One of my goals during the holiday break was to compile a monthly menu plan. I was first inspired to work out a monthly menu plan by Tammy’s Recipes. I saw this as a good means of simplifying by grocery shopping and planning all at once. It has saved me time and energy and the frustration of never knowing what to make on a certain week (maybe this is just my problem!).
Now this menu may vary in the summer, and I will probably make a separate summer monthly menu to throw in some variety. My method may not work for you, but here are a few things that I have learned that may be helpful in whatever menu planning method you choose…
1. Make dinner themes
I have found it extremely helpful to start out my monthly menu planning by making daily themes. That way I had something to work around. I make a vegetable and rice stir fry every Monday, adding variation with different vegis and sauces. Tuesdays is always soup night, served with a biscuit or muffin. Increasing soups in your diet is an excellent way of increasing nutrition but also keeping the budget down. Sometimes we have 1-2 soups a week. Making a large batch and serving it for different lunches works with as well.
Monday – Stir Fry
Tuesday – Soup
Wednesday – Chicken
Thursday – Mexican or Casserole
Friday – Italian
Other theme ideas: main dish salad, crock pot, fondue, etc.
2. Limit adding new recipes to just once a week, if you like.
Save yourself time, by sticking to the old time favorites, and maybe throwing in a new recipe once a week, instead of starting fresh every week. If you are using each of your old time recipes once to twice a month you won’t get sick of it.
3. Plan in the favorites
Aaron’s favorites are pizza and hamburgers, and in order to keep the man happy, I schedule those in as the special Friday nights dinners. This is also the night of our weekly dessert, so I like to serve him his favorite dishes. So I added pizza on Friday nights twice a month and hamburgers on Friday once a month (this is honestly the only time we have ground beef).
4. Increase grains while decreasing meat
I have found it extremely helpful in satisfying us more fully without the meat, is so use grains at every meal! This is something I am still in the process of figuring out, but I have discovered that you can throw in grains in practically any dish.
For breakfast, we serve it in the form of bread, hot cereal, or muffins. Lunch is bread in the form of a sandwich, tortilla, grains in soups, etc. For dinners, I have been adding quinoa, rice or barley in all my soups (including chili, potato soup, chicken soup, etc.) and it has worked splendidly. It really doesn’t taste different, just adds more substance to it. I also have been throwing grains in burritos, all casseroles, serving along with chicken on our Wednesday theme, etc. You would be surprised at how many recipes you can throw grains in to stretch them further.
5. Vegetables & Fruit
Being that I get my produce through local sources, I can’t always plan out what I will serve as a side until the produce bin arrives. So in my monthly plan, I simply incorporate the following options: stemmed vegi, fresh salad, or a baked vegi. I always get produce to fill each of these requirements, we just don’t know until the weekly amount arrives! It is so fun this way. I love learning how to incorporate a wide variety of differing vegetables and fruits.
My Aunt gave a recommendation to me of serving a small salad at lunch and a stemmed vegi at dinner in order to increase your vegi intake. This has worked well for us. The more we fill up on vegi’s and fruits the less we need of meat as well. For example, we used to always eat two hot dogs each for lunch once a week, but now that I serve a small salad with it, we can get away with one hot dog each, and we stretch the pack further (by the way, Trader Joe’s has awesome nitrate free beef hot dogs that are so delicious)!
The benefit of juicing has also come in handy in order to increase our fruit intake. I have enjoyed this simple tool.
So how does this route save me money? It saves me time more than anything as I took a few hours to map out this monthly menu plan for the whole winter. I increased eating soups and grains as they are nutritious and cheap and cut back on meats in my plan. I make my grocery list from this and stick to it! After compiling a monthly menu plan, I was able to limit my grocery store shopping to every 3-4 weeks. I just started using a CSA (buying produce from a local farm), and I love it! This is definitely a very reasonable way to go. If you haven’t heard about them, check out the farms in your area, by visiting Local Harvest.
I am still in the learning process, trust me…We are seriously adjusting our budget currently to help us to begin preparing for the mission field…so I am being forced to learn how to make things on my own. It is a good challenge.
You can check out my newly compiled monthly menu here.
COMING UP…how do we stick to a small budget while eating as nutritionally as possible? I am in the process of learning how to make things on my own (dairy products, dressings, etc). How-to’s as I learn something new in the next few weeks!