Before Veggie Meal-Maker, I meal-planned the old fashioned way with a magnet notepad that had the days of the week on it. I scribbled in 3 meals each day, and used the backs of old menus for my shopping lists. I wrote down the ingredients I needed, mostly referencing recipes from memory. In short, I forgot key ingredients and made a few meals a little too often.
Enter: Monthly Meal-PlanningHere is the step-by-step process of how I planned a month of meals, taking the guess work out of meal-planning. (And one key tip for saving time that you won't want to miss!)
1 | Print a Blank Menu
The process progressed a bit when I sat down with a blank Veggie Meal-Maker menu sheet. (You can print the PDF from the free ebook >> here.) Instead of planning for the week, I decided to map out what an entire month of meals might look like.
2 | Choose Themes for the Main MealsI wanted to be sure that we had a good rotation of meals, hopefully not using one recipe more than once (maybe twice) each month. I rely on leftovers throughout the week, which means each recipe gets eaten a couple times a week. Making that same meal again the next week is simply too soon.
I avoided overusing recipes by choosing a theme for each day's main meal. (When I started, our main meal was dinner. Now our main meal is lunch.) Themes can vary based on your family's preferences (i.e., if you don't like Mexican food, then don't choose that as a theme), or your family's lifestyle (i.e., if Wednesdays are extra busy, then something will need to be made ahead).
Here's what our themes look like...
Sunday: veggie burgers + homemade fries
Monday: mediteranean or pasta-based
Tuesday: asian or rice-based
Wednesday: mexican or bean-based
Friday: breakfast for dinner
3 | Plan 4 Recipes/Meals for Each ThemeOnce I chose themes, I was able to think of, or search for, 4 recipes to go with each theme. For example, our pasta rotation includes marinara sauce, creamy or alfedo sauce, pesto, and arizona skillet. This ensures that we make each meal once a month, and don't tire of having the same things over and over.
I used a pencil and wrote 4 main meal options for each day. Of course, I can search for and fill-in new recipes anytime I feel the urge. But themes give us a reference point, and planning a month of meals gives us something to fall back on.
4 | Plan BreakfastsWe eat a rotation of oatmeal and cold cereal for breakfast. We sometimes have frozen pancakes leftover that can be heated quickly in the toaster, or I occasionally make granola. We keep fruit and basic healthy cereal options as staples. I wrote these options into the breakfast boxes to remember.
5 | Plan Secondary MealsOur secondary meals (used to be lunch, now is supper) include a rotation of quick + lite items including leftovers, sandwiches, pita pockets or pita pizzas. We also often have green smoothies. I don't plan these ahead, we just go through the rotation of what's available and what we're in the mood for. I keep frozen fruit, bread, pita pockets, etc. as staples for these meals.
Growing up, these are what we called "fend for yourself" meals. I wrote the basic options on the menu, and we take it day-by-day. Leftovers are often the first option, then sandwiches are our fall-back. Green smoothies are how we fill in for any lack of fruits or veggies.
6 | Plan SnacksWe keep various granola bars, crackers, hummus, veggies, fruit, tortilla chips and fresh salsa around as staples for snacks.
I didn't write these on the menu, because I just grab whatever is available. Although if you're trying to be sure you and your family get a healthy and balanced diet everyday, then it'd be a good idea to plan snacks out as well and vary between the different options depending on what else is planned that day.
7 | Meal Plan on Veggie Meal-MakerPlanning a month of meals was effective on making sure we had variety, keeping us healthier, and solving the "What's for dinner?" dilemma. But, I still needed a place to write down each week's meal plan, I still needed a current and accurate shopping list, and I was still "falling off the wagon."
This is why I use Veggie Meal-Maker. Sure, I could continue making my own menu on paper. Sure I could keep using scraps for my shopping list. But I needed something more effective and more efficient, and a reason to be held accountable. That's what Veggie Meal-Maker gives me.
I still use my monthly meal plan as a point of reference. But now I have one place to gather my recipes which I easily drag + drop into my menu which automatically generates my shopping list. And that's what saves me time.
Tip: If you really want to save time...Use Veggie Meal-Maker's weekly menus. Seriously, part of the service they offer is planning your meals for you. I do all of the above because I like starting from scratch. If that's not your thing, then let them do the hard work! All you have to do is...
Log in. (Sign up for a free trial >> here, if you haven't already.)
1 >> In the left sidebar select the "Menus" tab. (It's sandwiched between Recipes and Queue.)
2 >> Select a menu, (it's orange and will say something like, "November 11-17 Dinner Menu") and drag it to the week on your planner that you are planning.
3 >> Customize. Replace or rearrange recipes however you need, and add in breakfasts and lunches. Read #s 4 + 5 above to see how we handle those.
Bonus: Shopping list is already done!Whether you enter your own recipes, or use VMM's dinner menu, the shopping list is automatically created from the recipes used in your meal plan. More about that tomorrow.
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disclosure: affiliate links used in this post. if you buy anything through them, i get a small commission at no extra cost to you.