I can’t imagine myself ever becoming a food blogger — I take lousy food pictures and rarely, if ever, make up my own recipes. I do, however enjoy menu planning and cooking (at least most of the time). And of course menu planning is a big time saver (very necessary with four kids and needing to spend a good part of each day educating them!).
So, I was pretty excited when I saw that the topic for our monthly homeschool support group meeting was going to be “Organization in Cooking Meals: Meal Planning to Help Free Up Our Homeschool Days.” I love to both share things that I’ve learned about meal planning and learn from others as well.
The mainstay of my menu planning for the almost ten years we’ve been married is a basic monthly calendar, always filled in with a pencil:
The magnetic frame is a freebie I got years ago, and each January I print out a new year’s worth of calendars to put on the fridge. I’ve used these monthly calendars in various ways over the years — sometimes filling in a month at a time, other times filling in just a week or two at once.
But whether I do it once a month or once a week, it still takes a lot of time and energy to pull out my menu planning inspiration (lists of favorite recipes, my binder of recipe print outs, and my laptop full of bookmarks and Pinterest recipe pins, etc), and decide what to fill in each menu square.
So, I decided a few months ago to try something new. I created six weeks of menus for summer back in May, and rotated through those for four months. Then at the end of the summer I created a five week menu rotation for fall/winter that I hope to use for at least the next four months.
Here’s what the Fall menu rotation looks like hanging on my fridge:
At the beginning of the month I use this menu rotation spreadsheet to fill in the monthly calendar (in pencil, of course!). If there are certain nights I know at the beginning of the month we will definitely not be eating at home, I just skip those meals from the menu rotation, making a note somewhere that I skipped them in case I need meal inspiration some other day — perhaps a day we’re just not in the mood for something I had planned, or if I end up not finding a reasonable price on the ingredients for another meal I had planned.
Using this method I am not only saving time in menu planning, but I have a better likelihood of saving time when grocery shopping as well. I didn’t try this at all over the summer (and I had more time then, since we weren’t doing full school days!). But in the interest of saving time, I attempted to purchases as many groceries as possible at the beginning of the month! Sure, I still have to run into the store for milk and produce, but that takes much less time and stress than buying a week’s worth of groceries!
Having all my meat for the month also allowed me to do a bit of freezer cooking — At the beginning of the month I cooked enough ground beef and shredded chicken to use for all the meals in this five week menu! I’m also trying to do just a bit of other freezer cooking — doubling a meal here and there. But for now, I’m pretty happy just to have most of my groceries on hand and some already-cooked meat in the freezer!
So, what about sales? With my limited time right now, I am not doing double couponing or looking for the loss leaders every week — I’m mostly going to Rainbow for double coupons when I need cereal. If I happen to find time for a special sale on some other items, great! I can incorporate it into my current plan or save the item for a future month. I am doing most of my shopping at Aldi, which has pretty consistently low prices on most items I buy. I’m sure I could do a bit better on overall spending, but my hope is that I’ll save money by shopping less often…and of course my time is valuable too!