Working off a Monthly Meal List {Menu Plan Monday}

Working Off a Monthly Meal List -- Menu Plan Monday

Last month, I shared 30 Easy Meals for the Fall, a monthly meal list of 30 simple dinners that fit our busy schedule. I used it (almost) every day in September and am doing it again this month, so I wanted to share how it’s working so far:

What Worked

Saving Time & Stress
I printed up my list of 30 and stuck it on the fridge. Then, each week when I sat down to do a weekly meal plan and grocery list,  all I had to do was choose them off the list. No stress! It also saved me time. It made the planning/list chore take only 15 minutes a week at most.

New Recipes
I tried two of the three new recipes I put on the list. The Honey Parmesan Pork Roast from Sidetracked Sarah was so easy and so flavorful. We’ve had it a second time already, and it’s definitely going in the permanent rotation. The Chicken Broccoli Lo Mein from MomAdvice was also easy, and didn’t take too long standing at the stove. I used whole wheat pasta, and my family loved it. They’ve asked for this one again, too.

Chicken Broccoli Lo Mein

Cooking Ahead
Most of the times I made a casserole, I made two instead, and put one in the freezer. That’s making October even easier, and it’s given me the opportunity to help others with ready-made food. When my twins club asked for meals for a new mom, I had one ready to go. Going into the winter, I’m trying some new casserole recipes shared by MoneywiseMoms readers on Facebook, so that will give us more variety.


What Didn’t Work

Leftovers Nights
I planned several “leftovers nights” since we’ve done that for dinner in months’ past. It didn’t work at all! Either we didn’t have leftovers (are all three kids in growth spurts at the same time?) or there wasn’t enough of various things to feed all five of us. We used what leftovers we had for school and weekend lunches, but that left me with several open nights with no meal plan.

We Still Ate Out
With visitors staying with us twice in September, we still ate out despite my plans to cook 30 days in September. It didn’t help that there were no leftovers to fall back on! I did manage to stay on my $500/month grocery budget for September, but our cupboards were very bare by the end of the month. With my husband off work right now due to the government shutdown, we’ve been cooking every day and avoiding spending any money at all, so we’re on track for October as well.


Ultimately, working off a monthly meal list is helping me, so I’m doing it again this month. Instead of the cold salads I had on the list for September, I’ve added warm comfort foods. I’ll publish a new list for winter in a few weeks, and you’ll see more soups and stews as well as casseroles and easy one-pot meals.

This post is linked up to Menu Plan Monday at OrgJunkie.

Menu Plan Mind Mapping

Menu Plan Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a technique used for brainstorming–it’s something I learned in a blogging course called Content Brew–but I’m finding it really useful for meal planning as well! If you’re feeling like you’re in a rut with your menus, and you need a little shake-up, give menu plan mind mapping a try. Give each category (in this case, a protein like ground beef, chicken, pork, eggs, etc.) a bubble, and list as many meals as you can that use each one. You’ll see at a glance where you have a gap and need more meal ideas. In my case, in the map below, you see that I need more egg/vegetarian ideas if I want to keep up with my goal of eating vegetarian 2-3 times each week. Otherwise, we’ll eat the same thing over and over!

Menu Plan Mind Mapping

Another option would be to mind map around methods–like stovetop, slow cooker, oven casserole, etc.–since I tend to match my method to our schedule (busy nights are usually slow cooker meals). I only do standing-at-the-stove-top meals when I know I have time to do it.

Once you see where your gaps are, look for some new meal ideas. Magazines like All You have very simple meal ideas. I love borrowing cookbooks from the library and flipping through for a few new ideas. Remember that there are lots of “real people” menu plans at the weekly meme Menu Plan Monday. There are a million ideas out there, so be careful not to get overwhelmed! I like to try a new recipe or two each month around our usual favorites.

30 Easy Meals

When I planned out my 30 Easy Meals for Fall, basically a month-long list of meals to work from, I wanted a variety of chicken, beef, pork, and vegetarian meals. When I start planning for October, I know I’ll want more soups for the fall weather. That’s where the menu plan mind mapping comes in handy! I can now search in cookbooks or online for a few new recipes to try to fill in those gaps.


Linked up to Menu Plan Monday at OrgJunkie.

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30 Easy Meals for the Fall

30 Easy Meals for the Fall | Simple family meals to help you get dinner on the table

With school starting this week, one of the things I’ve done to get on top of the busy month is plan out 30 Easy Meals. This saves me a lot of thinking time so I can take just 15 minutes to plan the week and make a grocery shopping list. There’s a mix of slow cooker meals, cold salads, vegetarian, and meals that work for busy evenings like Back-to-School night.

  1. Green Chile Chicken Casserole and corn
  2. Crustless Italian Spinach Pie and cornbread
  3. Beef Tacos (from the freezer) with corn shells and toppings, brown rice and black beans
  4. Pulled Pork Sandwiches (slow cooker) and salad
  5. Chicken Fajitas, wheat tortillas, brown rice and black beans
  6. Chicken Caesar Salad and garlic bread
  7. Homemade Pizza with veggie toppings and salad
  8. Herb Roasted Pork with baked potatoes and green beans
  9. Scrambled Eggs and Rosemary Potatoes, fruit salad
  10. Shredded Chicken Tacos (slow cooker) with wheat tortillas and toppings, plus black beans
  11. Homemade Spaghetti Sauce and Meatballs (frozen), spaghetti, salad and cauliflower
  12. Spinach and Feta Pasta Salad
  13. Sausage Pesto Pita Pizzas with veggies and dip
  14. Leftovers Night
  15. Turkey Spinach Burgers with sweet potato fries and corn
  16. Corn & Potato Chowder and salad
  17. Taco Cornbread Casserole
  18. Pork Ragu & Fettuccine and broccoli
  19. Pineapple Pork Chops with brown rice and green beans
  20. Leftovers Night
  21. Meatball subs (using frozen meatballs) and salad
  22. Crockpot Italian Chicken (with carrots and potatoes)
  23. Macaroni and Cheese with broccoli and salad
  24. Beef Tacos (from the freezer) with corn shells and toppings, brown rice and black beans
  25. Chicken & Broccoli Lo Mein over wheat spaghetti
  26. Sausage & Veggie Roast
  27. Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad and green beans
  28. Hamburgers with sweet potato fries and corn
  29. Honey Parmesan Pork Roast (slow cooker), baked potatoes and broccoli
  30. Chicken Tortilla Soup (slow cooker) and cornbread

I’m basically following the Themed Menu Plan I mentioned at the beginning of the summer; I tend to stick with Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, etc. Each month, I pick enough chicken on-sale (my target price is $1.99/lb), a four-pack of pork roasts from Costco, and other proteins as they’re on sale. Then I can plan 30 Easy Meals around my family’s favorites. Since it’s the fall, I’ve brought back a couple of our favorite soups, and I even threw in three new recipes to try to see if my family likes them.

What are your favorite Easy Meals for the Fall?


30 Easy Meals is linked up to Menu Plan Monday at OrgJunkie.

Themed Menu Plan for an Easier Summer

Whether you’re new to the idea of menu planning, or just want to make life easier for the summer (ding! ding! ding!), try a themed menu plan. Using a theme for each night allows for a little creativity within a structure that saves you time and stress. With school still in session for two more weeks (!), and swim practice from 4-6 every night, I need our dinner meals to be as simple as possible. I’m using themes like taco night, pasta salad, slow cooker dump (chicken + jar of sauce), burger night and others to get meals prepped easily. Even if every Tuesday night is Tacos, I can vary it between ground beef (which is already cooked and in the freezer), chicken or pork shredded tacos from the slow cooker (super easy), or through a simple fajita meal in there. Very similar prep, and very easy, but we won’t feel like we’re in a rut. Same with pasta salads–instead of getting tired of our favorite Spinach & Feta Pasta Salad, we’re trying other combos of pasta + veggies + dressing, like Caesar.

two week meal plan for spring

So here’s my plan for the next two weeks:

Sunday–Honey Glazed Pork Chops, baked potatoes, salad
Meatless Monday–pizza at the pool
Tuesday Tacos–Beef Tacos (from the freezer), corn shells, fixings, black beans
Wednesday–Chicken sausage sauteed with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and broccoli over pasta
Thursday–Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad
Friday–Breakfast for dinner–probably scrambled eggs with veggies & cheese, toast
Saturday–BBQing with neighbors, probably burgers and hot dogs

Themed Menu Plan

Sunday–Balsamic Chicken with Spring Vegetables in the slow cooker, quinoa
Meatless Monday–Cheese tortellini tossed with pesto, tomatoes and peas
Tuesday Tacos–Pork Tacos (pork loin + jar of salsa verde in the slow cooker), wheat tortillas, black beans, fixings
Wednesday–Crockpot Chicken Teriyaki (I’ll make the rice in the morning and just reheat later)
Thursday–Chicken Caesar Salad (I prep it in the AM so it’s easy to pull together when we get home)
Friday–Pasta Pep Rally before our first swim meet!
Turkey Spinach Burgers and salad

What meals do you put on a themed meal plan?

Linked up to Menu Plan Monday at OrgJunkie.

Two Week Meal Plan for Spring

Sticking with a two-week meal plan for spring is working for me. I plan my grocery list around everything we’ll need for the two weeks, then make a quick trip to the store during the second week to replenish dairy and produce. Pasta salads and simple slow cooker meals are just perfect for our busy weeknights when we’re rushing in the door from Tae Kwon Do and other activities.

two week meal plan for spring

On to my two-week meal plan:

Sunday–Turkey Spinach Burgers and salad
Meatless Monday–Portabello Fajitas, brown rice, black beans
Tuesday–Caesar salad with grilled chicken
Wednesday–Beef Tacos (from the freezer), corn shells, fixings, black beans
Thursday–Cheese tortellini tossed with pesto and peas
Friday–Taco Cornbread Casserole and salad
Saturday–Pulled Pork Sandwiches, chips, corn and broccoli slaw

Turkey Spinach Burgers

Sunday–Spaghetti & Meatballs, broccoli
Meatless Monday–Spinach & Feta Pasta Salad
Tuesday–Slow Cooker Chow Mein with pork
Wednesday–Chicken Sausage with peppers, mushrooms, onions and potatoes
Thursday–Homemade pizza on wheat pitas with peppers, mushrooms, and olives
Friday–Eating out
Balsamic Mushroom Pork, baked potatoes and green beans

What’s on your meal plan this week?

Linked up to Menu Plan Monday at OrgJunkie.

Spring Meal Plan: Oven vs. Grill

With the spring weather so up and down, I find that there are days to turn the oven on and days to grill. So I’m keeping my two-week meal plan flexible. That means that I can move things around as desired, but I’ve already bought all the groceries we need to have all of these meals. I make a second trip to the grocery store during week two of the cycle to replace our milk and produce, but I’ve been great about sticking to our $600/month grocery budget so far this year. If you’re thinking about reducing your grocery spending, first learn How to Set a Food Budget. Then, you can watch my short series of videos Grocery Savings Strategies and learn how to read store circulars, prep your grocery list, and more.

Spring Meal Plan

Here’s my two-week meal plan:

Sunday–Grilled Mediterranean Chicken with peppers, onions, and mushrooms and feta, pita bread
Meatless Monday–Spinach & Feta Pasta Salad
Tuesday–Pork Roast, baked potatoes and green beans
Wednesday–Spaghetti & Meatballs, broccoli
Thursday–Chicken Fajitas in the DCB, black beans and brown rice
Friday–Baked Mac & Cheese Casserole with broccoli
Saturday–Green Chile Chicken Casserole and salad

Spinach Feta Pasta Salad

Sunday–Chicken Penne al Fresco in the DCB and green beans
Meatless Monday–Crustless Italian Spinach Pie and cornbread
Tuesday–Meatball Subs and salad
Wednesday–Slow Cooker Pork Ragu & Fettuccine and cauliflower
Thursday–Beef Tacos (from the freezer) with fixings, black beans and brown rice
Friday–Leftovers from the week
Shepherd’s Pie

What’s on your spring meal plan?

Linked up to Menu Plan Monday at OrgJunkie.

Meal Planning: What’s the Point?

meal planning

I was all ready to switch to the spring Menu Plan Monday graphic, but lo and behold–it’s snowing like crazy this morning! One of the biggest questions I get from those who don’t meal plan is “What’s the point?” They say they don’t like the structure and don’t want to have to eat certain things on certain days. Well, either do I! It can be as flexible as you’d like. Some days, I have a crockpot meal planned but something comes up and I didn’t load the crockpot in time. Since I’ve already done the shopping for a week’s dinners, there’s always something else ready to go. For us–it saves so much money because we don’t eat out on the weeknights. I also find that menu planning reduces stress because I don’t spend any time during the day worrying about dinner. I know I’m feeding my family wholesome meals. It also helps during times of chaos, we always have food to eat.

Why do you meal plan?


Here’s my two-week meal plan:

Sunday–Lawnmower Taco Casserole (which my family loved but I thought was just okay), corn
Meatless Monday–Vegetarian Baked Ziti and salad
Tuesday–Herbed Pepper Rub Pork Roast, baked potatoes and broccoli
Wednesday–Shrimp, Artichoke Spinach Dip, and green beans (birthday requests from my girls)
Thursday–Chicken Fajitas in the DCB, black beans and brown rice
Friday–Leftovers from the week
Saturday–Chicken Caesar Casserole

 Corn and Potato Chowder

Sunday–Chicken Sausage Pesto Pizzas and salad
Meatless Monday–“Real” Macaroni & Cheese with broccoli
Tuesday–Green Chile Chicken Casserole and salad
Wednesday–Spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread and leftover salad
Thursday–Corn and Potato Chowder
Friday–Chicken Penne al Fresco in the DCB
Hoisin Pork Wraps

If you’re a Pampered Chef Deep Covered Baker fan, I just started a new board on Pinterest for the microwave recipes I can find online. One of my goals for the year is to get 10 DCB recipes in my repetoire for busy nights. So far, the Chicken Fajitas are the only one I do regularly. I want to get some new recipes especially for the summer so I don’t have to turn the oven on.

Linked up to Menu Plan Monday at OrgJunkie.

Meal Planning: 2 Weeks at a Time

meal planning

Two Mondays ago, I shared a two-week meal plan with the idea that I’d only have to head back to the store to get dairy and produce. It worked! We had a rough weekend eating the dregs of our produce, but we made it through. This morning, I shopped for the next two weeks, mostly non-dinner foods since I have boneless skinless chicken and precooked beef in the freezer.

Sunday–Taco Cornbread Casserole
Meatless Monday–Tortellini with pesto and peas, salad
Tuesday–Lemon & Dill Crockpot Chicken, brown rice and broccoli
Wednesday–Spaghetti & Meatballs, angel hair pasta and homemade breadsticks
Thursday–Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches and salad
Friday–Baked Mac & Cheese Casserole with broccoli
Saturday–Chicken & Rosemary Stew in the Deep Covered Baker (a Pampered Chef recipe)

Sausage Pesto Pita Pizzas

Sunday–Chicken Sausage Pesto Pita Pizzas and veggie tray (carrots, celery, cucumbers and dip)
Meatless Monday–Spinach & Feta Omelets and Rosemary Potatoes
Tuesday–Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup and cornbread
Wednesday–Baked Ziti (from the freezer) and salad
Thursday–Slow Cooker Pork Ragu & Fettuccine and broccoli
Friday–Eating out (my mom is visiting)
Chicken & Green Chile Casserole and salad

I’m still using my favorite get-dinner-on-the-table tricks–like setting up the slow cooker in the morning so there’s no prep to do at dinner hour, doubling up on recipes to freeze the other half for a busy night, and cooking ahead.

What tricks help you get dinner on the table?

Linked up to Menu Plan Monday at OrgJunkie. Next Monday, you’ll see my Make Money Mondays feature.

Two-Week Meal Plan

meal planning

Happy Monday! I’m going to try something new–doing a two-week meal plan to keep with my goal of shopping less often. I did a big grocery shop on Friday that should give me everything we need for the next two weeks, minus a trip to pick up more milk and produce. So you’ll see a two-week meal plan posted every other Monday, and other Mondays I’ll bring back the Make Money Mondays feature.

If you want to give a two-week meal plan a try, here are some FREE printable planners to help:

  • MoneySavingMom has a 2-week planner that includes space for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks.
  • The Peaceful Mom has a 2-week planner that you can customize by changing the days or typing in your meals (plan out two weeks now, then print it out and use it again another month!).
  • Craft Sew Create has a great planner that includes a shopping list, but it’s only for 1 week at a time (below)

Weekly Menu Plan

Obviously, since we have all the food in the house, I can be flexible about which nights we eat certain meals. I do like to stick to my schedule of using the slow cooker on our busy nights. It’s so nice to walk in the house after Tae Kwon Do and have dinner ready to go. So easy!

Sunday–Herbed Pepper Rub Pork Roast, mashed potatoes and salad
Meatless Monday–“Real” Macaroni & Cheese with broccoli
Tuesday–Slow Cooker Beef & Broccoli with brown rice
Wednesday–Chicken, leftover mashed potatoes and green beans
Thursday–Heart-shaped Homemade Pizza with sausage, mushrooms and olives with salad
Friday–Sausage Lentil Soup and cornbread


Saturday & Sunday–we’ll be out of town visiting the new baby nephew! My kids can’t wait to meet him.
Meatless Monday–Crustless Italian Spinach Pie and Homemade Italian Breadsticks
Tuesday–Chicken Fajitas in the DCB, whole grain tortillas and black beans
Wednesday–Slow Cooker Taco Pie (from More Make it Fast, Cook it Slow)
Thursday–Pineapple Pork Chops with brown rice and green beans
Friday–Corn and Potato Chowder
Baked Ziti (I’ll make two and freeze one)


How is your meal planning going?

Linked up to Menu Plan Monday at OrgJunkie.