With four kids, two with allergies, and one who has ongoing ‘picky eating’ issues, a husband who works day and night shift in a stupid eight day rotation, and several after school activities that keep us out till late… figuring out what to have for dinner almost kills me at times.
The only thing that makes dealing with the dinner nightmares a little more bearable is making a meal plan.
I plan a month of meals at a time, and although that sounds like a lot, it really doesn’t take me very long. I can plan a whole month’s worth of meals in around half an hour.
Tips for planning a months worth of meals in just half an hour:
Find an awesome printable meal planner
I created my own printable meal planner so it is exactly how I like it!
It has spaces for five weeks, and you can add your own dates so you can plan for whatever date range you like. The weeks start on a Monday because that’s the way I like it (but there I also have a version that has Sunday at the start of the week), there is space to write in any events or appointments as well as meals, and space for extra notes at the bottom (I usually write a list of breakfast and lunch options here)
There are lots and lots and lots of printable meal planners online (you can find our weekly and monthly menu plan printables here), so find one that works for you.
Put all activities and events on the planner.
It’s no good planning to have a roast dinner on the 17th only to discover you have an extra dance rehearsal that night! So put all those events, activities, shifts, appointments and anything else that might affect meals on the meal planner. That way you can easily see in advance what you need to plan for, or work around.
Use a master list of meal ideas.
I have a big list of meal ideas that I keep adding to over time. It’s got breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas, and I get the rest of the family to help come up with ideas. This is my secret weapon, and my sanity saver. It’s what makes planning out a whole month of meals at a time quick, and easy. I don’t waste time trying to come up with meal ideas, I just go through my list of meals and slot them into each day. You can find our free printable meal ideas planner here.
Use a rotating system.
Meatless Monday, taco Tuesday, grill on Wednesday, pasta on Thursday… I wish this sort of system worked for us, but with my husband’s two days, two nights, four off shift cycle (whoever came up with an 8 day cycle didn’t have a family!!!) it just isn’t workable. But it’s a brilliant way to make meal planning easier, and we’ve come up with our own, weird, but similar system, based around what shift Dad is on. So my advice is, work out some kind of rotating system that works for you, and use it.
Repeat meals that work.
I used to try not to have any dinner more than twice in a month, and I used to go insane doing it. Now I know better, and I’ve let crazy stuff like that go in favour of my sanity, so you’ll find the same dinners on my menu again and again. These are the dinners that everyone eats and that are easy to prepare and easy on the budget. If it drives you bonkers to have Tacos every single week, then break up the monotony a bit by varying the delivery – tacos one week, chili the next, then enchiladas, and then burritos… it’s really the same meal but it won’t feel so boring. And if you have a picky eater, you’ll take boring and repetitive, over food struggles any day!
Be prepared to make changes.
Use a pencil to write on your meal plan, or be prepared to cross things out, add arrows, and have it look less than perfect, because while a meal plan is awesome, it’s not set in stone, and you need to be prepared to go with the flow and make changes when you need to. It’s a lot of plan meals four weeks in advance, sometimes I’m not certain exactly how things will be in three days time, let along three weeks time! But I still slot in meal ideas that far in advance, I just do it knowing that I may have to be flexible or make changes. It’s much easier to switch meals around in a week, or change out one meal for something else, if I’ve already got a plan in place, meal ideas on paper, and ingredients in the cupboard.
So that’s how I manage to get a month’s worth of meals on my menu plan in around half an hour.
I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for meal planning.
Have you got a favourite meal planner that you just love?
Where do you find meals to put on your plan?
Do you meal plan monthly? Fortnightly? Weekly? What works for you?
Leave me a comment below, and feel free to link to meal planners, recipes or ideas. Let’s help each other make the dinner nightmares a little more bearable!