So, this post is a bit belated, but I thought you might like to know how I go about making a meal plan for the month and what this month looks like for us. (I'm giving myself a break from National Boards reading for a few minutes, so I'm rewarding myself with a blog post... Benny would say it's more work, but I love it! :))
To make our meal plan, I first assess what we currently have on hand in the freezer, pantry, and fridge. Then I add the essentials to the grocery list (this month, it was cheese, milk, flour, and some seasonal veggies from friends and the farmer's market). The rest of the grocery list is built every week or two based on the Grocery Game list. This helps me to determine the plan for the month.
This month, I knew we had sausage in the freezer that we could use in chili and casseroles. We also had tomato sauce in the pantry, dried pasta, and the basics for bread in the machine. So, here's the breakdown for the month, based on the basics we had on hand, plus produce and additions from the Grocery Game list.
Week 1: chili and rice (use the crockpot to cook the chili and use free tomatoes and jalapenos from friends, dried beans that were cooked and frozen in portions, and a bottle of old beer); sausages on homemade buns with sauted cabbage, onions, and apples as relish; broccoli salad, applesauce, and homemade cookies as sides--if additional meals are needed, fill in with pasta and sausage pizza
Week 2: meal from supper club (this week it was a pineapple salsa chicken casserole), sausage casserole, and homemade pizza (bacon, veggies, and fresh herbs); sides are stewed apples (done in the crockpot) and yogurt purchased with coupons
Week 3: pasta e fagiole soup (using pantry pasta, canned tomatoes purchased with coupons, and beans cooked and frozen in batches); Mexican chicken pizza (homemade crust, chicken thighs cooked in crockpot and meat shredded, salsa as sauce, and cheddar cheese); french toast casserole with frozen fruit (free blackberries and local blueberries)
Week 4: supper club meal; stir fry with spicy Asian sauce over linguini; homemade pizza
For breakfasts, we generally either eat cereal (purchased with coupons for about $1 a box) or toast with homemade jam or cream cheese. Breakfast breads for this month include: beer bread, banana bread, apple cinnamon bread, and berry muffins. All of these are made from scratch using the bread machine or a good blending fork. Generally, we make breads on the weekend so we're around to pull them out of the bread machine. Almost all of our bread recipes come from Bread Machine Magic, though the beer bread recipe comes from Better Homes and Gardens Best Bread Machine Recipes.
Snacks and fillers for lunches include: yogurt, homemade cookies or brownies, crackers (store bought with coupons for about $1-$1.50 a box), or popcorn.
Our lunches are always leftovers from dinner, and we frequently pack up lunch portions after cooking the main dish to store them in the fridge. This makes packing lunches in the morning a breeze, since the meal is already packaged to go in the lunchbox and is in microwave ready containers for work.
I hope this gives you a little bit of an idea of how we go about planning for the month. Of course, sometimes things are a bit flexible... if I find a new recipe that I want to try and have things on hand to make it, then I'll substitute it for something else in the plan. Sides are always a bit flexible, and we try to do a lot of one dish meals, so that we don't have to fix a ton of sides. (That's why you see so many soups, casseroles, pizzas, etc.)
Here's to budget friendly cooking and saving on the energy bill by using the crockpot and microwave as much as possible for your meal prep! If you have questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you!