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Are you a new frugal mom who's trying to stretch her family's budget, get dinner on the table, and stay sane in the chaos of modern family life?

The New Frugal Mom is a site dedicated to sharing practical ideas for frugal living to help you save both time and money.

September 12, 2011

How to Create a Monthly Menu Plan, Part 2 of 4 | Build Your Menu Plan to Match Your Family Schedule

Over the four Mondays in September of 2011, I'm posting a four part series on How to Create a Monthly Menu Plan.

Menu planning is an easy way to save time and money - and stress!

If you missed the first installment of this four part series {Part 1: Make a Master List of Dinner Recipes}, be sure to read it here.

This week's topic: The Family Schedule

One of the biggest reasons that getting dinner on the table is so difficult for families is simply because every family is just.plain.busy.  No matter what the work/life/parenting/equation looks like in your family, life is busy, time is short, and answering the 5 o'clock, "What's for dinner?!" question can quickly become a daily challenge.

The best way to prevent dinner burnout (and prevent the staff at the local drive-thrus from knowing your car on sight!) is to dedicate a half an hour to an hour of time once a month to planning out your monthly menu with your family schedule for the month in front of you for reference.

Print a simple blank monthly calendar like this one to use as you begin making notes about your family's monthly schedule.

First, sit down with your family schedule for the month and look closely at your days.  Some days are simply so busy with work/school/activities/obligations/appointments that you know you'll be racing from dawn until dusk.   On your monthly menu calendar, label those days in some way as your BUSIEST (ie: MORE, or HIGH, or PLUS, or whatever term works for you).

Then look through your month and identify the days that are the opposite - the days that have the least in the terms of work/school/activities/obligations/appointments.  These are the slower days of your month where you have time to rest a bit and devote an extra bit of time to cooking meals or prepping meals for other days.  On your monthly menu calendar, label those days in some way as your EASIEST (ie: LESS, or LOW, or MINUS or whatever term works for you). 

Last, look through and identify days that fall somewhere in the middle, days that are somewhat busy but not overwhelmingly so.  On your monthly menu calendar, label those days in some way as your AVERAGE (ie: AVERAGE, NORMAL, EQUAL, or whatever term works for you). 

Look back over your monthly schedule and note the days that are More Busy, Average Busy, or Less Busy.  Ask yourself how much time you can realistically devote to cooking or preparing dinner during each of those different types of days

Maybe on a More Busy day, you need to have dinner waiting for your family in the slow cooker because there simply is no time to cook.  On an Average Busy day, you might have 20-30 minutes to make a simple dinner.  On a Less Busy day, you could tackle a more complicated dinner recipe or could dedicate that extra time to cooking a couple of extra dinners to stash in the freezer for the More Busy nights. 

The last label you should transfer from your family's monthly schedule to your monthly menu calendar are free nights.  These are days where you already have events planned away from your home where you will be eating dinner elsewhere, ie: family celebrations, church potlucks or picnics, out to eat with your family or as a date night with your spouse.  On your monthly menu calendar, label those nights as FREE NIGHT

Now, take out the dinner recipe list that you created last week - your MELLY list. You should already have identified which recipes would work as Double Duty Dinners (recipes you can cook a double amount of and freeze for dinner another night) and Leftover Makeover Dinners (recipes you can cook one night and then use the leftovers in a new recipe the next night, like a roast chicken one night made over into chicken enchiladas the next night).

You should also look at your master recipe list and label each recipes as quick to prepare, long to prepare, or average to prepare, ie: (Q, A, L). Use whatever abbreviation you wish that makes sense to you.

Now comes the fun part!

With your master recipe list on one side and your monthly menu planner calendar on the other, begin plugging in recipes to your days that match your days.  

First, start with your LESS BUSY days and plug in your recipes that take longer to prepare and/or any recipes that could be cooked as Double Duty Dinners.

Then move to your AVERAGE BUSY days and plug in your recipes that take 20-30 minutes or any recipes that could be cooked and repurposed as Leftover Makeover Dinners later in the week on a busier night.

Last, finish by looking at your HIGH BUSY nights.  Look back at to see if you have any nights where you cooked a Double Duty Dinner or a Leftover Makeover Dinner; if so, plan on plugging those meals in on your HIGH BUSY nights. 

The other wonderful alternative for HIGH BUSY nights is to use a slow cooker recipe, something you can prep early in the morning, allow it to cook all day in the slow cooker, and then enjoy with minimal preparation at dinner time.   

A few last tips:

:: Think fun.  Don't forget to add family celebrations to your menu plan, from birthdays to holidays.  If you are tasked with hosting the holiday dinner at your home, be sure to read about how to save time, money and stress in my post Thanksgiving Tips to Save Your Sanity - and Your Budget!

:: Think favorites. Don't be afraid to repeat family favorites. Tuesday is always Taco Tuesday at our house because it is family favorite and because it is so adaptable; from one recipe, I can create tacos, nachos, quesadillas , enchiladas, fish tacos. Repeating recipes also means more opportunities to buy recipe ingredients in bulk when they go on sale during the month.

:: Think flexible.  Kids get sick.  Work runs late.  Last minute plans pop up and dinner happens elsewhere.  Remember your menu plan is a tool to guide you through the month - it isn't set in stone.  Be willing to change it as needed.  During the nights when life just happens at the last minute, raid your fridge and freezer and have a LOCO night - Leftover Cleanout

Make sure you use a pencil when creating your monthly menu plan because you will find that you're moving things around as you finalize your plan.  And as you use that menu plan, you may also find that you need to make course corrections during the month as life happens.  Remember, a menu plan should be an always helpful but ever flexible planning tool. 

Next week's topic is one that will help you maximize your savings as you build a successful monthly menu plan: stocking your pantry and freezer.

Be sure to check back next Monday, September 19, 2011, for Part Three of this four part series: Create a Master Recipe Ingredient List for Your Pantry and Freezer.

Need more resources to help with managing your family's schedule, finding printable menu planners, or with finding slow cooker recipes?  Check out the links below:

Printable Menu Planners

11 Different Printable Menu Planning Forms - from Money Saving Mom

Monthly Calendar via Vertex 42 (I use the template available in Google Docs for my monthly menu planning)

Printable Menu Planners via Tip Junkie

Printable Planners via $5 Dinners


The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook: 200 Recipes for Quick, Delicious, and Nourishing Meals That Are Easy on the Budget and a Snap to Prepare

Fix-It And Forget-It Big Cookbook: 1400 Best Slow Cooker Recipes

Family Feasts for $75 a Week: A Penny-wise Mom Shares Her Recipe for Cutting Hundreds from Your Monthly Food Bill

Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking

Planners & Calendars

2012 Mom's Plan-It Plan-It Plus calendar
(I've used this calendar for the past five years - I LOVE it! It hangs on my refrigerator and I've got room for all of our family member's activities each day of the month.)


Cozi Family Organizer
(Free for Android phones and for iPhones)

(Free for Android phones and for iPhones

:: Need to read last week's installment of this four part series?  Here it is:

Part 1: Make a Master List of Dinner Recipes

This post is part of Menu Plan Monday at OrgJunkie - a GREAT weekly resource for menu plans from hundreds of bloggers!

*Disclosure: This post contains affilate links; thanks for your support of this site!


  1. I love this! I've been persuading friends left and right to menu plan and a lot of your tips are the same ones I'm giving, but you also have some really awesome ideas going that I can't wait to utilize!! :) Thank you so much for making this.

  2. Sarah E: Thanks so much for the kind comment! I'm glad this has been helpful to you.

    I hope your friends are taking your menu planning advice! It really can streamline and simplify your life.

    Best to you!


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