What’s for Dinner?

When Meg recently shared her family’s streamlined meal plan, I was inspired to share our experience. Over the past three years, we’ve been perfecting a meal planning system designed to save money, time, and stress.

Around the middle of the month, I draft a dinner meal plan for the following month. For example, today I planned meals for December (click on “Meals for the Month” in the right-hand sidebar to access my meal calendar). By planning this far in advance, I am able to gather the recipes I need and then construct a grocery list based on the menu plan, recipes, and any items low/missing in the cupboard. The finished plan—in the form of a calendar—hangs on the front of the refrigerator.

In the past I have often made a fairly predictable plan—i.e., Mondays—Mexican, Thursdays—Potatoes, etc. However, I’m currently fortunate to have more time to think about things like meal planning, and as a result, I’ve challenged myself to break free of my usual stuck-in-a-rut routine. My current goals for meal planning:

  • Eat healthier meals (I do not consider November and December to be even close to stellar examples of this, btw)
  • Try a new recipe each week
  • Encourage the family to broaden their food interests
  • Cook meals that Spud can eat along with the rest of us with little or no extra prep

Adding to the challenge that is our family meal plan are these facts: I am striving to stick to a vegetarian + fish diet, Spud is strictly vegetarian until he is old enough to decide for himself, and Husband, Junior, and Bug all love their meat! Most meals on the calendar can be made meat-free or with a meat substitute for myself.

In addition, I attempt to take into consideration the individual likes and dislikes of each family member—but that’s not my main focus. If I know I’m planning a meal that someone REALLY doesn’t like, I try to include side dishes/toppings that they DO like.

Junior and Bug get in on the action every Tuesday when they alternate planning and cooking the family meal. A good learning experience for later in life!

Husband also puts in requests for certain menu items that are his favorites. Spud can’t talk yet, so he’s pretty much stuck with whatever is on the table.

All of that aside, I so enjoy the freedom that the meal plan brings—I actually can’t remember what we did before it. Now, I never have to worry about what to cook, and the financial savings are significant.

If you are interested in making your own family meal plan, please take a gander at ours and use it as a jumping-off point. (My original plan was to include links to some of the recipes on the calendar, but apparently GoogleCalendar doesn’t have a streamlined process for that right now; so, maybe later.)

Oh, and one last added bonus? When the wee ones ask “What’s for Dinner?”, just point to the refrigerator door and smile.

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