Friday, January 29, 2016

Meal Planning Made Easy

It is almost the end of the month, which means for me, it is almost time to update the pages in my homemaking/homestead management binder. One of the pages I'll be swapping out is my monthly meal plan. I know that meal planning can sound daunting, especially when trying to meal plan for an entire month. It doesn't have to be hard though.

Home Management Binder

First off, keep your recipes simple. During this season of my life, being a mama of two young kiddos, I do not have time to slave in the kitchen over complex meals. Most of the meals I pick are easy favorites with a few new recipes scattered throughout. I generally save the more complex meals for nights I know I will have help with the kids or when we are having company.

Secondly, try to keep your ingredients simple and of high-quality. Living off of one income means that we generally try to be as frugal as possible. However, we consider food to be one of our biggest priorities and are willing to spend more on high-quality, nutrient dense food. To keep the cost down I generally only purchase unprocessed, in-season ingredients and make everything from scratch. We do buy some items pre-made like cheese, peanut butter, and the occasional bag of tortilla chips but you won't find many convenience foods in my cart. Most processed food is more expensive in the long run and has questionable ingredients.

Finally, use what you have on hand. Whether you grow your own or buy from a store try to use what you have first. We try to raise most of our own meat. This means our meal plan is heavy on lamb and whole chicken since that's what we have on reserve. It also means I need to get creative. Before we started homesteading the only cut of lamb I was familiar with was the chops. Now that we are raising lamb I need to find or adapt recipes to use the whole leg, neck roast, etc. I also adapt recipes to use the whole chicken instead of just the breast that is common in most recipes. If you have a vegetable garden make sure you are using what you are growing. And lastly, utilize your pantry. You want to use what you have before it spoils. Throwing away food is the same as throwing away money.

Calendar In-Progress. Use pencil so you can change as needed.

Here is a breakdown of how I menu plan each month. (Free printable below!)

1.   Make a list of 5-8 themes. Themes are great because they will help you narrow things down and give you direction. Examples: pasta, Mexican, Indian, soup, crock-pot, rice & beans, meat & potatoes, casserole, breakfast.

2.   Now under each theme write 2-4 recipes that fit the theme. Example: Mexican-tacos, enchiladas. Soup- chicken noodle, french onion, chili.

3.   Assign a theme to the day of the week. For February my themes look like this:

  • Sunday- Wild Card
  • Monday- Meat & Potatoes
  • Tuesday- Mexican/Indian
  • Wednesday- Soup & Salad
  • Thursday- Pasta
  • Friday- Pizza
  • Saturday- Crockpot

4.   Use a blank calendar and fill it in (with pencil) with the chosen recipes. You can make it simple and have the same meals each week or decide to try something new each week. For example on soup night we are using a different recipe for each week, but on pizza night we are just having the same homemade pizza. Just remember to use pencil since life happens and things change.

5.   Now to go shopping. Even though I plan for the whole month I still prefer to shop every week or two. Before I head to the store I write down what we need for the recipes that week along with whatever staples we may have run out of. With list in hand I can make the shopping trip effective and efficient.

Free printables to help with your menu planning!

  1. Blank Meal Plan Calendar
  2. Blank Master Meal List
  3. Sample Master Meal List

Do you meal plan? What works for you?

P.S. This post in linked up with From The Farm, The Art of Homemaking Monday, Thank Goodness It's Monday, Homestead Blog HopAwesome Life Friday, Simply Natural Saturdays.


  1. I wish I was more organized but assigning a theme to the day of the week sounds like a great way to get started.

  2. The theme is what really helps me. It narrows the options down enough to make deciding on a recipe so much easier. Otherwise it's like walking into Starbucks.... I get overwhelmed with the options and end up getting the plain old coffee lol.

  3. This is a very sensible meal plan! Thank you for sharing your system on the Art of Home-Making Mondays at Strangers & Pilgrims on Earth! :)

  4. I love this! I just wrote a blog post on how I do my meal planning as well, but I love learning how others do it.