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Monthly Meal Plan

How to Quickly Make a Monthly Meal Plan in 5 Painless Steps

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Does the thought of taking the time to make a monthly meal plan make you cringe? Me too! It used to give me anxiety, but not anymore.

As we’ll see, making a monthly meal plan does not have to take hours of tedious work and scheduling. Once I give myself the time to actually sit down with the calendar and start planning, it really only takes about 30 minutes to schedule a month’s worth of meals! The first time I made our monthly plan for dinner was definitely the hardest, but it’s one of those things that gets easier with time.

Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through step-by-step until you’re a meal plan pro!

5 Benefits of a Monthly Meal Plan

Since you’re here, I’m guessing you already know some of the benefits of planning your meals ahead of time and putting together a monthly meal plan. If not, there are a lot of reasons to do this, but here’s 5 of my favorite…

Take away “what are we having for dinner?”

It seems like I have to start thinking about dinner before I’ve even had breakfast – I have to first think of what I want to cook, thaw any frozen meat, and hope that I have all of the ingredients I need! It can be overwhelming, especially on busy days (which, seems like nearly every day lately).

With a monthly meal plan, you don’t have to worry about all that! Meat can be thawed the night before and you will have accounted for any needed ingredients (I hate those last-minute one-item grocery runs, don’t you?).

If your kids are of reading age, they can check out the calendar instead of constantly asking “what’s for dinner?”

how to quickly plan a month of meals

Eat healthier

Confession: when we don’t have a plan for dinner, I am way more tempted to just go through a drive-thru or order pizza. I mean, makes sense, doesn’t it? Not only that, but meals made at home are generally healthier than if you ordered the same thing at a restaurant.

Depending on your lifestyle, you may choose to make dinners that are keto-friendly, low calorie or fat, or use all natural or organic ingredients. When you take the time to plan your meals monthly, you are able to purposefully prepare meals that better fit your health and fitness goals.

Save money

This one is huge! Maybe I should have made it #1, haha.

In our family, we have a certain amount of money each month for eating out. When I don’t have something planned for dinner, we seem to go through it super quickly. It’s kind of crazy that the same meal I may pay $10 for, would cost me about $3 to make at home.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with eating out. But, a monthly meal plan allows you the freedom to make it a choice and not a matter of necessity when everyone is getting hangry (that’s hungry to the point of angry, haha).

Less waste

Has anyone else ever bought groceries (especially produce) only to have them slowly rot and wilt before they’re used? Oh, only me? I don’t believe you. I’ve found some sad looking peppers and onions before – sorry lil fellas.

A monthly meal plan helps you to only buy the ingredients you need and not waste money on things you might use before they go bad.

Gets easier with time

Making a monthly meal plan really does get easier with time as you get into a routine and find recipes that your family loves. This is one routine that will help you reclaim some of your time (and sanity) each time dinner rolls around.

How to Make a Monthly Meal Plan

begin a monthly meal plan

1. Get fresh calendar

Ah, a new month! Whether you prefer to physically write on your calendar or keep everything digital is entirely up to you, but bust out a fresh calendar.

If you’d like to use my free monthly meal planning printables, print or save them from the button below.

2. Fill in to-dos and schedule

Start by filling in any appointments, planned activities, and other scheduling items that may affect your monthly meal plan dinner schedule.

In our family, I really only plan dinners (more on that later). So I do not include morning appointments or early afternoon items – unless they’ll trickle over into dinnertime.

monthly meal plan scheduling

3. Set categories

Having categories based on all of the activities you just filled in can be extremely helpful! Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Casserole
  • Crockpot
  • Quick
  • Pasta
  • Mexican
  • Breakfast
  • Burger/Sandwich
  • Meat-less
  • Leftovers (yes, that’s a category you can include!)

For example, Tuesday and Thursday nights I teach my indoor cycling class, plus we either have t-ball and/or a devo with some of the teens from church. So, those nights especially I have to plan ahead and usually will have something made ahead of time or in the crockpot. Wednesday nights are hectic too with mid-week Bible class (my husband is a youth minister) so those are typically my “quick” meals such as grilled cheese, Hamburger Helper, hot dogs, frozen chicken nuggets, etc.

Write the categories you’ve picked for the month near the days of the week or in the space provided if using my monthly meal plan printables.

For even more amazing meal planning inspiration, check out this post by Kelli with the Kitchn.

4. Assign meals

monthly meal plan

Now that you’re armed with your categories and schedule, it’s time to start filling in those meals! Use the template you’ve already created for yourself and choose meals that will be achievable and realistic based on the day’s activities. The first time you do this will probably take you a little extra time as you start getting organized and finding your recipes.

Don’t forget, your plan can include meals such as leftovers or designated “eat out” days!

A monthly meal plan is a tool – use it in a way that best fits your family’s needs.

5. Make a grocery list

Mama, you’ve probably been making a grocery list for as long as you can remember. When making a monthly meal plan, this grocery list needs to include as many of the items in the recipes you’ve selected as possible in order to save you time-sucking trips to the store. You will probably have to go back a few times for milk, produce, and other more perishable items.

Take your time to list out ingredients needed and compare with what you already have on hand. It may take some time in the beginning, but save those lists so that you can breeze through this step next time.

I’ve found that having a core list of pantry staples makes this step a lot easier, because then I can just add the few additional ingredients I need for the month. If that idea is new to you, check out this amazing pantry staples list from Lil Luna.

My favorite way to make a grocery list is to yell out to Alexa as I am going through our fridge and pantry…she even tells me if I’ve already added something to my list, haha. If you prefer to write it out or categorize it, use this free grocery list printable.

Find a method that works best for you!

Monthly Meal Plan on a Budget Tips

See, that wasn’t so bad, right?

Like we said before, one benefit of a monthly meal plan is saving money. But, if you go hog-wild with your grocery list, you may undo some of that benefit. To keep you on track, here are 5 tips for keeping that meal plan budget-friendly.

free printable monthly meal planning

Shop at Aldi

I stinkin’ LOVE shopping at Aldi (not a sponsored post)! When my husband was looking for his first ministry work, I told him I would move anywhere – as long as they had an Aldi. Not kidding.

The last time I bought for our monthly meal plan, I spent $136. Now, that is more than I typically spend at Aldi, but for a whole month, I’m definitely not upset about it. My cart would have easily cost me $200+ at any of the other grocery stores.

I will tell you, it may take a bit of practice if you’re an Aldi newbie with the whole no shopping bags and quarter for a cart routines. But just shoot me an email or drop a comment below and I’ll give you some first-timer advice!

Buy off-brand

There are very few things when I buy the brand name habitually (PopTarts being one of them). There’s just really no need. If you’re trying to stick to a budget, start swapping out some of those items in your cart – especially staple items such as flour, sugar, rice, spices, etc.

If you are shopping at a store like Aldi, many times you may not have a choice to buy anything but the store brand. There may be a few items you choose to splurge on, but generally speaking, the store brands will be comparable to the name brands. And that could equal BIG savings for you.

Buy only what’s on your list

Ugh, this is no fun sometimes. But really and truly, if you want to create your monthly meal plan on a budget, stick to your list! That’s why you took the time to make it. You don’t need to buy things that you aren’t planning to cook this month – avoid the hoarding mentality.

This also applies to the impulse buys and non-food items that may catch your eye while in the store. Resist!

Use as many fresh/from-scratch ingredients as possible

Generally speaking, anything you can make from scratch for your monthly meal plan will save money. These things may be biscuits, pasta sauces, dressings, sides, and breakfast items.

Also, pre-packaged and frozen items have more preservatives and are usually not as healthy as items made with fresh ingredients or from scratch.

how to make a monthly meal plan

Learn to love leftovers

I can’t imagine a world where we didn’t eat leftovers. Not only is throwing out big amounts of food wasteful, but you’re throwing away money! I know, leftovers aren’t everyone’s favorite thing, but for the sake of your budget, just learn to love them.

Because I cook nearly every night, we almost always have leftovers for lunches the next day. And that saves us SO much money and helps me by not having to prepare a lunch too. If you were to spend $5 to eat out for lunch everyday (which is near impossible nowadays anyways), you’d spend $25 a week or $100 a month just to eat lunch! That’s well over $1000 a year. Are those leftovers looking any better yet?

Bonus Tip: If you are finding that you don’t have enough left over for the next day, try cooking just a little bit more by throwing in an extra piece of meat or a few more noodles/grains of rice to your dish to bulk it up.

Free Monthly Meal Plan Printable and Grocery List

Why yes, I do have a free monthly meal plan printable and grocery list just for you! Click the button below to get instant access and claim yours right away. Yes….right now….

Final Monthly Meal Plan Thoughts

You’ve done so well for sticking with me this far! I know it can seem like a lot and planning a month’s worth of meals may be overwhelming, but you can do it!

As I wrap this up, here are a few short and simple bonus tips for your monthly meal planning session.

  • 30 recipes = 1x month. Don’t feel like you need hundreds of recipes. 30 different recipes only equals having something once a month. If you find 60 that your family loves, you would only be repeating meals every other month. Don’t be overwhelmed, you can do this!
  • Keep a master list. As you find your tried and true favorite recipes, keep a master list so you don’t lose them! You can print them out, keep them on a Pinterest board, or create a Google docs so that you can include the link.
  • Plan dinner with leftovers/eating out included. Yes ma’am, leftovers and eating out counts as planning! Add them to your calendar without shame!
  • Don’t lock yourself in. Plans change, don’t feel like your monthly meal plan can’t! If you need to swap a few nights to accomodate your family, do it.
  • Check off meals as you have them. If your plans do change, that just means you have a night already planned and accounted for. Keep track of the nights where you’ve eaten what was planned so that you can see which meals can be used in a pinch or as a buffer.
  • Eat out at lunch. Eating out a lunch is usually less expensive than at dinner. Take advantage of lunchtime specials if and when you choose to eat out.

I can’t wait to hear how creating your first monthly meal plan goes! You’ll be a pro in no time, just follow the pattern.

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