Where do I begin?
This is a question I struggled with a lot. I did a lot of research and talked to moms about how they plan their family's meals, how far into the future do they plan, how did they keep track, how did they grocery shop, etc. It seemed like an impossible task, especially now that we have 2 kiddos sucking all of my time and energy.
More times than I'd like to remember, it would be 4 in the afternoon and I wouldn't have any idea what we were going to have for dinner that night. I would sift through what we had in the freezer and pray that whatever meat was in there would defrost quickly so I could start cooking. It rarely thawed in a timely fashion which meant a lot of late dinners, or Hubby picking up fast food on his way home. My "system" (aka: winging it) wasn't working.
In our early twenties, when it was just the two of us, that was fine, but now I had the diets and well-beings of two little boys to consider. Things needed to change.
I spent hours (spread over weeks of nap times) researching planning methods, organization tips and tricks of the trade. I sifted through hundreds of recipes, trying to find ones that I felt confident in making, that I believed my family would like, that didn't have crazy ingredients, that were healthy and decently quick/easy to prepare.
4 months of trial and error and I've stream-lined my new planning system. I spent 20 minutes one night at the end of February, planning the entire month of March's dinners, and making my grocery list. It was super easy and I've only had to deviate from my plan twice, once involving pizza (but I was sick that day, so it's not a normal circumstance).
I added a new level to my system by limiting myself to a $200 a month grocery budget, pulled from our tax refund. I withdrew $200 from the bank and only use that cash for groceries. It's been flawless, so far. If this part of my system works out, that means $2,400 a year has been "saved" from our monthly spending by using our tax refund to cover it. I'd call that a win.
Sharing my knowledge
Now that I've gotten most of the kinks worked out of my monthly meal planning system, I want to pass my knowledge on to you!
I have created a PDF filled with a blank calendar, weekly menu, inventory list, shopping list, tips and tricks, recipe dividers to help organize your own meal planning binder, and my step-by-step process to successful monthly meal planning.
It's available for download through my new little Etsy Shop for just $1.99! Think about it, if my system saves you from even one dinner of late night takeout, you've made back the cost of my packet, and then some!
The entire thing is 28 pages long. You can download and print the entire thing, or just print pages as you need them.
There is also a compact version that is 15 pages long and only $0.99, if you prefer to keep your recipes and meal plans in a smaller (approx 9 in) binder, rather than a normal sized notebook or binder.