Monday, February 11, 2013

Can You Really Plan a Month of Meals?

Would you get excited if I told you that you could pull together a grocery list in just a few minutes each week? Would you breathe a sigh of relief if you knew what was for dinner every single night for an entire month? Do you think it's impossible?

Monthly meal planning may sound completely overwhelming, but it's easier than you think.  I used to think I could never pull it off, but I'm on my third month now, and I love it.   My time is very limited, and having a long-term plan makes the weekly chore of shopping so much less stressful.  It also give me more time to coupon and work around sales to get the best deas.  It takes some extra time up front, but the time it saves every week and every month is worth it. Ready to try it?

1. Make a list of all the meals your family already likes and eats regularly. There are probably a lot more than you think!

2. Pull out cookbooks, magazines, and recipe files. Flip through them for recipes you've forgotten or always wanted to try. Add your finds to your favorites list, and start a second list of new recipes to try.

3. There are probably a few meals you can make a double batch of, then serve leftovers. For instance, you can use shredded leftover chicken for enchiladas, nachos, soup and more. Meatballs from spaghetti night can go into sub sandwiches. Extra soup or chili can be frozen for later. Take advantage of bulk cooking.

4. Plan around your schedule. Do you work late one night a week? Put dinner in the crockpot before you leave in the morning. Do you have extra time to cook another night? Plan a more complicated meal for that night.

5. Consider creating a theme for each night - for instance, Monday: crockpot, Tuesday: Mexican, Wednesday: chicken.  This might make it easier to plan, especially when you're just starting out.

6 Use a printable calendar, like the ones available at Organized Home, and start filling in your meal plan.  Be sure to include a couple of nights each month to try new recipes.

The first month will involve a little trial and error.  By the second month, you'll find yourself getting things together much better.  Once you get the ideal meal plan down, you can copy it month after month, making adjustments for holidays, changing seasons, etc.

If you need more ideas for recipes, check out my Pinterest Recipe board for some of my favorites.  For a super-easy start, try crockpot Italian chicken, a new addition to our family's "favorites" list.

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