Here are the top benefits for our family:
1. Grocery shopping is smoother and cheaper. If it's not on the list, it doesn't get picked up.
2. Days are less stressful. I know what I'm going to cook ahead of time, so meat is already defrosted and all ingredients are already in the house.
3. We get a TON more variety.
4. Our "quick runs to the grocery store" are must less frequent, and are unavoidable really.
5. ANYONE can make dinner (hubs included) because something is planned and everything is in the house!
I've tried a lot of different ways to plan meals, but here is my fave so far: Monthly Calendar Menu
Here's the break down:
1) Print off 2 blank calendars.
2) Go through calendar and write in your plans. These can include: going out to eat, working late, after school activities, etc. Basically, any and all plans that may intrude on dinner making.
3) Make a list of different dinners. Mix it up here. Choose a few with chicken, a few with beef, a few with pork, some Mexican, Italian, etc. Also, find a few of those recipes you've been dying to try (you know, the ones from Pinterest that you pinned and never looked at again!) and put those on there too. Get input from everyone in the family. You do NOT need a meal for every day.
4) Put the dinners on a blank calendar. Here's where it takes a little planning. I start by putting easy meals on busy days. Then, I put meals that require more time on days that I know I will have more time. Next, fill in the blanks. I fill mine in based on the proteins. I put one chicken meal in each week, then one beef, then one...etc, etc, you get the point.
5) Add in leftovers. After a few particularly good dinner nights, add in a night of leftovers. I usually have 3 leftover nights a month.
This is what mine looks like at this point:
Ok, pat yourself on the back b/c you've got yourself a menu for an entire month! If all you want is a menu, you can certainly stop here. BUT, I highly recommend continuing on to the next steps...O how much easier life can be when you spend 20 extra minutes planning!
6) On the second calendar, begin filling in ingredients for each dinner meal. List every ingredient you need to make what you want. (This always reminds me to keep it simple!) Add in the ingredients you need for sides also. I found that because I was MEAL planning, I only had to add in a few side dishes here and there. For the most part, the main part of the meal itself had a variety of food groups, so sides were minimal!
It should look a lot like this:
At this point, I wrote a few extra ingredients on the back that we needed (ie: cereal, milk, eggs, yogurt, bananas, etc) then went shopping. I wish I had done the following:
7) Put a check mark or lightly cross through all ingredients that are already in the house.
8) Make an organized list for the grocery store. This is where the little bit of my brain that is Type A comes out...I organize my shopping list based on what is in each aisle. Then, I only have to go through the store once :) See, Type A!
9) Shop! We certainly do NOT have the means to fund an entire months worth of food in one trip! However, I got all the meat, frozen and canned foods we needed and all the perishable things for almost 3 weeks. Often times, things come up and we don't "use" a meal, so sometimes we only get through 3 weeks of meals anyways!
I'm telling you, this saves us money! I buy what we need. This includes snacks and whatnot, but if it's not on the list, it's not in my cart.
Now, enjoy the ease of a planned menu! And tell me what you think! I'd love to know if this helped you, or how you alter it for your family!