How to Make a Monthly Menu Plan (Guest Post)

Today’s post is this December Menu Planning Month is all about monthly menu planning. Yes, that means, you plan out your meals a month in advance!

As I’ve mentioned before, we do a modified version of monthly planning – and the person who inspired (and instructed) me is my dear friend, Anne Dillon. I’m thrilled to be hosting Anne today for this guest post about how to get started with monthly menu planning.

Anne writes a wonderful blog (which, selfishly, I wish she would update more often) about simplying your life called Never Outgrow Your Car. NOYC is the mantra Anne follows to determine how much stuff (or rather, how little stuff) she should acquire.

In addition to blogging and being the mom to three great kids, Anne is also a wonderful family photographer – in fact, we met several years ago when I hired her to take some shots of my kiddos! Without further adieu…


This is a perfect time for me to write this guest post since I need to print out a blank 2012 calendar to use for my monthly meal plans. (Here is a link to the 2012 monthly calendar I use, if anyone wants to print one out.)

No, I don’t meal plan for the entire year, but I am all about efficiency. Why spend the time each month to print out a calendar when I can just print out the entire month all at once and then I don’t have to do it again for twelve more months!  I keep my meal planning calendar on a clip board, which has my grocery list on it too. And thanks to Mara suggesting I make a price book, my price-book-in-progress is on the clip board as well.

I know many of you plan your meals by what is on sale that week, but I’ve never been able to do that. Planning monthly works really well for me. I really am not crazy about figuring out what’s for dinner every night so the fewer times I have to do it, the better.

When I sit down with my blank January calendar I also pull out my personal calendar so that I can see if there are any nights that I don’t need to cook dinner.

  • Date night is always one of those nights. We book our sitter for several months in advance so I always have it on the calendar when it’s time to meal plan. We just have the sitter make something easy for the kids like macaroni and cheese or frozen pizza.
  • If my husband is out of town I usually just cross that off the calendar and don’t plan to cook that night. We’ll have sandwiches or breakfast or something like that with stuff we already have on hand. When I’m making out the grocery list I make sure I have something in the house we can have for dinners for a few nights. Typically we all eat dinner together, but when my husband is gone things are more chaotic. The boys eat dinner at the table while I’m cleaning up the kitchen or quizzing them on spelling words or something like that. I don’t want to have a big mess to clean up when I also need to be supervising baths and getting them into bed by myself. These nights it’s usually grilled cheese, frozen pizza or ravioli.
  • Activities. If we have a school play or are going to have dinner somewhere else, it’s on the calendar so I know not to plan a meal.
  • Leftover night! I choose Wednesdays for leftovers since that is the one day I have my youngest son home with me all day. After a full day with him, the last thing I have the energy for is cooking a meal. When his older brothers get home from school I look forward to hiding in my room for a bit while they all play and I can decompress instead of having to go straight to cooking dinner.
  • If I know a recipe freezes well I will double it and freeze half. When meal planning each month, I will check the freezer first to see if I have a meal I can defrost one night and that cuts down on the number of meals to cook too.

Then I look and see where the holes are. For January, after taking out the date night and four nights of leftovers that makes for 26 meals to plan. This is where planning monthly comes in very handy for me. I take a lot of our favorite meals and put them down on two different dates, making sure to leave two or three weeks in between.

I keep a master list of meals that we like so as I am filling out the calendar I can look through the list to see what sounds good.

I also have a handful of cookbooks and websites (Pintrest anyone?) that I look through if I’m feeling bored of our usual meals and want to try something new.

I mostly do fast and simple meals, but if I want to cook something in particular that I know takes a bit more time I will put that on a Sunday night when I know my husband will be home too so I’m not trying to cook a more complicated meal and deal with the kids.

I know some people don’t like the idea of doing a monthly meal plan because they think that is isn’t flexible. So here is what I do if I don’t want to make a certain meal on a specific night or we want to go out to eat or something.

I go to the grocery store usually twice a week so I always shop for 3-4 meals at a time. Here is where the monthly meal plan becomes flexible. Let’s say I’ve purchased groceries for 4 meals and when it’s time for me to cook meal #3 I just can’t deal with cooking dinner and we go out to eat or we throw a pizza in the oven.  The next night I cook meal #3 and the night after that meal #4.

When I go to make my next grocery list I either take out a leftover night or erase one of the upcoming meals. And if I’ve got the ingredients in the house for 4 meals and the calendar says tonight we’re having meal #1 for dinner and that doesn’t sound good to me, I just cook one of the other 3 meals since I’ve got the ingredients for all 4 meals.

That is more of less how the planning goes for me. I’ve done it this way for the last 5 or 6 years and it works well for us. With three little boys I’m all about time management.

Are you a fan of monthly or even bimonthly menu planning? What tips can you share that make it work for you?


  1. Great post! I switched from monthly to weekly planning recently, but I did like aspects of the monthly planning. I’m still doing a lot of tweaking of dinners in general (and soul-searching about just what is reasonable to cook, and what is a foodie pipe dream), and have started embracing the concept of one meal for two nights.

    Maybe I will try my hand at monthly planning again, and print out that 2012 year calendar. Thanks for the tips!

  2. I also do monthly planning but I shop differently. I do one big shop at the beginning of the month, for everything that doesn’t need to be purchased fresh. Then every week after that I just do a mini shop at the grocery store and a regular week shop at the fruit market. I write my menu in pencil so I can erase and move things around.

  3. Anne’s advice is excellent.

    We also do it monthly — with flexibility each week — with the help of a list of our (many) favorite entrees. For me, not needing to worry about what to make at the end of a stressful day is *THE* best part. Or maybe the best part is that pasta w/tomato sauce is on the menu once every few weeks rather than twice a week. 🙂 I’m also more willing to try new recipes because I have already planned for the necessary ingredients, significantly limiting the need for last-minute grocery runs.

  4. Some meal ideas, maybe a couple weeks worth would be great! I’m sure we can look recipes up on our own, but I’d love some more ideas!

  5. we just did a weekly plan for this week! even though we’re just two, i find we eat better (and more interesting things) when we plan in advance. ours is…

    Sunday: (veggie) chili
    Monday: broiled tofu & sauteed kale
    Wednesday: tilapia
    Thursday: sushi (yay!) – with fake crab and veggies
    Shabbat dinner: ????
    Shabbat lunch: Invited out

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