My dear friend, Rachelle, and I share a mutual love for efficiency. She edits all sorts of KB content (and she also has three historical fiction novels to her name!), and today she is sharing her meal plan rotation system with you. You are going to lose your mind over her brilliant ideas for turning meal planning into less of a chore. Please give Rachelle a warm welcome!
I am a planner to my core, but I struggled with meal planning for almost three years.
It wasn't that I wasn't trying; it was that we were trying so many things! My husband's dietary restrictions meant we were constantly experimenting with elimination diets in order to pinpoint which foods triggered him.
(I don't know if you've ever tried an elimination diet like Whole30, but it's so hard!)
Finally, we've settled on what to cook that nourishes us both—a mostly paleo-ish diet with no uncooked vegetables and little to no flour or sugar.
(Though I've quite the sweet tooth, so we definitely indulge every once in a while in the baked goods I adore! #moderation)
My breakthrough moment
Once we finally figured out what he could eat without getting sick afterward, I did what I'd been wanting to do for years: I ditched the weekly meal planning for a monthly meal plan rotation instead! No more starting from scratch every week.
Which means I'm never asking, What's for dinner?
If you dislike that question, too, I'd encourage you to stop meal planning every week as well. Instead, try reusing your family favorites on a rotation. It took me less than half an hour to set up my monthly meal planner template, so let me walk you through the process. (Or keep reading for a secret tip on how to skip the set-up entirely!)
And if you're worried about getting bored, don't worry! I build in opportunities to try new recipes! Here's how to get started:
1. Make a list of your family's favorite dishes.
Whip out a sheet of paper (or take notes in your phone) and write down a list of dinner ideas. Include those meals your kids are always asking for, the go-to recipes you don't even have to read anymore, and don't be afraid to list “take-out” or “pizza!”
Aim for listing at least 20 different dinner ideas, and you're set! That's a different meal for each weeknight in a month, with room to repeat your very favorites.
I took it one step further and grouped our top 20 favorite meals into categories by theme (Italian, Asian, Mexican, American, etc.). This step helped me avoid monotony within any one week's meal plan. Because if left up to me, we'd have chicken every night for a week. I'd never notice, but my husband would get bored!
2. Decide on your nightly themes (optional)
You can survive without this step, but I find that having a theme structure helps me tremendously!
Using the categorized menu you just created, assign each to a night of the week.
For example, the themes in my house are:
- Mondays – chicken
- Tuesdays – Italian (Wks 1 & 3) or roast (Wks 2 & 4)
- Wednesdays – American or Mexican
- Thursdays – marinated fish or chicken
- Fridays – wild card (new recipe or appetizer!)
- Saturdays – chili or rotisserie chicken
- Sundays – Asian
Pro Tip: When you're deciding on nightly themes, think about the rhythm of your week.
For example, since Mondays are, well, Mondays, I always make a simple chicken meal that doesn't require much thought. Tuesdays are a packed day for me, too, so I often plan a crockpot meal. But Wednesdays I have more time, so I'll make tacos or burgers and prep whatever meat marinade we're having on Thursday. Fridays are my work-from-home day and we like to have friends over, so I often try a new recipe!
As for the weekend, on Saturdays we make brunch together and I also grocery-shop (I faithfully use Walmart grocery pick-up!) so we enjoy rotisserie chicken I've bought that day or chili in the crockpot I prep in the morning as we enjoy brunch.
Whatever your week looks like, plan your menu around your busy schedule and you're much more likely to stick to it!
3. Plug your themes and dishes into your meal plan
Here's where it gets fun!
I use a Google spreadsheet for my monthly meal planner template, and I've labeled the different tabs Week One, Week Two, Week Three, and Week Four so I can easily toggle between them when I make changes (more about that in a minute!).
Once a month, I print out each tab and stick all four on the fridge so I can easily see what's for dinner and grocery-shop.
But you don't have to label each night! Even though I enjoy having the stability of the nightly themes, you can take a more freestyle approach and simply list the meals within the weeks. This gives you the flexibility to make tacos on Monday if you're really craving them, instead of waiting for Taco Tuesday.
Note from Kalyn: I shared on Instagram Stories how I set up and customized Rachelle's template with my own recipes. Some of you were interested in that template which includes a Grocery List AND a Prep List in addition to the meal plan. You can download that version HERE.
Secret Tip: Skip the set-up
Not interested in spending half an hour creating this monthly meal plan rotation from scratch? Girl, I hear you. Here's the way to bypass all that:
- Simply meal plan as you normally would once a week, but…
- Save those meal plans
Instead of wiping clean the dry-erase board or tearing off the perforated sheet on your fridge menu pad, save those menus! Take a picture or stack somewhere you can find them in four weeks and then simply plop them into your spreadsheet easy-peasy.
Bonus: Plan Everything!
If you haven't already guessed I'm a planner on hyperdrive, this may convince you:
One way I eliminate decision fatigue is by planning every single meal: breakfasts, lunches, and even snacks, too!
I often deviate from the plan. So why do I do it? Because I find that just having something planned for breakfast eliminates fifteen minutes of fridge-staring as I try to decide what I want.
If I'm not in the mood for what's in the meal plan, having it staring at me from the printed sheet is enough to prompt me to think, Yeah I don't want that. I want this.
Plus, I eat healthier when I plan before I'm hungry.
The Question at the Back of Your Mind
You may be wondering, Do I stick to my monthly meal plan religiously?
Of course not!
We regularly have people over for dinner and I modify based on their preferences. We change it up based on what produce is in season, and whenever I find a new recipe we just love, I add it into the meal plan (usually by removing a duplicate, although eventually I hope to work up to 6 weeks' worth of menus!).
And of course we definitely don't stick to this during the holidays, but having a plan eliminates that age-old question what's for dinner?
Which makes it all worth it to me.
Don't forget to make your own copy of the monthly meal planner template right here!
Rachelle Rea Cobb signed her first book contract right after college for a trilogy of historical romance novels. In addition to historical fiction, she has also written Write Well, a short writing guide designed to teach the structure of good writing. She loves working with other writers as a freelance editor, working on her fixer-upper first home with her husband (who shares the same first name as the fictional hero in her first three books!). Rachelle is a huge fan of chai and lemonade (though definitely not together). Visit her online at her blog here.
Let's chat about meal planning:
Do you prefer a thoroughly planned menu or a more freestyle approach?
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