Plan a Month of Meals YOUR Family Will Eat

Fall gives mom a chance to hit the reset button. It is the time of year to make time to plan out our dinners in advance, shop for everything at one time and serve a healthy meal every night.

Take the stress out of meal planning with this easy guide.

Start by making a list of the family go-to meals. How many times do you make them each month? For my family, I found I make eight family favorites two times a month, which satisfies 16 days. Next, make a list of meals that you make only once a month like a ham, roast or something that takes several hours to cook. Then, add in simple, quick meals that can be cooked in 15 minutes like Panini’s or omelets. Finally, choose a few crockpot meals or bag and dump dinners that your family enjoys.

Create a calendar of sorts on your table or countertop using post it notes. Write each dinner on a separate post it note and start putting in order on the calendar. As you put your days together, be realistic about your family’s schedule. If you will be occupied from 3:00 to 6:00, don’t plan to start a dinner that takes hours to prepare. When you lay out your calendar, plan meals with similar ingredients in the same week to avoid waste. For example, if two recipes use ½ can of tomato paste, put those meals next to each other on the calendar.

Make a shopping list for the month. Shop for all non-perishable items at one time and shop weekly for fresh produce or dairy. Meat can be purchased and frozen or purchased fresh weekly. As you see a pattern forming for your staples, pick up a few extra ones at the store. With the unpredictable schedules of my teenagers and their friends, I like to keep extra items like frozen burgers or extra packages of rice or pasta to supplement a meal if we have extra guests.

Leave some flexibility in your schedule. If you know one of the nights will be too busy to cook, plan a leftover night by making a double batch the night before. If your son has karate lessons that end at 6:00 and the dojo is right next to the take-out Chinese, plan that into your menu. Also, if there is a great sale going on at the store one week, feel free to adjust your plan.

Consider cooking a week of meals one night. While I have yet to master this, many busy moms spend one long afternoon chopping, mixing and cooking their family dinner for the whole week. It is a great time saver to make dinner when you have the time instead of during the busy after school rush. You can put more than one kind of meat on the grill, chop all veggies for the week’s menu, or make soups, casseroles and sauces to freeze for later.

With dinner plans already taken care of, you will now have time to help with homework, play a game with the kids or just put your feet up and relax.