Are you sick and tired of making a new meal plan every time you turn around? I HATE MEAL PLANNING. So I developed a two-week meal plan that I never have to redo! Yes, I might be the only person daring enough to use the same meal plan over and over again.
Wait, what? You can use this meal plan forever? Doesn’t that get boring?
They say variety is the spice of life, right? And so who would want to have the same meal every two weeks ad infinitum? I can hear you asking this of yourself and thereby dismissing the idea out of hand — but don’t just yet. There is some variety built in, as you’ll see below. But also, desperate times call for desperate measures (see #2 below), and so here is how I look at it:
1) Menu planning gets done ONCE. Period. (Did I mention you never have to sit down with the recipe books ever again, if you don’t want to?)
2) The grocery list stays fairly constant, so you can gauge how much you will spend pretty easily. Gone are the days of the ever-changing list and the usually-not-happy surprise when you get to the checkout. This was probably my main reason for instigating the two-week plan. Food is one of the few budget categories that I can still affect; all the other bills are pretty much fixed and I can’t trim them down any more. With this plan I have been able to reduce the food allotment by quite a bit (about $400 a month, seriously), thus leaving some money for other uses (or in some months, to keep us from using credit).
3) There is still room for variety. One of the items on my Week 1 plan is chili. But guess what, I can make either regular chili with ground beef, or I can make meatless chili, or I can make white chicken chili. Other nights don’t have as much flexibility, but there are plenty that do. And the side dishes can be different every time—sometimes that’s all it takes to make a meal seem new.
4) Food prep gets streamlined real fast. Have I ever mentioned that I really don’t like to cook? Only about a million times, right? So having recipes that I use over and over means I don’t have to spend any more time in the kitchen than is absolutely necessary, because I’ve gotten used to preparing them and don’t have to try to figure them out from scratch (pun intended, haha). I actually specifically chose recipes with few ingredients (another way to affect the bottom line, see #2 above) and easy prep. My kids don’t really care how involved the prep is; they just want something yummy. The hubby, although he would certainly enjoy something more elaborate, is not picky about that. So why try to be something I’m not? If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am all about easy. :-)
5) Guess what? The menu plan is NOT SET IN STONE. If there is a holiday or special occasion, I can insert a festive meal. If one of the planned meals is getting boring week after week, I can find another one and replace the boring one. But the beauty of that is I only have to do that occasionally, not every week or two weeks or month. And you’d be surprised to find that it doesn’t really get boring all that fast. The trick is to choose meals that everyone LOVES, the type of meals that they would willingly eat every day if they could. I couldn’t do that with every meal, obviously, but many of them are indeed favorites for our family.
So OK, I can bet you’re ready by now to see exactly what type of meals our family is getting over the two weeks. So here goes:
|Tostadas||Beef or Chicken Tacos|
|Chicken w/ sauce and rice||Easy Italian Chicken|
|Pasta (or spaghetti squash) w/ sauce||Pot Roast or Ham|
|Pork w/ cabbage or Kielbasa w/ kraut||Garlicky Fish|
|Salad Bar||Baked Potato Bar|
|Chili or White Chicken Chili||Beans & Rice|
The recipes for most of the meals in this easy rotating meal plan can be found in my ebook, 30+ Ridiculously Easy Dinners for Busy Families on a Budget. Plus many more! If you need more easy dinner ideas — and who doesn’t? — then take a look: 30+ Ridiculously Easy Dinners for Busy Families on a Budget.
No, these meals are not fancy. But they get the job done. Does the whole thing seem too utilitarian? You may be right. But this meal plan has actually made dinner at our home MORE like the ideal that we all strive for—where everyone is sitting around the table together, enjoying one another’s company. I guess because I am not stressed, and everyone knows what to expect… and to be honest, I don’t really know why. I just know that we’ve been eating together more. And I like that.
Note: there are only six meals in each week because every Sunday in our family is Cook’s Day Off. Everyone fends for themselves that day. The kids often end up having cereal for dinner, by choice. There are usually leftovers available for those of us who want real food.
Update: Have I used this meal plan exclusively for the last few years? No, I have not. But it’s great for when the finances are tight for awhile, or the days/weeks are busy and I don’t have the time or desire to get über creative. I can pull out this easy rotating meal plan any time I need to, and it’s all right there, already set up and ready to go, for as long as I need it.
If you’re interested in more information about meal planning, I wrote an entire series about it! :-) Click here: Meal Planning Do’s and Don’ts for the first post in the series.