Family Recipes

How to Plan a Month of Meals

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Woman happily dances with a roasted chicken.

Plus, 17 ways to use a rotisserie chicken

Fall is the time of year I’m determined to plan dinners in advance, shop for everything at once and serve healthy meals every night. That usually lasts a week before I throw my hands up and order pizza. Sound familiar?

I know I’m not alone when I say I am both intrigued and aggravated by bloggers who share monthly meal plans. In theory, they are amazingly planned out with a shopping list and sometimes a nutritional chart. But when I look at the recipes, I know my family of picky eaters will only eat half the dinners suggested. This year I came up with a plan that will work for my family. Here are suggestions to plan a month of meals that your family will eat.

  1. Make a list of your family’s go-to meals. How many times do you make them each month? I make eight family favorites twice a month, which satisfies 16 days. Next, make a list of meals you make only once a month like a ham, pot roast or something that takes several hours to cook. Then, add in some simple, quick meals that can be cooked in 15 minutes (see sidebar for ideas). Finally, choose a few crockpot meals your family enjoys.

  2. Create a calendar. Write each dinner on a separate Post-it and put them in order on a calendar. As you arrange (and rearrange) the days, be realistic about your family’s schedule. If you will be occupied from 3­–6 p.m., don’t plan a dinner that takes hours to prepare. When you lay out your calendar, plan meals with similar ingredients in the same week to avoid waste. For example, if two recipes use ½ can of tomato paste, put those meals next to each other on the calendar.

  3. Make a shopping list for the month. Shop for all non-perishable items at once and shop weekly for fresh produce and dairy. Meat can be purchased ahead of time and frozen or purchased weekly. As you see a pattern forming for your staples, pick up extras at the store. With unpredictable schedules of my teens and their friends, I keep extra frozen burgers and packages of rice or pasta to supplement a meal if we have extra guests.

  4. Leave flexibility in your schedule. If you know a night will be too busy to cook, plan leftovers by making a double batch the night before. If your child’s late afternoon lessons and are next to your favorite take-out restaurant, plan that into your menu every now and then. If there is a great sale at the grocery store one week, feel free to adjust your plan. When the cost of eggs dropped drastically in my area, we ate breakfast for dinner a few nights instead of our regularly planned meals.

  5. Consider cooking a week of meals at once. While I have yet to master this, some families spend one long afternoon chopping, mixing and cooking dinner for the whole week. It is a great time saver for the busy afterschool rush. Grill more than one kind of meat, chop all veggies for the week’s menu, or make soups, casseroles and sauces to freeze for later.

Having dinners already planned and prepped provides time to help with homework, play a game with the kids or just put your feet up and relax.

17 Ways to Use a Rotisserie Chicken
Every grocery store has grab-and-go rotisserie chicken, side options and bread to complete a meal. While this is an alternative to takeout food, rotisserie chicken can also expedite a home-cooked meal.

  1. Shred chicken for fajitas.

  2. Add to pasta or a green salad.

  3. Mix with mayo, celery and hard-boiled eggs to make chicken salad sandwiches.

  4. Roll up in wraps.

  5. Add to rice, eggs and soy sauce for chicken fried rice.

  6. Cut up and add to soup.

  7. Mix with Red Hot sauce and top with blue cheese and coleslaw for buffalo chicken sandwiches.

  8. Place on pita bread with tomato, onion and tzatziki sauce for chicken gyros.

  9. Add barbecue sauce to make chicken sliders.

  10. Make chicken pot pie by mixing with frozen veggies and baking in a pie shell.

  11. Use in any casserole recipe that calls for cooked chicken.

  12. Make white chili with navy beans, white corn, sour cream and chicken broth.

  13. Mix with black beans, jicama and cilantro for chicken tacos.

  14. Stuff green peppers with a combination of chicken, beans, rice and tomatoes.

  15. Make chicken and dumplings.

  16. Press chicken, pesto, mozzarella and tomatoes between Italian bread for a Panini.

  17. Create a white pizza with chicken, mozzarella, garlic and herbs.

Pam Molnar is a freelance writer and mother of three. When she isn’t running a carpool or supporting her kids on the field and on stage, she looks forward to cooking meals that her family enjoys.

Published October 2016