The following is a guest post about seasonal meal planning from regular contributor, Rachel at Useful Beautiful Home.
This has been an incredibly busy season of life for our family, more so this year than ever. I started to list the craziness that has engulfed my life but then I put on the brakes (ain’t nobody got extra time to read my saga – lol). The long and the short of it… I’m busy, you’re busy, we’re all busy this time of year. ;)
Guys, I don’t want to miss the memorable moments tucked in-between the to-dos and must-dos on my calendar. When I’m rushed, I miss what’s important. The dilemma is that my calendar is full of commitments that must be done or require my attendance. I have no wiggle room to “cut something out”. I’m already putting up the boundary fence of saying “no” as much as possible. So, I found a quick fix in the meal planning process and have gained a little time back. (Hopefully my sanity will come back too, hee-hee.) The idea is simple; repeat a meal schedule every four weeks throughout the duration of that current season. That’s the concept, read below to see how I systemized it into folders.
I drafted a quick plan of four weeks worth of Fall themed meals that we LOVE, those that are tried and true. Most of the meals are quick, all of them are easy, and the majority are A+ healthy. Then, I made a grocery list for each week, four separate grocery lists in all. Finally, I gathered all the recipes I didn’t know by heart and made a copy of each one. All these papers went into page protectors inside a 2-pocket portfolio folder with prongs. The goal is to do this 4 times, one folder for each season with the recipes based around what fruits & veggies are in season. I also adjust for certain meals we like throughout the year. Things like soup during the winter and cold chicken salad during the summer.
I put the monthly meal plan in the first page-protector. Following that are the weekly grocery lists, one master copy in each page-protector so I can print more if needed. The last page-protectors in the folder contain that 4-week group of recipes.
The inside LEFT pocket holds various store flyers showcasing what’s in season and a few coupons I don’t want to forget. The inside RIGHT pocket (behind all the page-protectors) is where I place recipes I want to try if I have extra time on my hands. All those excellent resources for meal planning keeps me inspired to try new things, so I allow space in the 4-week plan for this.
It’s an extremely condensed version of meal planning, cookbook corralling, and grocery list making. It’s simple, it’s all in one place, and it’s REPEATABLE. That’s right! I am repeating this menu plan every 4 weeks for as long as my family will tolerate the redundancy. It may sound boring, but I had to find a way to lighten my load or meals would become a burden, I would give up, and our nutrition would suffer. The worst time of year for nutrition to be sub-par is during cold & flu season, so I knew something had to be done pronto!
We’ve been doing this for several months already and I couldn’t be happier with the results. Nobody has complained or even noticed the simplicity of meals over the weeks. Because the plan spans four weeks, it doesn’t seem repetitive or boring and certain meals get tweaked with each new season.
The point is, I’m trying my best to reduce decisions that take up time but aren’t necessarily a priority in the day-to-day of a busy month. If I had all the time in the world, I would cook and bake up a storm for my family morning, noon, and night. But, guess who doesn’t have all the time in the world? This girl! And I’m betting you don’t either. So, feel free to use my idea and adapt it to make sense for your family.
Here are a few suggestions for planning a menu like this:
- Use a plastic 3-pronged folder rather than the cardstock paper type, for durability
- Use page protectors inside the folder, best option for frequent use
- Copy pages from cookbooks (online recipes, etc.) and insert into the folder so everything is in one place
- Either make your grocery list reusable by laminating or make several copies to tuck inside the page-protector
- Use the pockets inside the folder for stashing store flyers, coupons, and recipes you want to try
- Schedule a “try a new recipe” day on your rotating schedule but not too often (I only have one of these every 4 weeks)
- If you don’t have time to set up the whole month all at once, create it by slowly adding a weekly meal plan, corresponding grocery lists and recipes as you go. Once you have 4 weeks done, make necessary “tweaks” and repeat.
- Make meal-related notes and reminders on the meal plan calendar that need to be done in advance (i.e. make a double batch of sauce and freeze for the next month)
- Print your calendar and recipes so they all fit vertically inside the folder. It’s easier to use if it reads like a book. I made my calendar and corresponding grocery lists on a vertical spreadsheet (and embellished with a little seasonal color).
- Find a meal or two your family will eat on a weekly basis (I make a roasted chicken every Monday and just switch out the seasonings/flavors of the meal for variety, then later in the week I make chicken noodle soup using my homemade bone broth. Healthy and easy!)
- Have one folder finished and currently in rotation? Go ahead and get started on the next season until all 4 are completed. :)
- I used Avery (affiliate link) labels that I designed and printed from my home computer in a few minutes. However, a Sharpie would label the folders just as easily.
- My folder system may not be the right fit for you, but I encourage you to try to find a way to simplify meals during the weeks leading up to Christmas. This simple short-cut has been a huge help for me. My Recipe rotation folders have given me freedom from decision-making so I can apply that extra time towards something more important!
In the professional world, I’m a nurse by trade. But, around our house, I’m known as Mommy to our young daughters. My two worlds collided and began shaping into a blog. Useful Beautiful Home represents the hours I’ve dedicated to managing my household as efficiently as possible. I offer you motivation to keep your home healthy, organized, and welcoming. My goal is to share what I’ve implemented in my home to inspire you with fresh ideas and to encourage you to keep up the good work in yours! Learn more about me HERE or visit me at UsefulBeautifulHome.com.
- Please note that affiliate links are included in this post to make it easier for you to find what is being referenced. A small commission is made should you purchase product using these links, but this is at no extra cost to you. As always, any and all opinions are genuinely my own – or the author, in the case of posts by my guest contributors. Thank you!*