My Easy & Automated Monthly Meal Plan

I once heard that Steve Jobs wore a black turtleneck every day so he didn’t spend any decision-making or creative energy choosing an outfit. I don’t know if that’s true, but it explains why I got tired of figuring out what to make for dinner every night.

When I started working again four years ago, I needed a way to simplify meal planning and shorten dinner prep time, because figuring out what to make each night and what to buy every week was draining me.

Meal planning recently came up in several different conversations, so I thought I’d share the system I created. Here it is, step by step:

1) I made a list of all the quick and easy meals my family likes.

Bryan and the kids helped make this list. We came up shy of a month’s worth of meals, so I filled in the rest with easy weeknight meals I found around the web. I’m slowly adding all these recipes to my blog and Pinterest page if you want to follow along there.

I completely revamp this list when the seasons change so we don’t end up eating beef stew in July, and I have a few dinners in my arsenal that take some effort for the weekends, or when I get a whim, or when company comes.

2) I organized all the meals using Google Calendar.

All the calendars for my family are in Google, so it made sense to incorporate our meal plan there. I organized the meals in a way that made sense for our family schedule. For instance, Tuesdays and Thursdays are crockpot meals because Ruthie used to have soccer practice from 5-6pm, and I didn’t have time for any dinner prep.

Monthly Meal Plan

3) I numbered the weeks 1-4.

This isn’t necessary, but it made it easier for me to do step #4.

4) I created a template grocery list.

I use the Shopper App for iPhone, which has a feature for creating template lists. I made a template for all the grocery items I need for Week 1, another list for Week 2, and so on. I also made a template for Weekly Staples we always have on hand, like milk, lunch & breakfast items, and wine.

5) On shopping day…

I double check the family calendar to see if I need to make any adjustments to the pre-set meal plan, then I copy the template items for that week over to my current shopping list, omitting anything I already have on hand.

6) I go shopping.

I know this sounds OCD, but it’s completely changed my life. On busy weeks, this is a no-brainer task I can fall back on. But if I’m feeling more adventurous or less busy or I have more time to think about it, I change it up with different meals and make a custom grocery list.

After about a year of doing this, I feel like it’s the best of both worlds: automated when I need it, flexible when I want it.

Do you plan your menu or make it up as you go?