The Crazy Way I Meal Plan | How I Meal Plan for the Whole Year in Less than 3 Hours

The Crazy Way I Meal Plan | How I Meal Plan for the Whole Year in Less than 3 Hours

I’m super excited about this post because I am *finally* going to show you the crazy way that I meal plan my entire year out in less than 3 hours.

Really.

Now when most people find out that I plan out my whole year of meals in advance… they have a lot of questions.

  • The first thing that I’m going to do is answer some of the questions that I commonly get. And I’ll let you be the judge of if I should see someone for my insanity or not. 😉
  • Then, I will walk you through the supplies that you will need if you want to try this out.
  • And lastly, I’m going to show you the step-by-step process for how it’s done.

Plus as an added bonus, I’m going to time myself this year so that you an see how long it takes!

Feel free to skip down to the meat of the post if you don’t care about why I put the time into this project.

And If you are more of a watcher than a reader, check out this video where I show you the entire process from start to finish:

Why I Only Meal Plan Once a year

Alright let’s dig into the reasons that I put myself through this.

The first question that people usually have when they find out that I only meal plan once a year is…

You Meal Plan for the Whole Year, Really?

And the answer is: yes!

If you don’t believe me, watch the video above! At the end of the video you will see that every dinner menu spot is filled in on the calendar for the entire year.

It’s been about 4 years now that I have planned out my meals in advance, and I will never go back to doing it any other way.

The second question that I get a lot is…

Why Would You Do This?

I have a couple of answers for this one:

The first is, I don’t really like meal planning.

So if I can batch this chore and do it once a year, I am a happy mom.

The second reason is that I find it to be much more efficient.

If I can sit down and get it done once instead of coming back to it every single week, or every single month, it takes much less time.

I have tried meal planning just about every other way, and this is the only way that I have been able to stick with my meal plan for the entire year.

Another question I get a lot is…

Meal Planning My Whole Year in Advance. Yearly Meal Planning changed my life. Let me show you how it's done! Plus a Free Meal Planning Checklist

Why Is This Any Better Than Planning a Week or a Month At a Time.

Like I said in the last answer, I think that it is much faster to do it all at once.

I’ll let you know at the end of the post how long it takes me to do the entire process, but if you think about it, it just makes sense that it would take less time.

If you sit down to meal plan every single week, you are starting over every time you meal plan.

You have to get out all of your cookbooks, your calendar, and you have to make decisions. And at minimum, this will take you between 15 and 30 minutes… every. single. time.

When you do it all at once, you can cut your time down considerably.

(Watch the video or read to the bottom of the post if you want to find out exactly how long it takes me!)

Deciding what to eat is the hardest part of meal planning because we moms have so many decisions to make every single day.

And if you meal plan weekly, that is 7 more decisions that you have to make each week.

Getting those decisions out of the way will save you time, energy and stress.

Next question!

What If I Want Something Different Than What is on the Menu?

So… I don’t really know how to break this to you…

But writing something down with a pen and paper doesn’t mean that you have to do it.

All you do if you get to a certain week and you want to eat something different, is cross it off and write something else down.

No harm, no foul.

It’s easy, trust me!

But even if you have to make a little change here and there, you are still saving yourself tons of time throughout the year.

And the last question I get all the time is…

What happens when you have company?

And depending on the situation and who the company is, I may do several different things:

  1. I might just stick with my meal plan. I have a whole post and video showing you how to meal plan for the holidays while using the theme nights that you already have.
  2. I might just skip a meal. If I know someone is coming and a meal on my plan isn’t their favorite, I will just cross it out and put something completely different on there. (See the last question 🙂
  3. I might bump a meal into the following week. If I was really looking forward to making something and I find out that my company isn’t a fan of it, I’ll just bump that meal into the following week and move the following week’s meal into this week.
  4. Or I might even make a crazy meal planning Tetris game and move things all over the place with really cool arrows. (Pens are great for this!)

Since it usually takes me less than 5 minutes to figure out how to adjust my meals if company is coming, it is still way less time-consuming to plan things out ahead of time than it is to wait and do it one week at a time.

My Meal Planning Tools

Alright, now I’m going to show you exactly what I use to plan my meals for the year:

1) My Meal Planning Calendar

  • Breakfast Routine Worksheet
  • Lunch Routine Worksheet
  • Snack Routine Worksheet
  • Types of Theme Nights 
  • Theme Nights Ideas 
  • Choosing Your Theme Nights Worksheet
  • 12-Month Meal Planning Calendar
  • This Week’s Menu Template

You can get the Set-It-and-Forget-It Meal Planning Workbook here!

But if you prefer something different I recommend the Big Grid Family Organizer. I used it for about 3 years before I created my own calendar.

I’ve also used the smaller Amy Knapp Planner for meal planning and I like it as well, but the Big Grid worked a little better for me.

I would suggest using the small planner if you want to be very detailed in your meal plan and you have a lot of things going on each day. I would use the Big Grid Organizer or the Set-It-and-Forget-It Meal Planning Workbook if you don’t have as many things that you need to write down each day and you want something to hang on your wall.

2) Fun Pens

The next thing that I always have is a pen that writes well in a color that I like (for me, the purpler, the better!)

It’s just a little more fun to write a whole bunch of things down when you are using a pen that you like and that you enjoy seeing over and over and over again.

Create an Easy Meal Plan for the Whole Year and Save Money!

3) Cookbooks

I always have my cookbooks out and handy when I am meal planning.

My favorites are

I’m slightly obsessed with the Revive Café Cookbooks because they have a picture for each recipe, the recipes are simple to replicate, and they use ingredients that most normal people would know what they are and know where to find them (which is surprisingly not true of a lot of plant-based cookbooks).

The only drawback to the Revive cookbooks is that he doesn’t quite season his recipes as much as I would like… so I just start off by doubling the spices that he suggests and ramping it up from there (I like me some flavorful food!).

Vegan Yum, Yum also has delicious recipes, but the recipes are a bit more complex and can require more unique ingredients.

4) Spreadsheet

Ya, I know, I’m a little strange… but having a spreadsheet for meal planning makes my life easier each time I map out my year.

I created the Set-It-and-Forget-It Google Worksheet with everything that you need to organize your meal plan!

  • Breakfast Routine Worksheet
  • Lunch Routine Worksheet
  • Snack Routine Worksheet
  • Types of Theme Nights 
  • Theme Nights Ideas 
  • Choosing Your Theme Nights Worksheet
  • 12-Month Meal Planning Calendar
  • Camping Meal Plan 

I also use my spreadsheet to keep track of which meals we like, which ones we have tried but didn’t like, and how easy/difficult the recipes are. I also track which season we want to eat each meal in and how expensive they are to make… I get geeked out about organization :D.

How to Meal Plan Your Entire Year

Now that we have everything we need, let’s get started!

1) Assign Theme Nights

The first thing that you want to do if you are meal planning for your whole year is to assign a theme to each night of the week.

Head over to this video or this post for all the deets on how to do this plus over 50 theme night ideas.

But Basically, you just assign some sort of theme to every day of the week…

So Sunday will have a theme, Monday will have a theme, Tuesday will have a theme… and so on.

I like to use a combination of simple and complex theme nights, that way we don’t get bored with eating the same things all the time, but the meal plan also doesn’t become so complicated that we give up on the plan.

Once your theme nights are done, your meal planning will become infinitely easier whether you are planning for a day, a week, a month, a season, a year, or even just a camping weekend or a road trip.

2) Thursday Night

Now that you have your theme nights set you, you can start putting things on your calendar.

I always start by writing in my Thursday nights because Thursday at our house is Leftover night!

So at this point, I go through my calendar write down “leftovers” on every single Thursday.

And yes, I technically wouldn’t have to write it in since it it’s the same every week, BUT I like everything filled in on my calendar. It makes me happy. So I write in the leftovers. 🙂

3) Tuesday Night

The next day that I typically fill in is Tuesday night, which is Vegan Macaroni and Cheese night for us.

Tuesday is another easy night for us because pre-covid we had swimming lessons on Tuesday and Thursday nights and I wanted to make dinner as easy as possible on those evenings.

So… I think I’m going to stick with the same theme nights this year, and hopefully, we will be back to swimming lessons before too long!

If for some reason we are still without swimming lessons at the end of 2021, I might adjust my theme nights.

The Only Way to Meal Plan for Busy Moms: How I Plan My Whole Year in Advance

4) Friday Nights

Now Friday is a different type of theme night than Tuesday and Thursday.

Tuesday and Thursday are what I call Specific Meal Theme Nights because I use the same meal each week.

But on Friday, I use a category theme night (which I talk about in this post and this video).

Our theme for Friday is Build-It Meals, which is any meal where each person puts together their own plate of food.

And instead of thinking up new Build-It Meals every year, I keep a list in my meal planning spreadsheet. Our build it meals include:

  • Falafels
  • Tacos
  • Gado Gado
  • Burgers
  • Portobello Fajitas
  • Baked Potatoes
  • Don Buri
  • Burritos
  • Patatas Bravas
  • Malaysian Laksa
  • Yum Bowls
  • Hot Dogs

And I will just start on the first Friday with Falafels and rotate through the list until the end of the year!

5) Saturday

Next, I will fill in my Saturdays.

Now, Saturday is a very different day for us because… again, pre-covid… we used to go to church on Saturday.

And because of this, we would usually eat a late lunch and just have a light supper.

So all of our lunch/dinners on Saturdays will be haystacks (which is like a taco salad).

And I will also put into the calendar my rotation of light suppers, just like I did for the Build-It Meals in the last step. (See how having a spreadsheet with your rotations can be handy?!)

6) Sunday

My Theme for my Sunday is Time-Consuming Family Favorites.

Since Sunday is a slower day at our house and Ross is not working, this is where we break out all of those meals that are delicious to eat, and difficult to make (I’m looking at you hand-made pasta.)

And of course, I keep a page in my spreadsheet with a list of all of our favorites. I categorize the list so that I can easily see which favorites take more time to make, which ones are best in each season, and how often we want to eat each favorite. (Hi, I’m Kassy, and I’m addicted to spreadsheets.)

So for example, one of our time-consuming family favorites is Pot Pie.

It take a lot of time to make, everyone would like to eat it every other month (actually, they would all love to eat it every week… but it takes a LONG time to make). BUT it is a very hot meal to cook and to eat.

So when I am going through my calendar, I will only put it down on every other month in the fall, winter, and spring.

7) Monday

Monday this year is going to be Simple Family Favorites.

So I will look back at my spreadsheet and put in all of those family favorites that are nice and easy and work well for a weekday.

8) Wednesday

Now if you have been keeping track, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve moved from writing in my easiest theme nights to writing in my most time-consuming ones.

Why is Wednesday time-Consuming? Because Wednesday night at our house is New Meal Night.

That means that I have to find 52 new meals… every year!

So yes, it takes me a little bit more time to write in my Wednesday night… and I put it off until last!

To help me find the recipes faster, I keep a Pinterest board with recipes that I want to try in the coming year, and I go through my cookbooks to see if I want to make anything new out of them!

So How Long Did it Take???

This year, creating my meal plan for the entire year took me…

drumroll, please…

The Easier Way to Meal Plan: How to Meal Plan for the Whole Year in Less than 3 Hours!

2 hours, 45 minutes, and 45 seconds.

Now, keep in mind that I’ve been doing this for several years now and it took me a bit longer the first time around. So keep at it and I promise that this will make your life easier!

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 

  • 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!)

If you want more Yearly Meal Planning Fun…

Check out my 2022 Yearly Meal Planning Video!

Want 7 Extra Hours Every Week? Grab the Streamline Your Home Quick-Start Guide!

You May Also Enjoy

How to Create Your Own Theme Nights

If you want a step-by-step guide for setting up your meal plan, check out How to Begin Meal Planning When You Don’t Know Where to Start

For ideas about how to eat everything you buy, read How to Work Leftovers into Your Meal Plan

If you want to learn more about Decision Fatigue, check out Why Is Meal Planning so Difficult

For Quick, Healthy Breakfast Ideas, read How to Get Started Planning Quick Healthy Breakfasts

See you on the next one! Kassy
An Easier Way to Meal Plan: How to Meal Plan for the Whole Year in Less than 3 Hours!
The Secret to Meal Planning for the Absolute Beginner | Plus 50 Theme Night Ideas for Your Meal Plan

The Secret to Meal Planning for the Absolute Beginner | Plus 50 Theme Night Ideas for Your Meal Plan

Meal Planning didn’t come easily for me.

I tried everything. But every time I sat down to plan my weekly meals I felt like I had such a huge task ahead of me because it took forever to make the plan.

Every time I would tell myself that I was going to choose the meals quickly this time… but it never worked.

I tried looking through my cookbooks. But everything looked good, and I couldn’t decide.

I tried scrolling through Pinterest. But I would find myself still scrolling much later with hardly any progress made.

I would try meal planning at the grocery store. Buying food that sounded good, looked good, or for just in case I felt like making it. But we ended up spending so much money because we never felt like eating the “just in case” food… so it would go to live in the back of the pantry… forever.

I tried giving up and just asking Ross what he wanted for dinner. He would always answer “lasagna” AKA my least favorite food to make or eat…

The Biggest Meal Planning Secret for Busy Moms: One Little Trick Changed the way I Meal Plan
Then one day I thought of a different plan.

We had been married for 5 years and had a new baby. Meal planning hadn’t become any easier for me, but now I had new motivation to figure this out.

I wanted my daughter to grow up remembering special meals that we ate together, instead of me throwing together the most convenient food every night.

I wanted her to remember that we had fun cooking together, instead of me staring into the pantry and fridge for inspiration only to decide on the quickest thing.

And I wanted her to learn to eat new food willingly, instead of being stuck in a food rut because we only ate the same 3 meals all the time.

So I decided to figure out if there was a way that I could meal plan without having to meal plan all the time… and it turned out that there was!

My first plan of attack was to choose meals for my entire year. That way all I would have to do is make a grocery list every week.

I know, I know, I’m kind of crazy! Who thinks that if they don’t enjoy doing something, they should do a whole bunch of it to see if they like it any better?

But as I sat down to plan my meals for the next year, I stumbled upon the greatest Meal Planning Hack of all time!

I knew that I needed to organize my meal planning in some way to make this more efficient, so I decided to assign each day a Theme. And to my surprise, it worked!

(If you’d like to see a full breakdown of the crazy way that I meal plan, check out this post!)

How it Works

When you meal plan with theme nights, all you have to do is pick one theme for each night of the week.

Technically you could choose 14 and have a bi-weekly rotation, but if you want to meal plan for a longer-term, I suggest choosing only 7. It’s just easier to keep track of!

Then when you plan your meals, all you have to do is choose a meal that corresponds to that theme.

So, for example, if I chose to have a Thai Food Night on Thursday, then every Thursday of the year I would choose a Thai meal for that night.

Why It Works

One of the main reasons that we struggle with meal planning as moms is the decision fatigue that we have from making decisions for ourselves and our families all. day. long.

When you meal plan with theme nights, it reduces the amount of choices that you have to make.

Instead of having every meal that has ever been invented as an option, you have narrowed down the type of meals that you are searching for.

So if we had that Thai Theme Night on Thursday, we would look through our cookbooks or on Pinterest for Thai Food. Then for each dish that looked good, we would simply put it on the calendar on any Thursday that we wanted to.

This also solves another common problem with Meal Planning.

Often the reason that we can’t decide on a dish is that they all look so good.

When you meal plan with theme nights, it’s ok if you want to make them all!

Just keep writing different meals in your calendar on the right day of the week.

How to Start

To start meal planning with theme nights, just pick 7 theme nights for your week!

To get you started, I’ve compiled a list of 50 theme night ideas for you!

And if you prefer to watch instead of read, check out this video!

50 Theme Night Ideas for Your Meal Plan

I’ve broken down the theme nights into categories so you can easily sort through them.

You can choose 7 theme nights from one category, or you can choose one from each category. There is no right or wrong way to do this!

The only suggestion that I’ll make is that you have a Leftover Night on your calendar every week, or at least some plan for how to eat your leftovers. But you can check out this post for more ideas on that!

Specific Meal Theme Nights

This type of theme night is when you choose one specific meal that you’ll make every single week. We use this type of theme night for Tuesday nights in our house.

Every Tuesday, we eat our homemade, vegan macaroni and cheese.

Why do we do the same exact meal every Tuesday night? Because my oldest daughter has swimming lessons on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, so I know that I need easy meals on those nights.

Pro Tip: Be sure to look at your Weekly Routine when you are choosing your theme nights!

Macaroni and Cheese was an easy choice for our Tuesday Night Theme because it’s easy, it’s cheap, it’s healthy, and our whole family loves it.

When I was growing up, my aunt made Tacos every Friday night. I loved it because I knew that if we went to visit them for a weekend, I’d be getting some delicious tacos, and I knew exactly when I’d be getting them!

Here are some Specific Meal ideas to get you started:

  1. Macaroni and Cheese
  2. Tacos
  3. Burgers
  4. Tater Tot Casserole
  5. Green Curry
  6. Daal
  7. Lentil Soup
The Secret to Meal Planning for the Absolute Beginner!

Variety Meal Theme Nights

In this type of theme night, you use the same base of the meal, but can change anything else about it.

For example, you could have a pasta night. The only thing that stays the same about pasta night from week to week is that it has pasta in the meal.

One way that you could customize a pasta night is by changing the type of pasta that you use. For one pasta night you could use spaghetti, another elbow macaroni, another bow ties, another pinwheels, another pappardelle… you get the idea.

Or you could customize a pasta night by changing the type of sauce that you use. You could have pasta with red sauce, with pesto sauce, with alfredo sauce… and so on.

Here are few Variety Theme Night ideas for you:

  1. Pasta Night
  2. Casserole Night
  3. Sandwich Night
  4. Soup Night
  5. Pizza Night
  6. Salad Night
  7. Potato Night
  8. Rice Night
  9. Taco Night
  10. Curry Night
  11. Cold Cereal Night (Another One of Ross’s favorites!)

Category Theme Nights

For the category theme nights, the genre of the food stays the same, but the base can change.

The example that we talked about in the into, Thai food on Thursday nights, is an example of this type of meal planning.

And within the theme of eating Thai food on Thursday nights, there can be a log of variety. You could have Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, Red Curry, Yellow Curry, Green Curry, Pineapple Curry, Pumpkin Curry, Curry Noodles, Thai Basil Stir Fry… you get the idea!

Here are some Category Theme Night ideas to get you started:

  1. Thai Food Night
  2. Italian Food Night
  3. Asian Food Night
  4. Indian Food Night
  5. American Food Night
  6. Ethnic Food Night
  7. Comfort Food Night
  8. Fried Food Night
  9. Build-It Meals
  10. Breakfast for Dinner
  11. Picnic Food Night
  12. Dips and Crackers/Chips
How Weekly Theme Nights Revolutionized My Meal Planning: How to Meal Plan Smarter and Faster!

Different Protein Nights

If we did a specific protein night at our house, we would have a tofu, tempeh, or beans night. But you could also do this with meat.

With this type of theme night, the only thing that stays the same is the type of protein you choose to make.

Here are a few Protein Night Ideas:

  1. Tofu Night
  2. Tempeh Night
  3. Beans Night
  4. Chicken Night
  5. Beef Night
  6. Seafood Night

Seasonal Theme Nights

You may want to have 1- 3 nights of the week that change with the seasons (I wouldn’t recommend more than 3 nights for simplicity’s sake).

On these nights, you would choose one type of meals for spring (maybe salads) a different type for summer (like grilling), something different for Autumn (like soups) and something different for winter (possibly casseroles).

Seasonal Theme Night Ideas:

  1. Tailgate Food
  2. Grilling Food
  3. Fair Food
  4. Picnic Food
  5. Soup Night
  6. Salad Night
  7. Sandwich Night

New Meal Night

We are foodies in our family. We enjoy talking about food, eating food, and trying new food.

My two-year-old usually asks me what we are having for supper several times throughout the day.

Because of this, I make a new meal every Wednesday night.

I think it’s great for kids to be used to trying new things… and it gives me a chance to try those recipes I’ve been wanting to!

Here are some New Meal Theme Night Ideas for you:

  1. New Meal from Pinterest
  2. New Meal from Cookbooks
  3. New Restaurant Night
  4. New Type of Food Night
  5. New Meal at your Favorite Restaurant Night

No-Cooking Nights

Everyone needs a night off! In my house, this is Leftovers Night on Thursdays.

If your family likes to eat out, write on the calendar which night you will go out to eat. It will be easier to cook at home more if you know that you get to go out on a specific night every week.

If you tend to grab fast food so much that it is hurting your budget, choose one fast food night a week and stick to it!

  1. Leftover Night
  2. Out To Eat Night
  3. Take Out Night
  4. Fast Food Night
How to Meal Plan Like a Boss. How one trick will help you plan your meals smarter and faster!

Family Choice Nights

There are several ways that you can do a family choice night. You can either have it be a family favorite, or you could assign a night of the week to a specific person.

If I had a “Ross’s Favorite Night” at our house, he would probably choose lasagna a lot mixed in with some Breakfast for Dinner Options and a few Cold Cereal for Dinner Nights. (Sorry, Ross, I’ll try to cook more lasagna!)

But this can be a fun way to get your children involved in the meal planning too! Give each child a night of the week, and every week they get to pick the meal for that night.

  1. Family Favorites
  2. Mom’s Choice Night
  3. Dad’s Choice Night
  4. Kid’s Choice Night
  5. Grandma’s Best Recipes

Snack Food Theme Nights

We do snack food nights on Saturday nights at our house because we usually eat a large, late lunch so we aren’t in the mood for a big dinner. Plus snack food pairs great with the play board games we like to play together on Saturday nights.

If your family has a game night or a movie night every week, this is a great meal with easy set up and clean up!

  1. Snack Food Night
  2. Chips/Crackers and Dips
  3. Popcorn and Smoothies
  4. Cold Cereal Night

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 

  • 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!)

Want 7 Extra Hours Every Week? Get the Streamline Your Home Quick-Start Guide!

You May Also Enjoy…

If you want a step-by-step guide for setting up your meal plan, check out How to Begin Meal Planning When You Don’t Know Where to Start.

For ideas about how to eat everything you buy, read How to Work Leftovers into Your Meal Plan.

If you want to learn more about Dicision Fatigue, check out Why Is Meal Planning so Difficult.

For Quick, Healthy Breakfast Ideas, read How to Get Started Planning Quick Healthy Breakfasts.

And if you want to see how I plan my meals, check out The Crazy Way I Meal Plan!

See you on the next one! Kassy
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