How I Planned 3 Months Worth of Meals in Under One Hour (+ a FREE Monthly Meal Planner Printable)

I planned three months of simple, healthy family meals in under one hour. Want to know how? Get the details and download your very own FREE monthly meal planner printable below!

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I always felt like I had a handle on what we were eating for dinner, that is until I started getting back into work after our second baby and the crazy year of health stuff we weathered. In the matter of months I went from kitchen-confident to constantly frazzled about what to feed my family.

So I tried the traditional approach to meal planning: new week, new menu, new you! Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to go, right?

But the time, thought and creativity involved in putting together a new collection of healthy meals every week made me feel like I was working a third job as a chef at a restaurant for tiny, unappreciative humans. Every new menu required a whole new grocery list and meal prep plan.

Not surprisingly, every night something new was put on the table, our three-year-old would inevitably blurt out, “Ewwww, gross.” 

Sound familiar?

A few weeks into “meal planning” I about lost my sh*t. Was I doing it wrong? Clearly it couldn’t be this hard to put delicious, healthy food on the table.

Then I took a step back and realized I was the one making meal planning way more complicated than it needed to be.

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Do our kids need a new selection of meals every single week? Nope. In fact, they prefer to eat the same thing over, and over, and over again because that’s just how kids are wired.

Could taking a more minimalist approach could help reduce the thought, time, and energy we put into preparing meals? Most other cultures around the world eat the same handful of meals on repeat all year long and no one seems to have an issue with it.  

I considered some alternatives that would require a lot less effort: Eating the same meals every week for an entire season, or eating the same meals every week for a month.

photo of free monthly meal planner printable and master meal list on ipad

Would the hubs and I tire of eating the same thing for weeks on end? Maybe. But we also go out to eat once or twice each week so in all reality, probably not. And with two toddlers we hardly notice what we’re shoveling into our mouths most nights anyway. 

I ended up going with the monthly meal plan because, while I’d be perfectly happy with a seasonal rotation, the dietitian in me knows that exposing little ones to a variety of foods early and often is essential in raising good eaters.

Instead of planning just one month though, I planned three. Yep, an entire season’s worth of meals in under one hour.  

One hour! That’s it. Do you know how little I usually get done in one hour these days? If you have tiny people in your house, you absolutely do.

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How I Created Our First Monthly Meal Plan

I started by grabbing a piece of scrap paper (with mashed banana on it) and wrote down as many meals that I could think of that our kids enjoyed and were simple to prepare. 

Then I grabbed a second piece of scrap paper and started drawing a table: days of the week on the left, months across the top. My initial list had about 25 meals — which actually goes a long way when you factor in leftovers and dinners out. 

Each day of the week was assigned a default meal — leftovers included. We typically go out for dinner as a family once or twice a week (Thursdays and/or Saturdays) but I still included backup meal ideas for these days for when our plans change. Because plans will change!

I repeated this process, writing in different meals off of my master list for the following two months, and boom — had a season’s worth of meals fully planned. 

Once I had the big picture plan, I took it one step further and created a weekly outline for each month’s recipes and a master grocery list.

The weekly outline is essentially your recipe lineup for the month — what meals you’ll be eating on what days and your weekly prep “to-dos”. This sheet stays on my magnetic note board in the kitchen, so when I have a few extra minutes to get something prepped, I can give it a quick glance and knock out another thing on my meal prep to-do list.

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How We Use Our Monthly Meal Planner

The meals in our plan are our defaults. They are dinners I know our kids usually eat well, that I have ingredients for, and can quickly put together. Since meals change monthly, this plan gives us plenty of variety over the course of a season.

Of course, I can deviate from our plan if and when I have some extra time, energy, and inspiration to try something new (which is usually only when am working on a new recipe for the blog or a client), but it’s really nice to have these default meals to rely on each week.

We’ve been using our monthly meal plan for several weeks now and I have to say, it’s. been. life changing. At least for me.  I’m no longer scrambling to figure out what to cook or what needs to be prepped, and my grocery list is essentially the same every week. I don’t even think the kids or hubs have even noticed — hah!  

photo of free monthly meal planner printable on ipad with pencil and plant

Benefits of a Monthly Meal Plan

It eliminates the mental load of weekly meal planning. 

Between sourcing new recipes, writing a grocery list and creating a prep plan, I used to spend nearly 2 hours meal planning each week. Now I’ve got it down to 1 hour every three months. Simplifying family meals with a monthly meal plan has given me time, energy and sanity back, which I now put towards the people and activities I love most. 

It saves time and money.

Monthly meal plans lead to less food waste and less time spent shopping and prepping. Creating a monthly plan using ingredients that are in season, on sale or available in bulk provided added savings. 

Your family knows what to expect, and what’s expected. 

One thing motherhood has taught me is that mealtime goes smoother when there aren’t any surprises. Who doesn’t love a heads up though? We don’t do this yet but having theme nights (i.e. Meatless Mondays, Spaghetti Saturdays) that carry over from month-to-month will make family meals even more predictable. If you’ve got older kids, a monthly meal plan is perfect for getting your family involved in the prep. Just assign each person one or two weekly prep tasks that they are in charge of each month.  

It makes it easier for little ones to like new foods.

Kids are neophobes and can have a really hard time with new things, especially new foods. Eating the same meals on repeat for an entire month provides repetition but also routine exposure to new foods. Research shows offering new foods repeatedly increases acceptance and likability. Who knows… a dish your kiddo isn’t particularly fond of on Week 1 might be a favorite by the end of the month.

It’s easy to get the family involved. 

Let your family members choose one dish each month, one they’re excited about and are willing to help prep. Then, assign them specific task to be in charge of doing each week for the entire month. This is especially beneficial for picky eaters. Not only do they have a meal on the menu they love, but its empowering and gets them excited about food!

Grab Your FREE Monthly Meal Planner Printable

If you want to simplify your family meals, download your own free monthly meal planner printable. It’s the same one we use and have hanging in our kitchen.

The printable includes a 3-month seasonal snapshot, a weekly planning worksheet, shopping list and instructions to help you get started.

Just fill out the form below and check your email to download the monthly meal planner printable. Then, print and use what you find helpful!

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Now that you’ve got your free monthly meal planner printable…

Start filling in your master meal list! For recipe inspiration, check out some of our favorite minimalist meals and follow us on Pinterest!

Pin the Planner

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Author: Elle Penner M.P.H., R.D.

I'm Elle, Registered Dietitian and minimalism-obsessed mama with a thing for simplifying, particularly when it comes to clutter, calendars, and family meals. Favorite things include carbs, cooking, kid-free workouts, and high-waisted yoga pants.

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