September 5, 2011

How to Create a Monthly Menu Plan, Part 1 of 4 | Make a Master List of Dinner Recipes

Over the coming four Mondays in September of 2011, I will post a four part series on How to Create a Monthly Menu Plan.

Menu planning is an easy way to save time and money - and stress!


This week's topic: Recipes.

Before you can begin menu planning for your family's dinners, you'll need to make a simple list of the dinners you most often cook.

If you're like me - you wear the Head Chef hat in your family - you likely have a list of "go to" recipes/dinner ideas that you use when it comes time to cook dinner.

Spaghetti and meatballs. Tacos. Grilled chicken breasts and rice. Pot roast and mashed potatoes. Nothing fancy, just simple meals that don't take too much time to prepare, meals that most everyone in your home enjoys eating (my goal for making everyone happy at the table: 2 out of 3 kids like it, lol!).

Your list of meals might look like my list or it might look very different depending on your family's health needs, size, or circumstances. That's fine. It is your list after all.

But you do need to have a list of recipes for those meals your family likes before you can effectively begin meal planning. I like call my list my MELLY list: Meals Everyone Likes List {for} Your {family}.

To see my own MELLY list, click here.

The easiest way to build your MELLY list is to begin by listing some of the meals you normally make week in and week out. If you already have a weekly menu plan, use that as a reference for your list. You can also spend some time browsing through your cookbooks, recipe cards, and bookmarked recipes online; when you see a recipe that works for you, your family, and your time and budget constraints, jot it on your list.

More ways to build your own MELLY list:

:: Think seasons. What's for dinner during the hot months of summer at your home is probably different from what's for dinner on a cold winter night. Be sure to add favorite hot weather and cold weather recipes to your MELLY list.

:: Think fresh. The change of seasons brings changes in the produce section of your local grocery store. By planning for meals that will take advantage of deals on produce that's in abundance, you'll save money on your grocery bill. Check out this list of Cheapest Fruits and Vegetables by Month for inspiration.

:: Think celebrations. Big holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter mean big sales at the grocery stores on items like hams, turkeys, and lamb chops. The summer holidays of Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day mean big sales on meats for the grill, condiments, and picnic fare. Add recipes to your MELLY list that would use those items when they go on sale during the year. Check out this list of The Best Time to Buy Everything for ideas on what food items typically go on sale each month.

:: Think family. Ask your family for their input - what's their favorite dinner? What new thing would they like to try? Is there a particular dinner that they just.don't.like? This is by far the best way to get fresh ideas - from the people around your kitchen table!

:: Think ahead. Identify meals/recipes on your MELLY that would be easy to double so that you have an extra dinner to freeze for a busy night (Double Duty Dinners).

If you can list ten to fifteen different meals on your MELLY list, you're well on your way to building your own monthly menu plan. Hurray!

Next week's topic is one that is a critical consideration to building a successful monthly menu plan: the family schedule.

Be sure to check back next Monday, September 12, 2011, for Part Two of this four part series: Build Your Menu Plan to Match Your Family Schedule.

Need more resources to help find recipes? Check out the links below:

All Recipes

Food.com

$5 Dinners

Once a Month Mom
(This site teaches you how to cook a month of meals in one big cooking day; you could adapt the monthly menus to everyday cooking.)

Menu Plan Monday at Org Junkie

Questions? Ideas? Suggestions? Please feel free to leave a comment below!

This post is part of Menu Plan Monday at Org Junkie - a GREAT weekly linkup for anyone in need of meal planning inspiration!

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