Planning a Month of Dinners

Plan Monthly, Shop Weekly

I am a planner.  I like to know what’s in store, what I’m going to need, and how much it’s going to cost.  You can ask my children: I’m forever making lists, calculating expenses and plotting times.  I’ve typically shopped weekly, until fairly recently, but I have been making monthly menu plans for many, many years.  I don’t have a lot of repeats in my meal plan, and monthly planning kind of simplifies the process for me.  I spend an hour or so plotting meals and then I don’t have to think about it again until next month.  Doing the weekly shopping is just a matter of looking at the plan, writing down what I need, and getting it.  If I’ve made the recipe enough times, I know what I need right off the top of my head.  If it’s new, I just make a note about where the recipe is so I can look it up.

I start with my calendar.  Any calendar will do.  I’ve used a dry-erase calendar, the free religious art calendars they give away at church, the monthly calendar in my planner, and a blank sheet of paper with the numbers 1-31 listed down the side.  Whatever is easiest for whatever season of life I’m in.  (The dry-erase board went out the window when the family schedule got too complicated; not enough room to keep track!)  Next, I make note of any activities that will keep me out of the house at or near the time I need to be prepping dinner.  I’ll need to plan a quick, freezer, or slow cooker meal for those nights.  I also take into account anything I haven’t used from the last month that I want or need to get rid of.

Yes, there were recipes that I did not actually get around to making last month, and that’s important.  You see, a monthly meal plan is just a guide.  I have no idea what is actually going to happen in the future.  I’m making a plan based on the best information available at the time, but things change.  Children get sick, somebody stops in at dinner time, we get invited to other events, we come home later than expected, and sometimes I’m just plain tired, and then I have to adjust the plan to accommodate the new circumstances.  Maybe I grab an easy meal planned for another day, maybe I pull something already prepared out of the freezer, maybe I make something entirely unplanned just because I saw it on pinterest.  The plan is not carved in stone.  It’s a guide designed to make my life easier, to remove the necessity of thinking about dinner each and every day, and I am not a slave to it.  I can change my mind if I want to.  I will change my mind.  It’s guaranteed.  But I will cook the majority of the meals I planned for, and I will be grateful that there was a plan in place so that I didn’t have to think about it, and any meals that I didn’t make become freebies for next month.  Do not let your plan become a burden when its whole purpose to make life easier!

That covers the weekend! Now we can start on the weekday meals.

So I have a calendar, I have the schedule for the month… Let’s make a plan!

I like to start by writing in the easiest days – Saturday pizza night!  Pizza, pizza, pizza.  Some months, I get lucky and there are FIVE pizza days, but in May, there are only four.  Boo.  Next, I start in on those pesky meatless Fridays.  I don’t know why meatless days are so hard, as i have quite a repertoire of vegetarian meals, but it’s like when it’s mandatory, all those meal ideas fly right out of my head.  I should start a list.  That would definitely be easier.  Then, I deal with the Sundays, when I like to have a “bigger” meal, more of a meat-and-potatoes type of meal, but I don’t want to spend all day cooking.

That done, I fill in the rest of the days, keeping in mind things we like to eat, anticipated busyness of the day, and variety in the menu.  I don’t like to have the same kind of food over and over.  In fact, you’ll notice that I don’t repeat any meals during the month, except the salmon patties.  Of these 31 meals, we only had eight of them in April, so there is a lot of variety from month to month, as well as within the month.

Some blurry iPod shots of my planner. We don’t have any evening activities scheduled, though we might end up at a library program or two. If we do, I’ll adjust as we get to it.  Click to enlarge.

You can absolutely feel free to repeat dishes throughout the month as often as you are comfortable repeating.  I also like to plan a few things that freeze well so that I have meals “in the bank” when I need them.  It helps to have a list of recipes to work from; I’ve been cataloging mine in OneNote for easy recovery and less paper in the house.  You can just write them down in a notebook, though, too.  I like to start by asking the kids what they like.  It’s always surprising.

Any questions?  How far out do you typically plan meals for?  How much variety do you usually work in?  What is/are your go-to meal(s) on busy days?  And do you go meatless on Fridays, too?  (I have questions.  Lots of questions. 😉 )

PS: My go-to hard-day meal is soup.  I’ve always got broth in the freezer, and I can make soup in endless variety out of almost anything available.  If I ever end up all alone, I will probably eat nothing but soup and toast.  ♥


2 Comment

  1. Thanks for posting your dinner ideas. It’s always neat to see what other families eat on a regular basis.
    I keep a menu on an Excel spreadsheet and updated it monthly. Much like you, I start with the easy stuff (pizza!) and fill in the days when we’ll be busy. My family doesn’t like red meat very much, but I try to sneak in one meal a week with it, then other days are chicken, smoked sausage or pasta. We got out of the habit on meatless Fridays but we’re starting it again now that the Octave of Easter is over.

  2. I have a complicated relationship with meal planning. It tends to work well for me in the winter. I plan for each week. I should do it all year because I am reeeeally good at wasting precious time and brain power having my daily “I don’t know what to make for lunch” freak out. I have those very often if I do not plan. Plans, however, are complicated by the flea market in warm months. They have different stuff every week. One week I might get a case of asparagus, another week the beets are great so I have to make borscht, some weeks there are mushrooms and some there are not…I should plan on Wednesdays when I get home with my loot, but I end up cleaning out the fridge instead. I love having plans but I’m bad at remembering to make them.
    I like LOTS of variety. I love cooking foods from all around the world and trying new things. My go-tos in a hurry are my one cheater meal-boxed pasta with jarred sauce (adding country sausage), a simple pasta dish with what’s on hand, potato soup or kugel, or just an eggy breakfast type meal.
    And your PS-YES. Exactly. Another great thing about it is usually, you can make a whole meal (or two!) using nothing but a pot, spoon, knife and cutting board.

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