I've been talking about how I plan our meals a month at a time. Doing this requires two major steps: planning out your meals and then shopping for your meals. Since I've been telling people about my monthly meal planning endeavor, I get a few common questions. Below are my answers to these frequently asked questions and some tips that will make meal planning easier. These tips apply to meal planning in general- whether you're planning for a week or a month at a time.
What if you don't feel like eating what's on the scheduled day?
I've gotten asked this question by almost every person I've told about our monthly meal planning. I'll be honest- this doesn't happen very much in our house. We love all kinds of food, as long as it's a hot yummy dinner, we both usually feel like it.
That being said- some days we don't feel like it, we're too tired to cook, or we want to meet up with friends or family. When this happens we just switch that dinner to a different day. I'll usually just bump it to the next day or later in the week. At the end of the month there's always 3-4 dinners that I didn't land up making. I try to make these dinners that don't have a lot of perishable items- that way I'm not wasting ingredients and I have a handful of dinners to start my list with next month!
What if I run out of food (i.e. no leftovers when you were planning on it or the recipe making less than you needed)?
In one of my previous posts, I mentioned that I always have a few emergency dinners on hand. These things are usually frozen pizza, spaghetti, or breakfast for dinner- things that don't spoil and can be cooked up quickly when we're in a pinch.
What do I do if I have leftovers and wasn't planning on it?
We almost always take leftovers for lunch because I've developed a strong dislike for sandwiches. Sometimes a recipe will make just a huge amount and when that happens I try to freeze half of it and use it either later in the month or for the next month- you get two meals that way! I love unplanned leftovers!
How do coupons and taking advantage of sales work with this system?
To be honest, I haven't quite figured this out yet. I just can't seem to get into couponing (maybe one day!), so I can't speak to that. I will say that the veggies and fruit we buy for salads and lunches are the ones that are on sale. I also browse the sales ad for the two times that we do shop- that way if there is a good deal going on (particularly on meat), I will stock up. I still go for the sale items when we do shop, but it's not as big of a part of my meal planning as it used to be.
You will still save money with this plan because you are in the grocery store so much less, resulting in less impulse buys. Also, I've made a commitment to only going to the grocery store twice a month, so if something runs out before then I make do without until the next trip to the store. We really try to use all of our food and not letting things go to waste, and sometimes that means being a little creative (especially towards the end of the month). Your commitment to staying out of the stores will serve you and your wallet well.
Doesn't your food go bad if you don't shop that often?
In short, no. I've found that almost all fruits and veggies will last two weeks. I look for later expiration dates on things like milk and yogurt to ensure that they'll last two weeks. I also will freeze breads and meats so they'll stay good for awhile. We do make one quick shopping trip in the middle of the month to replenish fruits, veggies, and milk.
Keep a running grocery list.
We have a spot on our fridge where I write the menu for the week. Underneath the menu is a section where we write a list of things we run out whether it be milk or foil. We write it as soon as we realize it's out, that way we don't forget anything when we're at the store!
Get your recipes organized.
Every time I add a recipe to my dinner repertoire, I make sure I put where the recipe is from (Pinterest, cookbook etc.) That way, when I want to make the recipe again, I don't spend a ton of time just looking for the recipe.
Make Pinterest work for you
Pinterest can be your best friend or your worst enemy when it comes to planning. If you have a general "food" board that has 200 recipes and you find one you like, trying to find it again can be a nightmare. I learned this the hard way, and decided to make separate food boards- one for breakfast, one for lunch, and one for dinner. I also have separate ones for desserts, veggies & sides, drinks, and snacks.
Perhaps the best board I've created on Pinterest is my "Meals This Month" board. This is where I pin recipes that I'm cooking that month. That way, when it comes to make a recipe, I can go straight to that board and that recipe.
I also created a "Pinned it and Did it" board. This board is where I pin projects or recipes that I have actually done. Not only does it serve as a great motivator to actually turn Pins into reality, it allows me to write a little blurb of recipes I've tried and remind myself why or why I didn't like it. This board is also stores previous recipes that I've tried and liked so I can find them easily.
The key with making Pinterest work for you is getting organized- use those boards to your advantage!
Brainstorm the next month during the current month.
Like I addressed above, I'll often have 3-4 meals that weren't cooked. These automatically go onto next month's meals as do any frozen leftovers from the current month. I'll also write down specific ideas or pins that I liked in my planner, that way I can remember them when it comes to plan the next month's menu. By the time I start planning for the next month, I usually have 4-5 meals already planned making it that much easier!
Towards the end of your two weeks or the month (before you go to the store again), you may start running out of some ingredients. Instead of making an extra trip to the store get creative with the ingredients you have on hand. We ran out of bread for sandwiches one month, and instead of buying more, we took crackers cheese and meat and made some delicious adult lunchables! The more creative you can get, the less food you'll waste and the more money you'll save.
Give yourself some grace.
In all of life you need to give yourself some grace, and that includes menu planning. Maybe one of your new recipes bombed. Maybe you ran out of food after a week. It's okay. This whole menu planning idea has a big learning curve and the point of it is to ease your stress not cause it. Maybe you try it for a month and decide you hate it- great, go to something that's easier for you! I will say that it's taken me a couple of months for the process to get easier so if you're in your first month and thinking that it's something you might like- stick with it! It gets easier I promise!
I think that wraps up our week talking all about meal planning! It's something that's worked well for me, and I hope it can work for you too!
Do you think you might try to meal plan for a month?