- Have your social/work calendar filled out and easily accessed. The Hubby and I use a free Cozi Calendar to keep our growing family’s schedules updated. We can access the current calendar via our iPhones and online. No more asking “what does your schedule look like…?”. If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t count.)
- Take note of what you have in your freezer that you’d like to use up. Did you get a rump roast on sale months ago? How about those 15 half-bags of frozen corn? Plan your meals around those things.
- Make a Master List of “Family Favorites”. What are your go-to meals that you know everyone in your family will enjoy? Keep a running list so it’s super quick to remember what you can cook! My list is ever-growing and takes up both sides of a piece of binder paper now!
- Fill in the busiest of days with the easiest of meals first. We’re talkin’ Crockpot, Freezer Meals, Pizza Night, Leftovers, etc. You’ll be glad those crazy days are taken care of first!
- Next, add some Family Favorites, especially those that use those things in your freezer that you listed in Step 2.
- Start looking around in cookbooks, magazines, and online for recipes to fill in the gaps. Keep in mind what you already have, what is expensive to buy, and what your family will eat. I try to steer clear from any recipe that has me buying more than 2-3 ingredients that I don’t normally buy because there is probably a reason I don’t normally buy them… usually, they are expensive ingredients, or my family doesn’t like them, or worse… both! So then I’ve basically wasted money. I like to pick things that could potentially end up on my Master List of Family Favorites.
- Enter the recipe (and a link, in needed) into your calendar. I’ve dedicated a “person” in our family as “Menu” on our Cozi calendar (because really, Dinner can cause as much stress as my kids!) and also note who will be cooking said Menu item. That way the Hubby knows when he’s going to be expected to BBQ because he’s got the calendar.
- Write a grocery list of all non-staples as you add a recipe to your menu. Save yourself a step of having to go back. As you pick a recipe to add, write down what you’ll need to make it, even if you already have the ingredient. I leave off staples to keep the grocery list less cluttered. I use hash marks if I need something for more than one recipe.
- “Shop” in your fridge, freezer, and pantry first. Cross things off that you already have (double check that you have it!).
- Check the menu for your upcoming week and highlight those needs on your Grocery List.
- Search the internet for coupons for the products you need. I like The Frugal Find’s Coupon Database and A Full Cup’s Coupon Database. One of the things to remember about couponing is that you can’t be brand specific all the time to really see savings. So, you need ketchup? Clip Hunt’s and Heinz coupons, but know that the store brand might be the cheapest (even with a coupon).
- Take your Master List and your clipped coupons when you grocery shop! You never know when you’ll find a great sale to match up to the things you need for the month! If you are *really* on top of things, you’ll have a pricebook in the works so you’ll know if that sale on Hoisin Sauce is actually a sale or just good marketing. I’m working on a pricebook myself, but haven’t done enough to really be able to share yet.
- Enjoy a month “off” from menu planning and meal strategizing! As with most things, it’ll take some practice, but so far, I’m enjoying the benefits. I’ve been menu planning long enough that I like to try to make meals that yield leftovers on the days before the Hubby works and overtime shift so we only have to buy one meal for him that day instead of two. Even better if we have multiple days of leftovers so he can save a buck by taking lunch to work even on “normal” days. I also don’t schedule BBQ days on days the Hubby works because he’s just too tired and hot to fathom cooking. Boy, can I relate.
I think that’s about it for How-To: Month-Long Menus. Have you found any tricks that you’d like to share? Leave a comment!