Welcome back for the continuation on our series discussing the importance and how-to’s of simplifying your life. So far we have talked about the reason for it all, living simply in order to give generously of our time and resources, simplifying by communing, planning, slowing down and finally simplifying the schedule.
I have found that menu planning on a monthly basis is an excellent way to simplifying menu planning!
- Less trips to the store -saving gas and time (which is especially important during this time in our economy)!
- Less time in preparing weekly menus
I find it most effective for our family to compile a monthly list of meal ideas (read more about this here & here). I choice 4 weeks of ideas around dinner themes. I purchase the ingredients (meat & pantry items) for all these recipes once a month. Most of my pantry items are purchased through Azure Standard (a wonderful resource for natural food products!), but I get some dairy products (butter, sour cream) and pantry items (maple syrup, peanut butter, hot dogs, etc) from my local Trader Joe’s. I compile a monthly grocery shopping list of all the items needed for those dinners that goes with me to the store (printed nicely on the computer), or to which I refer when placing my order with Azure, noting which items I am low on.
When I sit down for my weekly menu planning on Sunday evening, I refer to my monthly list of dinner ideas and select which ones will work for the week (evaluating what I have on hand -sometimes they just run out before hand, or depending upon what seasonal produce I might get that week). For example, Monday is main dish salad night, so I have three options on my list: Taco Salad, Southwest Chicken Salad, Chicken Caesar Salad, which means one will be served twice during the month. Other dinner themes I have four different options, so it is only prepared once a month. Or if it is a hubby favorite, like pizza, it will be repeated twice a month. Vegetable side dishes are prepared depending upon what produce is in season, but I will write either fresh, stemmed, or baked as most appropriate for the main dish.
I normally take a second trip to the farmer’s market or local produce stand for a few extra produce/fruit items half way through the month (as these items don’t last four whole weeks!), but the first of the month is my main stocking up shopping day.
I love monthly planning – it takes the stress out of planning and shopping week by week. As we are striving to eat as nutritionally as possible, we don’t have as much access to sales, so weekly shopping according to sales does not work for us (and also can be more time consuming, but can be very effective for some). Buying locally provides us with the cheapest price on quality products because it doesn’t have to travel so far. I normally stick to a winter monthly menu and a spring monthly menu (which I have yet to post ;( ), so I only have to sit down and make a master list twice a year! There definitely is some flexibility as I like to try new things every once in a while, but still working around my themes. If I try an good recipe, then I add it to the monthly list and rotate something else! For example, I recently tried a lentil dish that we really enjoyed, so it was added to the monthly routine!
I usually serve 1-2 meatless dinners per week, and one main dish salad (meat is very limited on this dish, stretching it further, and lots of vegis included) to stretch the budget, but I haven’t mastered it all yet. Here are my dinner themes that simplify the weekly meal planning:
Monday – Stir Fry/Main Dish Salad
Tuesday – Soup
Wednesday – Fish/Lentils
Thursday – Mexican/Chicken/Casserole
Friday – Special Dinner Night (usually Italian at our place!)
Other themes could include: crockpot, Italian, etc.
I like to keep Breakfasts and lunches the same each week for simplicity sake as follows:
Monday – kefir smoothie, bread (muffin, bagel, or toast)
Tuesday – Oatmeal w/raisins & apples
Wednesday – kefir smoothie, bread (muffin, bagel, or toast)
Thursday – Oatmeal w/raisins & apples
Friday – Kefir smoothie, Eggs or French Toast
Saturday – Pancakes
Lunches are a bit more flexible, as often times we will have leftovers on hand to eat from a previous meal, but if not, I follow these ideas:
Monday – Hot Dogs, baked beans or chili, fruit/vegi
Tuesday – Egg Salad Sandwiches, juiced vegi & fruit
Wednesday – Salmon Melts or Tomato Soup & grilled cheese/ham sandwiches, fruit, salad
Thursday- Quesadillas, burritos, or baked potato bar (chili, cheese, lettuce, misc toppings)
Friday – Peanut Butter & Jelly or regular sandwiches
Saturday – Leftovers
1. Figure out dinner themes to work from
2. Make a list of 4 ideas for each of those themes
3. Compile a master shopping list for the items needed to make those meals
4. Limit your shopping to one major stocking day, and one small refiller day in a months time!
Obviously this might not work for everyone, but it sure has simplified my menu planning process! Other methods I have may have tried or heard of in the past include haphazardly going to the store and picking items off the shelf, and then getting home and realizing I have forgotten something (wasting time and money), or collecting all the sales flyers and having to start from stratch with just the knowledge of a main ingredient that is on sale, but still having to figure what that main ingredient can be for which recipe, or just laying out tons of cookbooks in front of me and getting stressed over which to make and when.
Personally, these methods added a little too much stress to my life. So my monthly planning works wonderfully for our family!
Other Menu Planning Ideas & Resources:
Weekly Menu Planning – by Crystal Paine
Healthy & Frugal Menu Planning Help & Part 2- by Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home
Printable Monthly Menu Form
Printable Weekly Menu Form
Menu Planning: Saving Time in the Kitchen
Menu Planning Made Easy
Do you have any helpful tips for simplifying menu planning? Please share, no matter whatmethod you use!
I have tried all of the methods you mentioned that you tried in the past! I waver between sale paper confusion, cookbook frenzies, and bouts of farmers market impulse shopping. We decided that we need some structure, because we aren’t equipped for good eating at home and end up going out a lot and wasting money. I like your system a lot, and I think I will definitely give it a try
Hello. First off I love your blog and I enjoy seeing new posts. I was wondering if you have had a chance to post your spring meal plan yet? I would love to see it for inspiration.
Just wondering what you do for meals on Sundays.
Most often we have leftovers on Sunday. Currently our church services are in the afternoon, so we have a late breakfast and then pack a dinner for our after church picnic.
First I just came upon your blog today and I have enjoyed it very much. You have some great ideas. I am in some need of idea’s right now. We travel to church every Sunday, sense we travel some distance, because of gas, we stay all day. I make meals to go, there for we don’t spend the money going ou to eat, I have ran out of ideas for cheap meals for on Sunday would you have any??
If you like cold quiche, that’s great. Also cold pizza, quesadillas, and stromboli. Pasta salad usually isn’t too pricey (depending on what you put in it)– our family does pasta salad a lot for “meals on the go.” Veggies and crackers dipped in hummus. Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit is very filling and doesn’t have to be expensive (if you get your ingredients in bulk).
You have inspired me to set out a standard breakfast and lunch plan for each week. I have been menu planning my dinners for years but often the other meals are neglected. I think this is really going to help!
Will you be posting a Summer Menu Plan?
I recently found your blog and have enjoyed reading your posts. I usually plan my menus weekly (a la Flylady), but this sounds like a good idea as well. I’m a bit spontaneous and so I don’t know if I would want to do a whole month at once, but I could see planning a couple weeks at a time.
I don’t think I could manage shopping for a whole month at once, either. We live in a small apartment and don’t have much pantry space and my freezer is tiny!
Great post, Lindsay! I have found that my life is much smoother with an adequate menu plan. I also do much better on my grocery bill!
I am learning so much about how to incorporate real food into our diet from your blog. So thank you for all of the helfpul information you post!
I have a question about snacks. Do you plan those in as well? Does your family snack? We are are big snackers here so I am always interested in finding healthier options for us!
This is a great idea. I have several friends that do the once a month menu planning, and I always have felt very overwhelmed with planning more than a week. But having themes for each day and then picking out variations on the theme sounds very manageable! And it would let me know how much money I have left in the budget for the rest of the month to spend on items I forgot or the farmer’s market. Thanks for the help!
Wow, once again nice to know I am not alone or a freak – lol I use this same method, but twice a month.
I too use the “dinner themes” idea and have found it very helpful in organizing my thoughts when I sit down to plan – weekly so far but I would love to work up to monthly. I like what another commenter said about “sneaking up” on once a month shopping by easing into bulk purchases.
Great ideas! I’m in the process of learning to meal plan. I’m a good cook but a bad meal planner! Its a work in progress!
Love it! I will definitely be back later when I have more time to read!
i’ve been reading your blog for a while even though i don’t know you…i got the link from tammiesrecipes…i really enjoy all that you share. After reading this post and the one a few days back about making your natural food go further, i was wondering if you feel confident that you’re getting enough calcium and protien for a nursing/pregnant mother? Do you take vitamins? I often struggle with the ballance of wanting to eat all organic/natural and not wanting to spend a fortune on groceries…i don’t buy conveinience foods but for instance i really like having a stock of frozen veggies (non-organic) on-hand as it saves washing, peeling, chopping time. I used to get a farmer’s basket of fresh stuff, but i sometimes wasted things either b/c I waited too long to use it or i didn’t really know what to do with a certain vegetable (i didn’t have internet at the time for reference). I’ve got 3 littles under 3 and so anything that saves me time is great! Back to the protien question…i got frustrated “going organic” b/c it seemed like i really had to work a lot harder and serve more “boring” meals (=lots of beans, which i don’t digest very well) and it cost me the same if not MORE than just eating a “normal” diet. I’m not really “complaining” to you, just wondering if you’ve felt this hurdle at all. At first it’s fun to see how far a gallon of milk will go, but then when it’s month after month and the kids are eating a LOT more and you realize you can get 3 or 4 times the amount for the same price,non-organic… i would like to be more consistent…i have a mini guilt trip when i buy the cheapest butter, but i buy free-range eggs…but even that can change from week to week!
thanks for the time you spend sharing your life, i’m often encouraged, j.
I understand that challenges that you are facing currently, and I want to encourage you that none of us have it all figured out! I am constantly seeking out the input of others it seems. It is definitely a worthwhile pursuit though to make the best quality food for your little family! So keep up the good work!
To address your questions more fully than space allows here, I will send you an e-mail.
I’ve been giving some very serious consideration to doing this as well. My main motivating factor is gas prices, but I also like the simplicity of it. Because I’m used to shopping weekly, I’ve been “sneaking up” on once a month shopping. Each week, I choose one or two things to stock up on that will last the entire month. This way I can gradually get used to how much we need of each item for the whole month. Like you, we buy whole, organic foods, so sale prices are non-existent. Although sometimes I luck in and get nearly expired food, or dented packaging for half price. The main thing that I find tricky is that we are vegetarian, so fresh produce comprises most of our diet. But I figure even if I do once a month shopping for pantry and freezer staples, I can visit the Farmer’s Market weekly to get the fresh stuff. And hopefully we’ll have our own garden soon, so we won’t even need to do that.
Great post! I do mine weekly and sometimes if I’m “inspired” I’ll do it every two weeks.
Definitely saves a LOT of time and money.
I find I carry over meals sometimes because we’ll decide on the spur of the moment to go out with friends!
I also realize how much better I shop if I make a menu ahead of time. But I am no always so successfull.
I do almost the same thing, but I have yet to start my monthly stock up grocery trip. I am working on getting there. Right now I do coupon some, but I don’t think it works very well for me.