Financially 2018 was not the best year we’ve ever had. Health issues and a hospitalization, on top of aging kids (their activities get more expensive as do their clothes and school needs!), left us scraping by. As I took a hard look at where our money was going, it didn’t take long to see that it was being left at the drive-thru window or in the hands of the waiter at our local restaurants. We were eating out way too much!

In the past, I’ve been a master meal planner and when I have a plan in place – it makes my life so much easier. Not only does it help with our monthly expenses, it really does save time and energy.

Luckily, we are a family that eats anything and everything – very little on our “no go” list. However, I think that you could use my process and just adapt it to your family situation even if you are doing keto, paleo, or any of the restriction diets.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Start with your favorites and write them on a blank piece of paper. I listed 8 beef meals, 9 chicken meals, 3 pork/fish meals, and 5 soups. All of these were either tried-and-true family favorites or recipes from Pinterest that I’ve had pinned for some time and always wanted to make.
  2. I then decided that on Thursday nights we will have leftovers. That seems to be the busiest night for our family and allows for the least time for cooking.
  3. After that, I put together a rotation … Beef, Chicken, Soup, Beef, Chicken, Pork. I repeat this pattern for the entire month, always skipping Thursday – which also keeps us from getting into the rut of always having soup on Tuesday or Thursday always being pork.
  4. If, in fact, we ever don’t have enough remaining for leftovers on Thursday, I’ll just do chili dogs or something equally as easy!

To make your life simple, I created a Pinterest board with all of these recipes and I hyperlinked each of them too. Several are just in my brain (Pot Roast and Tortellini soup to name a few, so I’ll try to get those online for you soon!)

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Beef Meals:
Spaghetti, Tacos, Chili, Pot Roast, Meatball Subs, Salisbury Steak, Pizza, and Beef Stroganoff

Chicken Meals:
Chicken Pot Pie, Creamy Ranch Crockpot ChickenRitz ChickenChicken EnchiladasPesto Mozzarella Chicken PastaChicken SpaghettiChicken Piccata, Creamy Chicken & Rice Casserole, and Chef Salad w/ Chicken

Pork/Fish Meals:
Ham & Swiss Sliders, Salmon Patties, and Garlic Ranch Pork

Soup/Vegetarian Meals:
Tortellini Soup, Potato Soup, Loaded Baked Potatoes, Homemade Vegetable Soup, and Taco Soup

After I made my list, I printed out a blank January calendar & started jotting in meals. I began by writing “leftovers” every Thursday, then used the pattern I mentioned above (Beef, Chicken, Soup, Beef, Chicken, Pork) and went to town. 98% of my life is spent writing in pencil and I highly recommend that with this process because it will allow you to change out recipes if perhaps two that are cousins end up too close together. (For example, I wouldn’t want to do Tacos and Taco Soup in the same week.) Keep your family calendar close at hand too. I like to see what’s going on and make sure that recipes aren’t falling on nights that I can’t commit to putting in the time!

Once my calendar was filled in with pencil, I set up a “Meal Plan” calendar in Google Cal (my digital calendar of choice right now) and loaded everything in. I’ll admit that the first time you do this, it will take about 30-45 minutes – but it’s so worth it.

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Once that was done, I went back and opened up each meal. In the notes section, I copy/pasted the URL of the recipe as well as the ingredients/directions. This might be overkill, but it works two-fold: (1) it allows me to quickly click on the recipe to make my grocery list since I can easily see the ingredients that I need and (2) I can put my phone on the kitchen counter and have the recipe in front of me in seconds!

meal planning

I like to grocery shop once a week, so having a plan in place allows me to only go back and fill in with fresh fruits and veggies mid-week!

Also, note that as the seasons change, so do my meal plan recipes. I don’t want to fix a big pot of chili in the middle of July, so I’ll change out the recipes seasonally — or as we tire of them!

meal planning

Another thing that I’m trying to do this year and with this meal plan is to keep up with how much it costs to make each meal. I’m very blessed that in Texas we have great prices on food and lots of shopping options. Within a mile of my home, I have a Wal-Mart, Kroger, and HEB. Just a stone’s throw more and I’ll hit a Whole Foods and a Sprouts. But let’s face it, no one wants to run all over town and I certainly don’t have the time to do that. The Wal-Mart at the front of my neighborhood just opened and is a pilot store (meaning that they test things there like floor layout and designs). I’ve never ever been a fan of Wal-Mart produce or meat/poultry, but this particular store is fantastic. I’ll watch the sales and am willing to switch up my shopping based on weekly deals for meat (since that offers the most savings potential), but at this point – Wal-Mart grocery pickup has hit the mark more often than not.

meal planning

Tip: If your area grocery store has an online order/pick-up option, use it in conjunction with your meal planning. Not physically being in the grocery store cuts out all of the impulse buys. When you only buy what is needed for meals and planned snacks, you’ll notice huge savings on your bottom line.

I hope that my meal plan idea is helpful! We are such a busy family – just like so many of you – it’s important that we share our systems and processes. Again, here’s the Pinterest link to the greatest majority of these recipes. I’m also happy to share the link for my Google Calendar for meals if you are interested (just drop me a message!) PS – I’m always looking for ideas and topics to write about. So if you have any suggestions, please send them my way!