Master Monthly Meal Planning

Monthly meal planning doesn’t have to be super complicated, yet when the term “meal planning” gets thrown out it can cause sheer panic. And monthly meal planning? Yikes!

I hear you! Trying to eat healthy with 3 picky kids at home is pretty much like playing Tetris on level 29. 

Rest assured. This is easier than you’re imagining right now. 

Below, I walk you through the steps of how to meal plan for a month. All you have to do…is take action.  

blank paper and pen surrounded by fresh foods

The 4 Steps of Monthly Meal Planning (for Dinners)

I know it sounds scary and super overwhelming…a whole month of dinners planned in one day?! But really, if we break it down, it’s not much harder than following the steps of a recipe or scheduling your family appointments and activities for the month. 

Plus, we know that meal planning is super important for eating healthier, limiting food waste, and saving money on food. 

And if you’re a busy mom trying to lose weight? This is EXACTLY what you need to stay on track with your weight loss goals. 

It may seem like a lot of mental energy to put together a monthly meal plan, especially if you can barely get together a weekly meal plan. But you’ll find that overall, spending one day planning the month is actually way less time-consuming than doing it every week. 

I break this down for you into four steps, which are actually only three since you’ll be able to skip the first step the next time you do this. 

1. Brainstorm Meal Ideas

First, make a list of all the common meals you make at home. Nothing fancy – pen and paper or typed up…you choose. 

Use your Household 

When you run out of your own ideas then start asking others. 

Let your spouse chime in (maybe). Ask your kids what their favorite meals are and add these to the list, too (within reason). 

Try to get at least 15 meals on that list and add to it when you think of more throughout the month. 

Get Inspiration 

If you can’t get to 15 meals, then start searching the internet or browsing your cookbooks for easy family meals. 

Maybe even send a text to your friends or family asking what their common go-to dinners are and add those to the list. 

To make it even easier, purchase my 15 macronutrient-balanced meals

And because I know you’re a busy mom trying to lose weight or just eat healthily, all these recipes take less than 20 minutes of active prep time! 

These are perfect if you’re using my method of balancing blood sugar to lose weight. 

recipe booklet cover with a skillet meal picture

Start Daily Themes

It can be inspiring to think of daily themes for meal planning. This also provides some structure and guidance for Google meal searches. 

Examples:

  • Meatless Monday
    • Buddha bowls
    • Tofu stir-fry
    • Black bean burgers

  • Southwestern Tuesday 
    • Tacos
    • Burritos
    • Enchiladas
    • Fajitas

  • Leftover Wednesday 

  • Mediterranean Thursday
    • Chicken pita wraps
    • Lamb kebabs

  • Italian Friday 
    • Pizza
    • Spaghetti
    • Lasagna

  • Salads and Snack Plate Saturday 
    • Cobb Salad for you (all the ingredients on a snack plate for the kids)
    • Italian Chop Salad (charcuterie board for the kids)

  • Soup Sunday 
    • Kale and sausage
    • Chicken and rice 
    • 3 Bean Chili 

Be Boring 

Maybe you don’t care much about food but still want to eat healthy. 

It’s okay to be boring and have some of the same types of meals week to week. 

Just make sure you’re switching up the fruits and veggies throughout the week (think a rainbow of color) and that you’re not overdoing it in the red meat department. 

My kids would eat tacos, pizza, chicken nuggets, quesadillas, and hot dogs on repeat every week if I let them, but because I care about their nutrition intake, we aim for more variety.  

Include Meals to Freeze

Make sure to plan at least 3-5 meals that you can make extra of and freeze the leftovers. 

As a result, you’ll save a ton of time on those super busy days, and on the days you just don’t feel like cooking, you’ll be saving yourself from self-torture.

Try some of these types of meals to freeze:

  • Soups
  • Meatloaf
  • Chili
  • Black bean burgers
  • Casseroles 
  • Lasagna 

A great resource for freezer meal recipes is The Family Freezer. She’s got tons of great crockpot and instant pot recipes that you can put together ahead of time and freeze for use throughout the month. 

2. Put Your Monthly Meal Plan on Paper

The next step is to find a place for all these meals. 

When completing your month of meals, don’t worry about being a perfectionist. Think of it as a first-draft blueprint subject to last-minute changes. 

You may want to write in pencil because you’ll need some wiggle room to erase and revise as you go or be open to lots of arrows switching days around if needed. 

Filling the Calendar 

Start your monthly meal plan by printing an empty calendar for the upcoming month. Feel free to use my simple calendar below for your meal-planning template. 

Then, fill in the boxes of the days you already know you’ll eat out. 

For instance, maybe you have date night every other Saturday or a family get-together with your sisters this month. Write those down first. 

Then, add any regular meals you have on certain nights of the week. For instance, we have Taco Tuesdays almost weekly and pizza every other Friday.  

After that, put your quick and easy meals down for the days you are usually super busy. Our kids have sports on Thursday nights so that day is often reserved for leftovers. 

Make sure you leave enough open days for leftovers. If unsure, jot down one or two days per week of leftovers to start. 

monthly meal planner in a calendar format

Final Touches 

Each of your meals should contain at least 3 main components. A good balance of protein, starches, and vegetables to help you meet your daily nutrition needs. 

Some of the meals you input on your calendar may already be complete meals.  

For instance, something like a chicken and rice casserole may already have those 3 main components included. Chicken for the protein, rice for the starch, and broccoli or carrots for the vegetable.

Perfect! 

But if not, that’s okay too. Now you will go through each meal to ensure they have each of those 3 components. 

If not? Then, add the missing component by writing it down. 

Since I find most people plan around the protein in their meals, I won’t go into detail about planning that part of the meal. 

I’ll just walk through the other two components, veggies and starch/carbohydrates, because these tend to be a little trickier to plan. 

Veggies 

Planning for veggies with meals doesn’t always just happen. You’re likely going to have to work hard to make it happen. 

Think through each week to find which vegetable you might use for a couple of meals that week. Maybe you have raw veggies with one meal and then cook them as part of your meal the next day.  

If you need some inspiration, here are my ideas for using the same veggies for two meals:

  • Romaine:
    • Topping Tacos or making them into Taco Salad
    • Side salad with Pizza

  • Broccoli:
    • Baked in with Chicken and Rice 
    • Steamed with Teriyaki Chicken 

  • Carrots and Cucumbers:
    • As a side with Salmon Burgers
    • Mixed in with Tofu Soba Noodle Salad

  • Spinach:
    • Cooked in Turkey Lasagna
    • Side salad with Homemade Chicken Tenders 

  • Bell peppers and onions:
    • Sauteed as a Burgers or Hot Dog topping 
    • Part of Chicken Fajitas

It’s kind of difficult to “just wing it” when it comes to veggies. If we rely on that strategy, it likely won’t happen consistently. So, definitely make a plan for the veggies. 

To make it easy, keep some freezer veggies on hand, too!

I love having riced cauliflower in the freezer; it’s an easy swap for rice. And because this usually doesn’t fly with the kids, they can stick to the rice (they likely need the extra carbs anyway).

Go through your calendar and make sure to write in the veggies you’ll have with each meal. 

Starches

Starches, or carbohydrate-rich foods, are a bit easier to store and keep on hand for the month since they generally don’t go bad too quickly. 

Be sure to stock up on these for the month. 

Think potatoes, bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and any other grains. 

Even those instant rice/quinoa packets because there will be days when you’re super pressed for time.  

Bread is also an easy starch option. I keep it in the fridge or freezer so it doesn’t get moldy. 

Then if there are not enough carbs for the kids at a meal, you can make a super quick garlic bread that they’re sure to love. 

Grab a slice of bread, spread some butter, sprinkle it with salt and garlic powder, then throw it in the oven. Voila! And yum! 

Fruit is another quick option to consider with meals…especially to keep the kiddos happy. Since it’s full of natural sugars and fiber, it counts as a carbohydrate-rich food, and it really boosts your antioxidant intake. 

A handful of blueberries, grapes, or sliced bananas can be an easy addition to dinner. And you can feel good about your family getting a good chunk of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, even if they skip the veggies. 

3. Create a Grocery Shopping List  

After finalizing the dinner meal plan for the month, it’s time to assemble a grocery list. 

I prefer to do it weekly, but you could do one big order for the month and plan to stock up on starches, frozen vegetables, and meats. 

Then, you’ll only need to supplement with fresh foods once or twice during the month. Do what works best for you. 

Putting the List Together

Sit down with the monthly meal plan you completed and all the recipes you intend to make. 

Now, write down everything you need to make those meals. It can be easier to keep track of if you divide your list into sections such as pantry, produce, frozen, meats, breads, etc. 

Feel free to use my simple grocery list pictured here.

grocery list to fill out with sections for various food types

Finally, go through your fridge, freezer, and pantry and cross off the things you already have at home. 

You can now go to the grocery store to load up or… stay home and order online (the preferred time-saver method). 

Just remember to stick to the list, and whatever you do, do not go grocery shopping hungry. Your waistline and wallet will thank you. 

Tools to Make Grocery Shopping Easier

There are so many great new tools to help with grocery shopping. Here are just a few that I’ve used and love. 

Any List – love this app!

  • It will organize your grocery list into sections for you
  • Share with your spouse, and it updates in real time
  • Easily edit when you need to adjust the quantity on the list or make a note
  • The list gets saved so you can reuse it later, plus the app remembers the foods you use frequently
  • At the grocery store, you can easily tap on something to cross it off or make it disappear

Online shopping

Amazon Fresh, Whole Foods, Fred Meyer…you name it! They almost all offer online ordering and delivery and/or grocery pick up. 

  • The biggest time saver ever!
  • Order groceries any time of day or night – from your phone or computer
  • The foods you buy regularly are then suggested to you each time you open the app  
  • Fewer impulse purchases than going into the store 
  • The only downfall is that some stores may charge extra or require a minimum purchase amount 

4. Implement Your Monthly Meal Plan

Now it’s go time. 

No turning back. This is the final step.

You spent all this time and effort getting it done, so it’s time to implement. 

Since this is your first go-through, think of it as an experiment. 

Use it as a Template

Try and remember that your meal plan is just a template. There is room for flexibility. 

Feel free to trade days. 

If you’re not feeling salmon on Thursday night, swap it for Friday night’s meal. You get to make the rules and you want to make it easy on yourself. 

Trial and error

You may find you planned too many days to cook and have a ton of leftovers in the fridge that are starting to go to waste as a result.  

Adjust the rest of the month to plan for more days of leftovers to help decrease your food waste and save fridge space. 

Or maybe you start the month and then realize you are super busy on Wednesdays. 

You’ll need to go through and plan accordingly by moving your leftovers or quick and easy meal options to Wednesdays. 

Reflect

At the end of the month reflect on how things went. 

I’m sure you’ll find that overall it was totally worth it to spend that energy upfront in order to just cruise the rest of the month. 

Once you get the first month under your belt, you’ll feel motivated and confident to do it again. And it will only get easier. 

The key right now is just making sure you schedule the TIME for planning your monthly menus. Put it in your calendar like you would any other appointment. 

Summary 

Although monthly meal planning may sound overwhelming, it is actually less work than weekly meal planning or no meal planning at all. 

Planning the month will make you eat healthier, lose weight, reduce food expenses and waste, and save time. 

It’s a simple 4 step process.

  1. Brainstorm meal ideas
  2. Fill in a calendar with your meals
  3. Create a grocery list and purchase your food
  4. Put the plan into action

Follow these steps to stay organized and master your monthly meal plan. 

The only thing that may be holding you back is YOU. 

And remember, if you need inspiration, be sure to access my 15 macronutrient-balanced recipes.

For more tips, join my community in the Facebook Group: Weight Loss Support for Moms with (and without) Insulin Resistance.

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