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Attempting Aloha: Why I Do Monthly Menu Planning

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Why I Do Monthly Menu Planning


Okay, so today's post isn't really a craft tutorial. But it IS something I think is important and have shared with lots of my real life friends, and they have said they really appreciate and have started implementing in their own homes and families. Soooo...I thought I'd share with you as well.

I'll just dive right in and give you the top reasons to do monthly menu planning, and I'll explain how these things are accomplished as well.



As moms, we're all busy. And for our house, the time between 4:00 and when we actually sit down to eat dinner is considered "witching hour". The kids seem extra crazy and restless. I'm more irritable, and I'm constantly distracted with "What should I cook?" and "What's in the fridge/freezer/cupboards?"  I abhor that feeling. Avoiding that feeling is enough reason alone for me to start a menu. So about 5 years ago, I started planning out my menus one week at a time.

I would see what's in the freezer and cupboards, and then plan out some meals. I quickly realized that by planning ahead, I was saving money as well as time. BONUS! I could now spend more time doing fun things instead of staring into the abyss of my freezer!

But getting out my recipes and going through ideas once a week seemed tedious. And I always had a big list of things I wanted to try, but I'd only make it through one or two things in a week, and then I'd forget what ideas I had wanted to do before. So I started just listing out meals I wanted to try and keeping that list on hand for when I was ready to make my menu. That saved EVEN MORE time!

Then I bought my giant dry-erase, Board Dudes calendar from Wal-mart, and for me, it seemed like a no-brainer to just go ahead and plug those recipes and meals into the entire month. WOW!  My life was changed!

Here is how my menu planning works today:

1)  Set aside an hour to plan (more if you like to browse cookbooks).
2) Gather my supplies (laptop with recipes, recipe box, calendar and markers, pen and paper).
3) Go through recipes and make a list of about 26-28 meals or recipes I'd like to try (set those recipes aside).
4) Write out the month and family activities we have going on, so I can see what days are extra busy.
5) Plug in meals and adjust as needed.
6) Make a grocery list of non-perishables and meats from the list.

I don't love cookbooks. I'm a very digital cook. I've been using All Recipes.com since 2004. If someone gives me a cookbook, I quickly browse through it and find recipes I think we might like to try, write them down and put them in my recipe box, and I pass the book along to someone else I think might enjoy it. I also don't keep recipes we don't like. I've tried 5 or 6 meatloaf recipes, and I've kept two of them. There's just no point wasting space in my small recipe box if I'm never going to make something again, right? So my little recipe box is full of tried-and-true favorites!

Since Pinterest came into my life, that's been another main source of my recipe inspiration. I usually pull up my Pinterest  "RECIPES" page and browse through that first when making my list.

I usually try to do 26-28 recipes since I know there will be at least one "left-overs" day each week. And we have some meals that are just basically a part of our family now, so I either shorten the list by a few days or add them to the list quickly since I know they'll be on there at least once or twice. Fish is one of those things. Along with Feijoada and burritos. We've made our own recipes for those, and we don't vary from them much, so there's not much to think about there. I'll post recipes for them shortly. :)  I included them on my list here, though, so you could see the full 26 days. Yes, it would be nice to have more lines on my list... ;)

For new recipes that I'm trying for the first time, I write them out on a 5x7 card (I keep a pack of blank ones at the back of my recipe box). I include the blog name in case I want to go back and look at it when I'm actually making the meal. Also, as I do this, I keep a shopping list and write down anything that is out of the ordinary and I know won't be in my cupboards.

My list has lots of chicken recipes on it because it's cheaper than beef here. I'd pretend it's because I'm healthy, but let's not kid anyone. I'm cheap. ;)

I place all the recipes for the month in the front of my recipe box, so I don't have to go searching for them later. Cutting back on time drains, right? Easy peasy.

Now...I know not everyone loves the dry-erase calendar concept. For some, it's frustrating not to be able to see more than a month in advance. Again, being digitally minded, I have my important dates like doctors' appointments, etc. on my phone.

I like to also have this big monthly calendar because I need something in my face as well. I'm more likely to forget if it's just on my phone. Even if I set a reminder! lol  My kids also like to stay informed, and my older daughter especially likes to know what we're having for dinner and what's happening in the days to come.

Having a dry-erase board makes it really easy to change recipes and other appointments around if I need to. I also love having a variety of colors, so I color-coordinate things on our agenda. It makes the really important things stand out more for me.

If you're like Kim from the 733 Blog and want to have a "real" calendar, she's made a great printable calendar for the 2012-2013 school year. Doesn't hurt that they're adorable!  Just make sure you're doing your meals in pencil, so you can switch things around if you want.

Once you have the big things on there like appointments, birthdays, extra-curricular activities, and vacations; you'll have a better idea of what kind of dinner you'll want to make on that particular night. Busy days for us means I plug in Crock Pot meals or other meals I can whip up in 20 minutes or less. No experimenting or fancy meals on those nights!

I also try to think about what kinds of meats we're eating each week. As I mentioned before, our menu has lots of chicken, so I try to make sure we have at least one seafood meal per week, one beef or pork per week, and one or two meat-free nights per month.

Now, I'll have one large grocery-shopping trip at the beginning of the month, and that's when I also stock up on toiletries and cleaning supplies (so I only have to go to Sam's Club/Costco once per month!). Then once per week I go to a smaller grocery store to buy our produce and other weekly perishables like milk, and eggs, etc.

So, not only do I save time having to think of dinners every night, I also save time making grocery lists AND grocery shopping.

Knowing my menu in advance helps cut down on our budget since I can buy our meats in bulk, and we don't eat as many freezer meals and eating out. If I'm running errands, I'm less likely to say, "Let's just hurry and grab something to eat," if I know that night's dinner is already planned out and easy to make. Or better yet...already in the Crock Pot!

Cutting out those frozen meals and dining out meals is also better for our health. And having the extra wiggle room in our grocery budget, I'm able to spend more money on fresh fruits and veggies. Also better for us!

As for "witching hour", when I know what's for dinner, I can easily cut up some fresh veggies or fruit to throw at the kids to tide them over as I'm making the meal. Just knowing what I'm going to make helps keep me much less stressed and annoyed (mostly at myself, but it vents toward my poor kids). Know what I mean?

So...are you willing to give it a shot? Do you already have a menu-planning system? What works for your family?



Recipe links:



At July 29, 2012 at 3:31 PM , Blogger Steph @ Crafting in the Rain said...

I need to do this again. I've found that I also need to do some kind of dinner prep in the morning, whether it's cutting veggies or pulling something out of the freezer. Otherwise, it's just so hard to get things together at 4-5 in the afternoon!

At July 29, 2012 at 10:03 PM , Anonymous Ihilani said...

Awesome post. Like Steph I used to do this and I've fallen out of the habit. I'm totally that girl that's wondering what to make at 4pm and we've definitely eaten out more than we should. Part of my problem is finding the right calendar system - I like the dry erase board idea - buy it once and that's it. No need to purchase another calendar EVER, but I go back and forth on wanting to see more than a month at a time. I like your system for adding new recipes to the mix because I'm always finding recipes I want to try. Everything is digital for me, but I think I might start using a recipe box soon. Sometimes storing EVERYTHING on a digital device makes it harder to find lol. Thanks for this. I'll be referring to it again.

At July 30, 2012 at 3:54 AM , Blogger Attempting Aloha said...

I agree! That's why it's helpful for me to have it right there on my counter and in my face. Otherwise it's 4:00, and I look at the menu and go, "Oh, it was supposed to be a Crock Pot dinner tonight. Nice. Now what?" lol

At July 30, 2012 at 3:59 AM , Blogger Attempting Aloha said...

There are just too many recipe sites and blogs for me to try to keep track of my favorite recipes. Pinterest has helped with some of that confusion, but even still, having the recipe box has been wonderful for me. I also like having the cards out while I'm cooking. It drives me bonkers to have my laptop out while I'm preparing a meal, and (inevitably), the screen goes black right while I've got raw chicken on my hands or am stirring the rue and need to know the next ingredient. Gah!

Plus I like to make notes on my hard copies. "Child #2 didn't like XX...next time set aside some XX for her," or "Use less salt next time," etc.

And my only problem with the dry-erase board is hiding the markers from my kids! They have their own boards and markers, and they're not allowed to use mine. Ha! But I have to do it, or they'll use mine all up, and I hate not having my markers ready to go when I need them. ;)

At July 30, 2012 at 6:22 AM , Blogger Amy* said...

This is such a great idea! I can't wait to Change my life :) My hubs will thank you! I never thought of adding the recipes I find in books and magazines to Allrecipes (duh)...time to start purging my dog eared issues of BHG and Taste of home!~


At July 30, 2012 at 5:34 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been doing this lately, but weekly menus. I can't imagine doing it monthly, but maybe one day I'll get to that point! I've really realized this is the only way that dinner will get on the table every day, food and money won't be wasted, and we'll all be happy :) I was actually going to do a post on it as well, because it really should be something that everyone does, and it's actually fun to pick out the meals each week!

At July 30, 2012 at 8:08 PM , Blogger Alexandria said...

I've been doing weekly meal planning, but plan to start doing monthly planning for August. It will just be so much easier with two in school and two at home. I think I might start prepping a lot of stuff ahead of time, too!

At July 31, 2012 at 8:09 AM , Blogger Attempting Aloha said...

Seriously. It feels SO good to purge those old magazines and share the cookbook love with friends! Good luck with your menu. Let me know how it works for you!

At July 31, 2012 at 8:11 AM , Blogger Attempting Aloha said...

You should just give the monthly way a shot. I'm telling you...gathering all the supplies and finding the time to go through everything is the biggest hurdle. If you can do it for a weekly menu, you can definitely do it for a monthly menu!

At July 31, 2012 at 8:12 AM , Blogger Attempting Aloha said...

Amen. It's hard with all the kids around. Like Steph mentioned above, it helps to be able to do some of the prep work done ahead of time. With kids in school, it's much easier to find that "extra" time!!

At July 31, 2012 at 11:51 AM , Blogger Kim @ seven thirty three said...

Thanks for featuring my free printable calendar Charlie! I am also a meal planner and I created one that I use on a weekly basis and has a spot for my grocery list as well. Of course I made that available for free as well: http://www.733blog.com/2010/09/another-freebie-from-closed-shop.html Seriously, how do people NOT meal plan? Even when it was just my husband and I with no kids, I had to plan all my meals.

I totally skimmed your list and am going to try some of your meal ideas. :) That is the hardest part for my family - trying to come up with new meals, especially ones that all 5 of us like.

At August 4, 2012 at 10:29 AM , Blogger From A Doctors Wife said...

I am inspired! I have been "thinking" about meal planning for a while, but the thinking part is draining and my kids aren't very willing to try new things. But I do love a dry erase board:-) Thanks for reminding me why I need to do this.

I would love to have your blog link up with us at a brand new blog hop called Medical Mondays starting August 6th. We are especially interested in blogs authored by residents wives, as yet another way to support one another through these crazy years. I think you blog would be an excellent fit! You can read more about it at http://fromadoctorswife.blogspot.com/2012/07/ready-to-bloghop.html.

At August 6, 2012 at 1:50 PM , Blogger Carissa Rasmussen said...

What good timing on your post! I love planning for the month so much that I just started a menu planning blog where I document recipes, shopping lists and even coupons on a week by week and day by day basis. I even rate recipes I try and recommend them or not:-) hopefully this could help some of your readers get started by having someone do the work for them for awhile, or indefinitely too! Find it at carissasfoodblog.com

At August 8, 2012 at 9:22 AM , Blogger Jenni said...

Hi Charlie~

Planning for the whole month is such a great idea! I do it for the week, but it wouldn't take all that much more time to plan for a month instead! I am definitely going to try this out, thank you for your ideas, including the one for using a whiteboard to keep everything straight...

How have you been doing? Have you been feeling better? I am so happy for you at the news of a little one on the way! Congratulations! :)

I hope you are having a wonderful summer, and that you have a lovely day!


At August 9, 2012 at 6:35 AM , Blogger Designed Decor said...

Wow, Impressed! I plan a week maybe 2 at a time and not very constantly! I love your system, and will have to give it a try. I need to do a better job of keeping track of the new recipes. I find them online and bookmark them than I forget where they are etc. I will make new recipes and the family loves it and I did not save it, so it's never made again! I will definatly be giving the monthly planning a go! Thanks!

At August 10, 2012 at 10:04 AM , Anonymous Carleen said...

Thank you so much for your post! It was the last push I needed to start planning our menu instead of flying by the seat of my pants and then ending up going out to eat! Hubby doesn't believe I'll actually be cooking (he's practically a chef himself and I don't like to cook!) but so far I'm doing good! Thanks again!

At August 12, 2012 at 12:13 PM , Blogger Mike-Jami-Bridger-Foster said...

You're inspiring me Sista! I'm sucking big time right now with making meals....
Ok.. onto finding recipes and getting some cards to right on.
Love ya!

At October 14, 2012 at 5:19 AM , Blogger Farah said...

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At December 20, 2012 at 8:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been wanting to try to do my menu planning for the month but on a budget it's kind of hard. I do my meal planning by the week because my Hubs gets paid weekly. I recently became a member of a store like Costco's and I would love to be able to go buy things in bulk but it adds up so fast! Everything in there is about $10, so you get five things and you're at $50 already! It's something I definitely want to start doing when the budget allows, but for now the weekly planning works for me.

At June 12, 2013 at 10:50 AM , Blogger Liza Krystal said...

I like your system for adding new recipes to the mix because I'm always finding recipes I want to try. gout in ankle Thanks for Help.

At October 29, 2013 at 5:55 PM , Blogger Sarah Gilbert said...

So needed to read this!!! Thank you so much! I hate cooking but more than that I hate planing! So now I can make it a once a month project and then forget about it! PERFECT, thanks for sharing!


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I LOVE your comments! They're the reason I blog. If you've used one of my tutorials or found them helpful, I'd also love to see pics! You can post them on my FB page or send an email: attemptingaloha @ gmail . com

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