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!