Want to get all your meal planning AND shopping lists done for A WHOLE MONTH (or more) in under an hour? Want to make sure you buy just what you need each week? Want to save money, time and your sanity? Want to feel super organised? Read on to discover how you can meal plan for a month in UNDER ONE HOUR!
Last week I shared all the reasons why I think meal planning is awesome and launched my brand new 4 Week Easy Dinners Meal Plan which you can download for FREE here!
However I realise that quite a few of you might love the idea of meal planning, but you might not want to cook my recipes all the time!! If you just want to make a few swaps to my meal plan – maybe to add in a few of your family favourites, then I give full instructions on how to do that in my Easy Dinners Meal Plan – and seriously I’ve done so much of the work for you that it’s much quicker and easier that way.
But if you would really rather start from scratch, then this is the exact process I used to create my monthly meal plan AND the shopping lists that went with it. (Note – I’m just meal planning for dinner here, but the same basic principles would work if you want to meal plan for other meals too, it just might take a wee bit longer.)
1. Work out how many meals you need
Definitely do this part first!! Grab your calendar for the month ahead and see what’s going on. You will almost certainly find there are days when you are out, days when some of the family are away, days when something else is happening that will affect your dinner plans and so on. You may also have a regular takeaway night, or some other regular night when you don’t have to cook dinner.
Print out a basic calendar for the month and mark off all the days where you don’t need to cook at all. Make notes if there is some other consideration – e.g. ‘husband away’, ‘back late – plan a slow cooker meal’, ‘kids at Grandmas’.
Count up how many meals you actually need to make for the month. (Note – I actually plan for 4 weeks rather than a calendar month as it makes it easier to produce weekly shopping lists, but the basic process is the same either way.)
2. Choose your meals and create mini shopping lists
This is the fun bit! Now you need to choose what meals you are going to cook. Whatever number you came up with in step 1 is the number of meals you need to pick out. I suggest, to make things easier for next month, write down somewhere – perhaps in a notebook, or on the computer – the name of each recipe you plan to make and all the ingredients you need for it. I call these mini shopping lists and they will help you so much later on!
The great thing about planning for a whole month is you can plan in loads of variety. Start with your family’s favourite meals, but also add in meals you’ve always wanted to try, but never quite got round to and use it as an opportunity to discover new meals. If you need some inspiration check out my Recipe Index, which is organised into lots of helpful sections such as Easy Midweek Meal Ideas and Vegan and Vegetarian.
You could also check out my Easy Peasy Foodie Pinterest boards, where I put loads of inspiration for meal planning – I have divided it into all sorts of useful sections so you can find just what you are looking for – for example, I have boards for chicken, pasta, rice, curry Mexican food, slow cooker recipes, roast dinners, leftovers and so much more!
If you find this all a bit daunting, you could theme each night so it narrows down your selection a bit. For example Sunday could be a roast dinner, Monday could be leftovers, Tuesday pasta, Wednesday chicken, Thursday slow cooker night, Friday fish and Saturday curry night – or whatever themes you want to go with! This then means you only need to think of 4 meals for each theme which is much easier.
And don’t forget also that you can repeat meals – you don’t have to have 30 different meals every month! If your family loves paella, you can have that every Wednesday if you like! And if you like batch cooking you could plan to do two big batches of something at the weekend – like maybe a chilli and a curry, and then plan to eat them in the weeks that follow.
3. Organise your meals
Start with a rough draft on that calendar you printed out. Mark in what meals you plan to have when, taking into account anything that’s going on in the month that you need to bear in mind.
Make sure you plan for a bit of variety – so, for example, don’t plan a whole week of pasta meals or chicken meals (unless you just happen to LOVE pasta or chicken!!). You can use the idea of theme nights I mentioned above to help you, if you like. I try to plan something like 3 chicken meals, 3 other meat or fish meals and 1 veggie meal per week and within that try to work a nice even spread of rice/pasta/potatoes and different cuisines so we don’t get bored.
Remember if this all seems like too much work you can just print off my 4 Week Easy Dinners Meal Plan and adapt it to suit your needs.
4. Create your meal plan
This is a bit of an optional step. If you are happy with your draft written on your calendar then you don’t need to do a thing. But if you are like me and want something pretty to stick on your fridge then now you can write or type it out a bit more beautifully. Sticking it on the fridge also has the advantage that your family won’t keep asking ‘What’s for dinner?’ …or at least in theory!
Alternatively you might want to type your meals into your online calendar or write them in your diary or a notebook. Whatever system suits you best!
5. Create your weekly shopping lists
Now you have your meals planned for the week…but we can go one step better and create the shopping lists too. Remember in step 1 I suggested you created mini shopping lists for each meal? This will help you loads. Just grab the mini shopping lists for one month and use them to create a master shopping list for each week.
I like to divide my master shopping lists into 4 sections: Fruit and Veg / Meat and Fish / Dairy and Chilled / Storecupboard. This makes it much easier to create and obviously easier to buy things in the supermarket too.
Then all I do is take the first mini shopping list and write down all of the ingredients in the right place on my master shopping list for Week 1. With the second mini shopping list I do the same, but if I come to an ingredient I’ve already got written down I amend the quantity. So if I have written ‘2 garlic cloves’ for my first recipe and my second recipe needs 3 garlic cloves, I’ll cross out 2 and write 5. Yes the first draft will be a little messy but then you can type it up or rewrite it and it will look gorgeous!
Alternatively you can do all of this on the computer from the outset, which will make things even quicker.
Once you’ve created the master shopping list for Week 1 you can simply repeat the process for Weeks 2, 3 and 4.
6. How to use your shopping lists and meal plan
OK so now you should have 1 beautiful meal plan and 4 weekly shopping lists – hoorah! That really is all the hard work done.
There’s one last step before you can head out to the shops. Grab your shopping list for the first week and go round your cupboards to see what you already have. You are bound to have some of the things you need already, so cross them off and you’ve already saved yourself some money before you’ve even set foot in the supermarket! At the same time you can add in anything you need for breakfasts, lunches, snacks and desserts, plus any non-food items you need to buy.
NOW you can hit the shops, armed with your killer shopping list ensuring you will buy just what you need and nothing more (at least in theory!) and in doing so save time, money and a good deal of your sanity.
Alternatively, use your list to buy what you need online. When I have my list all ready to go, this takes me about 10 minutes – versus about 2 hours if I don’t have a list!
Repeat this step each week until you finish your meal plan (it’s for this reason I prefer to make it a 4 week meal plan rather than a calendar month, but go with whichever way you prefer…you can even make this a 6 week or 8 week meal plan if you want to! The basic process is the same no matter what time period you use.)
7. How to adapt your meal plans and shopping lists next month
OK, so you have a choice here. If everything went well and you loved your shiny new monthly meal plan, you could just rinse and repeat! Depending on your lifestyle you might find that you need to make a few small changes as your calendar might look different the next month, but if your weeks all look fairly similar you can just use the same meal plan as last month and the same shopping lists. In which case you have done all the hard work and you can just keep using and reusing your one killer meal plan forever!
Alternatively you might want to make some small adaptations – perhaps some of the new meals you tried last month didn’t go down very well with your family. Perhaps you want to try some new things this month. In which case all you need to do is make the changes to your previous month’s meal plan and then amend the shopping lists. If you’ve created mini shopping lists, this is very easy! Use your mini shopping lists to cross off things you don’t need on your weekly shopping lists and then add in the new things. So for example if I decide to get rid of chicken curry and have macaroni cheese instead, I would cross off things like chicken and rice and add in things like macaroni and cheese.
Doing it like this means meal planning will be much quicker the second time round and get quicker and quicker each month. In fact after several months you may find you have THE DEFINITIVE MEAL PLAN which you then pretty much stick to every month.
However, you may have the sort of life that changes dramatically, month to month or you may just really like trying new recipes and want different things each month. In which case you can absolutely go through the whole process anew each month. If you love trying new meals, you may come to find that you really love your monthly meal planning session and look forward to it each month. You could even involve the whole family and turn it into a fun family activity with different family members choosing different recipes or having a different day assigned to them (depending on your family that is – I realise this may well not be a fun activity for every family!!)
Obviously the first time you go through this process it may take longer than an hour, but once you are in the swing of things you can easily meal plan for a month in under an hour…and even quicker if you reuse your plans from last month!
8. What if your plans change?
Aha, well, you have a couple of options here. You could plan in a regular day at the end of every week which is blank. If your plans change and you decide to get takeaway one evening or you are invited out for dinner, you can shuffle up your meals for the week. If your plans stay the same your ‘spare’ night could be a dinner from the freezer (one you made in a fit of batch cooking!) or a simple storecupboard meal – like Tuna Pasta. Or a ‘make it up from what’s in the fridge/cupboard’ type meal.
Or you could make sure you always plan one meal a week that is made entirely from storecupboard ingredients and/or the freezer etc. and then this meal can be missed out if your plans change.
Or you can simply budge all your planned meals up one, so the last meal falls into next week and then when you go shopping the next week, simply drop one of your planned meals and do the meal from the previous week instead.
9. What if you don’t like to be too restricted?
Easy! If you absolutely hate having all your meals planned on a particular day, simply plan 7 dinners for the week, but don’t assign them days, and then decide each night which of your meals you are going to have.
Or if you like to go to the butchers/greengrocers and see what’s good each week to choose for your Sunday roast, don’t be so exact on your meal plan. Just put ‘roast dinner’ on your plan for Sunday and on your shopping list ‘meat for roast’ and / or ‘veg for roast’ – then make your actual decision when you get there.
10. And if all of this sounds like waaaay to much work?
I honestly believe that in the long run meal planning will save you time and make your life easier. But if this all just seems like too much work and you wish someone would just do it all for you…then you can download my FREE 4 Week Easy Dinners meal plan here.
I’ve planned out 4 weeks of easy dinners – that’s 28 different meals in total, all picked from my most popular recipes. I’ve also provided 4 master shopping lists, 1 for each week AND created all the mini shopping lists so you can easily make swaps and changes AND there’s a full guide and an FAQ section.
Still unconvinced about meal planning? Then head over to read my 20 Reasons Why You Need To Start Meal Planning. I almost guarantee you’ll be heading back over here afterwards to start on your first monthly meal plan! 😀
Happy meal planning!
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