Your Ultimate Guide to Seasonal Meal Planning

Oct 17, 2019 | Blog, Meal Planning

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Your Ultimate Guide to Seasonal Meal Planning

With the leaves changing all around me and the air getting crisper, I start to crave all things warm and cozy. Sweaters, candles, and most importantly warm food.

When I was growing up, autumn was welcomed by trading our Friday night meal of vegetable sandwiches straight from the garden with warm soup. All kinds of soup.

Each week my mom would let a different person in the family make a request for the coming Friday. Which is a clever way of making one less decision herself while simultaneously making one person feel a little special when their favorite soup was prepared.

One form of meal planning that is often over-looked is meal planning with the seasons. 

Sometimes we can get stuck in the rut of serving the same meals all year, but I love planning my meals to match the weather. (More or less, anyway, I live in the Pacific Northwest and sometimes our seasons get confused.)

What is Seasonal Meal Planning?

Seasonal Meal Planning is when you plan your family’s meals based around the season you will be heading into. 

People who seasonally meal plan typically think about these three things:

  • What produce will be in season and how can I use it in my meals?
  • What foods will feel good to eat during this season? (Salads in the spring? Soups in the fall?)
  • What will my weekly theme nights be for this season? (More on this below.)

Why You Should Try Seasonal Meal Planning

It will save you money: Vegetables and fruits are not harvested all year round as grocery stores would have us believe. And they are cheapest in the season that they are harvested in. 

Have you ever tried to buy strawberries in December? It’s pricey! But in the spring, they are practically giving them away (especially near the end of the season!)

It is healthier: If you do buy those strawberries in December, the have been sitting in cold storage for the past 8 months… getting old.

If you eat with the seasons, not only are the fruits and vegetables at their peak of nutrients, but there are also vitamins and minerals that you need for that season in those fruits and vegetables. 

For example, citrus fruit (ripe in the winter) has loads of vitamin C to help your body combat the germs and sickness that come along with the cold weather.

It will save you time: If you plan your meals for the entire season at the beginning of the season,  you will spend much less time planning your meals than if you do it weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly meal planning.

Don’t believe me? Try it out!

I only spend about 6 hours or less per year now that I do my meal planning all at once. (Check out this post if you want to see the crazy way I meal plan for the WHOLE YEAR in ONE DAY!)

It makes each season special: My family loves to grill in the summer. When we are grilling on the weekends we look forward to it all week long.

It is a fun way to celebrate summertime together. Almost every evening my oldest daughter will ask “Can we grill tonight?!”

In the winter, we love eating our soup out of bread bowls to make a less flashy meal special. 

(And because sourdough bread = happiness 🙂

How to Meal Plan With the Seasons

Now that we know why we should meal plan with the seasons, let’s move on to how it’s done.

Grab my Set-It-and-Forget-It Meal Planning Workbook to take notes and start planning your meals as we go through these 7 Steps for Seasonal Meal Planning.

1) Look at Your Weekly Schedule

Take into account work schedules, school schedules, extra-curricular activities, and anything else that happens reliably in your late afternoon and early evenings.

If you know that you typically work late two or three nights a week, put one of your easy staple meals on those nights. Think pasta, tacos, sandwiches, etc.

In our family, swimming lessons are typically on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So I do Leftovers on Thursday night (easy peasy!) and Vegan Mac and Cheese on Tuesdays.

Sometimes we have to switch lessons to Monday and Wednesday for a session, and in that case, I just switch those meals to Monday and Wednesday.

As you look at your typical weekly schedule, I recommend having your busiest nights of the week be “Year-Round” them nights and your more relaxed days being “Seasonal” theme nights.

In the examples below, you’ll see that I put year-round meals for the weekdays and seasonal meals on the weekends when most people have more time to cook.  

2) Pick Theme Nights for Each Day of the Week

Choosing theme nights is the easiest way to plan your meals no matter which meal planning method you use. 

Picking a theme for each day of the week keeps you from reinventing the wheel every time you sit down to plan your menu.

All you have to do is plug and play with the same theme nights every week for that season.

There are two ways that you can choose theme nights when you are seasonal meal planning:

Option 1: You can choose a seasonal themed meal for each day of the week. This means in the summer you would have six summer meals each week plus one night of leftovers.  Then in the fall, you would have six fall themed nights and one night of leftovers.

Option 2: If that seems like too much work for you, have some theme nights that stay the same all year. This is the way I plan my meals. In our house, my Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday themes stay the same; while my Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday meals coincide with the seasons. 

When picking your themes, the sky is the limit! Your themes can be anything from a specific meal that you make every single week because your family loves it, to choosing a theme that gives you more variety, like having an ethnic food night!

One of our favorite themes in our house is Build-It Meals. This is our Friday night tradition all year round. It gives us tons of variety while still feeling a little like a tradition (we do burgers, fajitas, falafels, sandwiches, burritos, nachos, personal pizzas… anything where each person makes their own dish!). 

This is a great theme for families with little kids who want to be involved in the cooking. Our girls love creating their own food and getting to put however much they want of each thing on their plate.

Here is an example of how you can use both seasonal and year-round theme nights:

Example Summer Weekly Theme Nights

Sunday: Grilled Barbecue Pizza Night (Seasonal)

Monday: Pasta Night (Year-Round)

Tuesday: Taco Night (Year-Round)

Wednesday: Out To Eat (Seasonal)

Thursday: Leftover Night (Year-Round)

Friday: Grilling Night (Seasonal)

Saturday: From the Garden Night (Seasonal)

If you want over 50 different theme night ideas, check out this post!

3) Choose Your Seasonal Theme Nights for Each Season

If you only want to start with one season, then decide on your theme nights for that season and skip to step four. 

But I recommend getting this step done for all of the seasons while you are in the groove. That’s how I get my own planning done in record time

Once you’re on a roll, why stop?! Plus it’s so easy to plan your meals when you are done with this step!

When looking at the rest of the seasons, decide if you want to start from scratch and create a completely new and exciting plan for each season… OR you can do what I prefer. Keep the bones of the plan (the Year-Round theme nights) and switch out the seasonal theme nights for each season.

Here would be the rest of the seasons from the example we started above:

Example Fall Weekly Theme Nights

Sunday: Roasted Vegetable Pizza Night (Seasonal)

Monday: Pasta Night (Year-Round)

Tuesday: Tacos Night (Year-Round)

Wednesday: Ethnic Food Night (Seasonal)

Thursday: Leftover Night (Year-Round)

Friday: Soup Night (Seasonal)

Saturday: Vegetable Hash Night (Seasonal)

Example Winter Weekly Theme Nights

Sunday: Make Your Own Pizza Night (Seasonal)

Monday: Pasta Night (Year-Round)

Tuesday: Taco Night (Year-Round)

Wednesday: Out to Eat Night (Seasonal)

Thursday: Leftover Night (Year-Round)

Friday: Chili Night (Seasonal)

Saturday: Casserole Night (Seasonal)

Example Spring Weekly Theme Nights

Sunday: Pesto Pizza Night (Seasonal)

Monday: Pasta Night (Year-Round)

Tuesday: Taco Night (Year-Round)

Wednesday: Ethnic Food (Seasonal)

Thursday: Leftover Night (Year-Round)

Friday: Stuffed Pepper Night (Seasonal)

Saturday: Salad Bar Night (Seasonal)

4) Decide How Often to Rotate Meals

Does your family like a lot of variety? Or do you struggle to get your family to try new meals?

Depending on where you and your family fall on the spectrum, decide how long your meal rotations should be. 

If your family likes a lot of variety like my husband and I do, then choose a 12-week rotation. If your family doesn’t care for much variety, try a 4 -week (or 2-week!) rotation.

If you are somewhere in the middle, try a 6-week rotation.

If you choose a 12-week rotation, then you will need to choose 12 meals for each theme night, and you will only complete the rotation once per season.

If you choose a 4-week rotation, choose 4 meals for each theme night and repeat the same rotation 3 times each season. 

5) Brainstorm

The next step is to brainstorm you list of meals for each theme night. So grab your favorite cookbooks (I love these cookbooks!) and open Pinterest to get your creative juices flowing!

For example, if you chose a 6-week rotation in Step 4, and you are using my example for your theme nights, then you would choose 6 different pasta dishes for your family to try. (Remember to think seasonal if you can!)

If I were looking for some fun fall pasta recipes, I would head over to Pinterest and see what I could find with a “fall pasta recipe” search…

Ok, I couldn’t help myself, I had to look and see what I would get with that search. If you need some ideas for fall pasta recipes, you should check these out… they look amazing! Vegan Pumpkin Pasta, a Creamy Tahini Pasta with Lemon, Garlic, these Vegan Zucchini “Meatballs”, these Vegan Butternut Squash Shells, and a Spaghetti Squash Lasagna Bake.

As always, you can do this step just for the season you are heading into or you can do the whole year in one go.

On my personal Pinterest account, I usually keep a board titled “Meal Planning (next year)” to keep track of things that I want to put on my meal plan the following year.

Then when I sit down to do my annual menu plan (yes, I only do it once a year) everything is in one nice little spot.

Plus it’s easy to search for the recipes that I need during the year since it’s all on the same board. 

Why You should start Seasonal Meal Planning this Autumn

6) Write It Down!

Grab my Set-It-and-Forget-It Meal Planning Workbook and Calendar or write it on your own calendar!

Either way, keep a written plan near your kitchen for easy access.

In my house, if it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist! Since I don’t want my hard work to go to waste, I keep my meal plan in a place that I won’t forget about it and is easy to access. (I keep my Meal Planning Calendar on the inside of my pantry door.)

7) Modify as Needed

When you are planning in advance, life is bound to happen and plans will need to change.

At the beginning of each week, I sit down and make my grocery list. As I do this, I note if there is any reason that I should rearrange any of the meals, or if I need to make any substitutions.

For example, if it’s someone’s birthday in our house, we typically go out to eat once that week at that person’s favorite restaurant. They also get to pick a favorite home-cooked meal on the day of their birthday if they decide to eat out on a different day. 

If we have something going on where we will be out of the house all day, I may also move one of the easy meals to that evening so I don’t have to cook after a long day out.

Always remember that your meal plan works for you and not the other way around. It isn’t a contest to see if you can stick with your meal plan exactly the way that you wrote it.

Don’t stress if you skip a meal, just jot it down on your list for next week if you really wanted to eat it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really want to try one of those new pasta recipes…

Ready to Stop Feeling Stressed About Meal Planning?

Then check out Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning!

In Set-it-and-Forget-it Meal Planning, you will learn how to 

How Meal Planning With the Seasons Will Save Time, Money, and Stress
  • Create a Breakfast Rotation
  • Create a Lunch Rotation
  • Create a Snack Rotation
  • Choose Theme Nights
  • Create Rotations for Each Theme Night
  • Fill in Your Meal Planning Calendar

Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning walks you through my unique method for setting up your meal plan so you will never have to start from square one again!

Plus you will receive the Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning Workbook and Spreadsheet and email support from me anytime you have questions.

I hope to see you inside the course!

(Or if you are more of a do-it-yourself kind of gal, you can check out my DIY Meal Planning Resources!) 

You May Also Enjoy…

My Set-It-and-Forget-It Meal Planning Workbook and Calendar will help you get started planning your menu.

If you still aren’t sure if Meal Planning is right for you, check out The Pros and Cons of Meal Planning for Moms: How to Know if Meal Planning is Right for You.

If you’d like a step-by-step guide for basic meal planning, read How to Begin Meal Planning When You Don’t Know Where to Start.

If you’d like some ideas for how to make breakfast easier, check out Weekly Meal Planning for Beginners, How to Get Started With Quick Healthy Breakfasts.

How to Work Leftovers into your Meal Plan will help you waste less food (and cook less!) every week.

How to Start Seasonal Meal Planning: What it is, How to Start, and why you'll never go back!
Seasonal Meal Planning for Beginners
7 Steps to Seasonal Meal Planning Like a Pro
Meal Plan Like a Pro, 7 Steps to Get Started
7 Steps to Seasonal Meal Planning