This is the method I use to plan out a month's worth of meals, which is a great way to save money, time and sanity! Isn't it wonderful to not have reach 4:30pm everyday and thing, "Ugh! What's for dinner?" Enjoy!
First- I print a blank calendar off my computer.
Second- I make a hot cup of tea (essential!) and sit down with my recipe binder, calendar, and Control Journal (a Fly Lady thing, I have added my own sections to it including one with past meal calendars for inspiration and ideas!).
Third- Formulate the plan! I go through the month trying make a good mix of flavors, cooking methods and types of veggies and meat throughout each week so we are certain to have a well-balanced diet. I try to place crock-pot meals on days when I know things will be more busy, or schedule leftovers for such days. Busy days are also good time to put to use any meals you made duplicates of and froze the month before (I'll talk more about this later). If it is a more complicated meal I try to figure in days when my husband will most likely be home early or weekends so that he can help with the kiddos.
I also figure in which days would be good to try new recipes on. I generally try to include 3-4 new recipes a month to keep things interesting and expand my repertoire of family-loved recipes (if you don't try things you will never know!). I go through my cookbooks for things we haven't tried or look for recipes on some of my favorite blogs. My main go-to sources tend to be:
* My Kitchen Cafe
* Crockpot 365
* Food Network
Fourth- Gather my recipes! Some this may already be done for my new recipes, but for the rest I pull out all the recipes I will need for the month and then divide them into weeks and place them behind my meal calendar in the Meal Planning section of my control journal. This way they are easy to find and reference, should I need to.
Fifth- I write my shopping lists for the whole month! By doing this all at once it allows me to buy certain things in bulk (that will last through the month) that I would have ordinarily bought in smaller, more expensive portions had I planned by the day or week. I can also buy in bulk for certain recipes that I plan to make more than one of at the time I prepare the food so that I have meals to put in the freezer. Plus, getting this all done at once helps me to not leave anything out and saves me a great deal of time over the next three weeks of the month! It also allows me to clearly budget out our money over the month and minimize the number of trips I need to make to the store.
Sixth- Look for deals and coupons! I am not always that good at this one, but I do try to divide my shopping list between a couple of different stores where I know I can get the best prices on certain items.
Seventh- Go shopping! I try to really stick to my budget but if I see a great deal on something I will need later in the month then I buy it! Having a well-planned list helps me get in and out quickly.
Eighth- Prepare! I keep a few things in mind as I prepare each meal-
* Am I using any of these ingredients again soon that I can prepare now to save myself time later? Things such as onions, celery and so on, can be chopped all at once. If I am making numerous spice mixes throughout the week or month, why not make them all at the same time while I have everything out?
* Do I have enough ingredients to make more than one meal so that I can put one in the freezer? I find that I usually have enough of the ingredients I bought for sauces, glazes and so forth, to at least make the recipe twice. Having a second meal prepared and frozen saves me time and money next month and allows me to apply that whole "buying in bulk principle" if I keep this idea in mind when I am writing my shopping lists.
* Are we eating this as left overs tomorrow? If so, are there certain ingredients that would be better to add in fresh tomorrow, such as grated cheese in Tortilla Soup, that I can prepare now so I don't have to tomorrow?
Ninth- Enjoy the fruits of your labor- nutritious meals, saved time, and saved money! It is so worth it!
I hope this post can help some of you in your mission to feed your family healthfully and economically! If it does, please share how! Also, if any of you would like me to post my plans for the month with shopping lists, please let me know (I don't want to do all the extra work unless people are actually interested!)!