if you have your recipes in various locations like I did). You want to have a long list of recipe ideas (so you don’t repeat the same meals too often). If you are like me and plan on making enough for leftovers a couple nights each week, you will want to plan 22-26 meals per season, which means you will repeat each meal 3 times for that season. I chose to have almost an entire new set of meals for each season, so I have a total of 90 recipes. Now, if you are having a hard time coming up with 90 recipes, don’t fret – move on to step 2 and that will probably help you round out your list!
Step 2) Plan out your 4 week seasonal rotation
Since my husband and kids don’t want to eat Mexican 3 nights in a row (I wouldn’t mind!), I wanted to plan out weekly “themes” for dinner. You’ve probably heard this before – having Taco Tuesday, pizza on the weekend, etc. And I just planned this across 4 weeks, which I’m going to repeat three times for the season. Here is what I came up with:
Week 1 Week 2
Monday – leftovers Monday – leftovers
Tuesday – Taco Tuesday Tuesday – Italian
Wednesday – Soup/Stew/Grill Wednesday – Asian
(depending on the season) Thursday – leftovers
Thursday – leftovers Friday – Sandwich
Friday – Salad Saturday – Pizza
Saturday – Pizza Sunday – Crockpot
Sunday – Crockpot
Week 3 Week 4
Monday – leftovers Monday – leftovers
Tuesday – Pasta Tuesday – Italian
Wednesday – Tex Mex Wednesday – Beef
Thursday – leftovers Thursday – leftovers
Friday – Fish Friday – Brinner
Saturday – Pizza Saturday – Pizza
Sunday – Crockpot Sunday – Crockpot
Once you have this mapped out, it will be easier to fill in the gaps for what kind of recipes you want to add to your list. I made sure that for each season I had 3 Italian or pasta recipes, at least 1 Asian recipe, 1 fish recipe, at least 1 salad recipe, 4 crockpot recipes, etc. – corresponding to my rotation plan. I’m hoping this all makes sense.
I made a handy printable so you could fill this out as you go – 1 page for each of the seasons. The top part of the page you can list your weekly themes and the bottom part has enough space to write out the 22-26 meals you will make for that season. If you want to download, click here.
Step 3) Write in your meals for each season
Make sure you don’t have too many repeat meal across the different seasons. Remember, for each meal you write on this page, you are going to be making 3 times in that season (so, about once a month for 3 months). I did have spaghetti on two different seasons (that’s a meal we don’t mind repeating), and of course we have different variations of pizza for each season: Black Olive, Pepperoni and Peppers Pizza, BBQ Chicken Pizza, Meal Lovers Pizza, etc.
So, it will look like this:
Step 4) Get out a calendar for the current season and fill in meals according to weekly themes
Or, you can do what I did for my first time (this was for my winter seasonal meal, which runs from Dec – end of Feb):
Step 5) Weekly (or monthly) write the grocery list
The great thing about this system is that you can buy the ingredients in bulk ahead of time, since you know exactly what the plan is! Or, you can just take it week by week. It’s up to you. I like that the stress and decision about what to plan is already made. You can just work with plan. Or, if you are like me – every other week you may choose to replace one of the meals with a new one you found. But, in the busy times you’ve got your plan set. 🙂
BONUS TIP: When you make a meal, you could also double or triple the recipe, and freeze the extra meals. That way the second or third time comes around for that meal, so are ready to go with a freezer meal!
How do you meal plan?