First things first, I want to ask you to hang with me because I know we are tackling a daunting topic today: meal planning for an entire month!
Now I hear you and all your objections and concerns: I can hardly meal plan for a week, how am I supposed to meal plan for a month!? Don’t worry, I’m going to walk you through a step-by-step process with tips that apply to both short and long-range planning.
We have a free printable from the October Monthly Pack in the Sweet Life Society to get you started. You can click here to download it!
Are you ready? Let’s dive in!
Pull Out Your Planner
The first place I’m going to have you go isn’t to the grocery store, your shopping list, or even your pantry. It’s to your calendar. We need to get a good look at how the upcoming month is going to look.
Are you taking any trips? Are friends coming into town? Do you have any upcoming medical procedures or maybe a project deadline at work? All these factors are going to affect your meal planning (and your meal eating!) Go ahead and mark out days on your meal plan that you know you’ll be out of town and maybe put a little star next to any days you’ll be expecting extra guests.
Don’t stress too much about pinning down every single weeknight for the next month, just give yourself a good overview of which nights you’re going to need to have something on hand for dinner.
Top 4 Favorites
You know your family and what they eat pretty well. I have found that when I try and get fancy and branch out with brand new foods all week long, I’m begging for some Chipotle by Tuesday!
What four meals does your family eat every time, without fail? Plan to have each of them twice throughout the month – I can assure you that nobody is going to complain to see their favorite on their plate more than once! Write in those favorites, and that already knocks out ¼ of your meal planning for the month!
Plan Your Flex Nights
Now think through your typical week. In my family, a lot of the guys play softball on Monday nights, and depending on the week we may go out for dinner as a group – but that sure isn’t planned a month in advance!
This is where flex nights are so handy. A flex night is a night where you have something prepped and ready to pop in the oven that can easily go into the freezer to be saved for another time if needed.
If you often have evenings where your schedule is up in the air until rather late notice – plan “freezer meals” or low-to-no prep meals for. Spaghetti and meatballs is always a quick win, but the ingredients can keep for a long while. A lasagna prepped in the morning can easily go into the oven or the freezer that night. It’s like freezer cooking without the all-day meal prep!
Do you shudder to think of purposefully serving leftovers as a meal? Here’s the thing – by meal planning effectively, leftover night will be packed full with options so everyone can have a bit of what they’re craving! Schedule one night a week to be leftover night and clear out the fridge! Less food waste – less money on groceries – and less meal planning for you!
What if there aren’t any leftovers? This is where those meals you didn’t use on a flex night are a life saver! Take whatever meal didn’t get cooked, pop it in the oven, and dinner should be ready in an hour!
Plan a Break
You know one of the things that seems most exhausting about meal planning for an entire month? The thought of cooking for an entire month!
Here’s the thing – while meal planning is a great tool to help you eat wholesome, home cooked food more often, it doesn’t mean you can’t even treat yourself to a dinner out. Be sure to plan some breaks in there for yourself – maybe your family loves to order pizza, or you and your hubby could use a nice date night out! Be kind to your future self and make sure you have a few nights off!
Try Something New
Now then, what to do with the remaining days? So far we’ve set aside 2 days a week for family favorites, 2 days a week for quick and easy flex meals, 1 day a week for leftovers, and a smattering of days you’ve scheduled in as a break. I’m guessing you don’t have more than 5 to 7 days left to fill out, if that!
These are the days where I’d encourage you to grab that new Pinterest recipe you’ve been wanting to try and give it a whirl. Just like it’s good to make sure that you’ve got some tried and true favorites throughout the month, you never know what the next crazy easy and crazy delicious meal will be unless you try!
The Grocery Shopping and The Follow Through
Now, the grocery trip for a whole months worth of food if going to be a bit of an undertaking, but by doing all this pre-planning, you’ve actually set yourself up to save money!
We all know that buying in bulk is the best way to get lower prices – but who really needs 10 lbs of peanut butter!? As you’re writing up your shopping list, you’ll probably see similar items popping up over and over again. Combine quantities and go for the big tub of sour cream and the family size of chicken – and enjoy the savings and the peace of mind knowing that you’ll use everything you’re buying!
Be sure to post your meal plan on the fridge so everyone (including you!) can clearly see what’s for dinner – and do your best to stick to it! But remember that if you miss a day, following a meal plan for 23 days is better than following a meal plan for 10 days straight and then falling off the wagon entirely.
Keep at it, and happy eating!
If you'd like our entire monthly pack (plus access to the archives and much more), you can join our Sweet Life Society here.
Admittedly “monthly pack” is a rather vague description of what you’re getting. So I hope this series provides clarification and gives you some ideas on how to use each piece of the pack. This way you can see what you’ll be getting as soon as you decide to make the leap and join us in the Sweet Life Planner Society!
Read Part 1 – Reflection
Read Part 2 – Monthly Spread
Read Part 3 – Coloring Page
Read Part 4 – Weekly Plan
Read Part 5 – Shopping List
Read Part 6 – Chore Chart
Read Part 7 – Overview Page
Read Part 8 – Grocery List Template