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.
Now when most people find out that I plan out my entire year of meals in advance… they have a lot of questions.
So the first thing I’m going to do is answer some of the questions I commonly get when I tell people I do this. 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 what you need if you want to try meal planning this way yourself.
And lastly, I’m going to show you how it’s done.
As an added bonus, I’m going to time the meal planning this year so 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 the video where I show you the entire process!
Why I Only Meal Plan Once a year
Alright let’s dig into the reasons that I put myself through this.
The first question people usually have when they find out that I meal plan my whole year is:
The Whole Year, Really?
And the answer is: yes!
If you don’t believe me, watch the video above, you will see that when I am done, 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 answers to this one;
The first is, I don’t really like meal planning.
So if I can batch this chore and do it once, I am a happy mom.
The second reason I plan out my whole year in advance is that I find it much more efficient.
I find 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 Meal Planning for the entire year.
Another question I get a lot is:
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 your books, 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 down your time considerably.
(Watch the video or read to the bottom of the post if you want to find out exactly how long it takes me!)
Making the decision is the hardest part of meal planning in my opinion because we moms have so many decisions we are making every single day.
And if you meal plan weekly, that is 7 more decisions you have to make each week.
Getting those decisions out of the way will save you time, energy and stress.
The next question people have is:
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 is not the same thing as writing in stone.
All you do if you want 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:
- 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 your theme nights if you want to check that out.
- 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 🙂
- 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.
- 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 in case you want to try it as well!
1) Amy Knapp Big Grid Family Organizer
I’ve used the Big Grid Family Organizer for about 3 years now and I love, love, love it.
I love the design and that I can hang it on my pantry door. And I also love that there is a “dinner menu” spot on every single page.
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 to write on each day. I would use the Big Grid Organizer if you don’t have as many things that you need to write down each day.
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.
I always have my cookbooks out and handy when I am meal planning.
My favorites are
- The Revive Café cookbooks (I have books 1-6)
- Vegan Yum, Yum
- And of course, I have our childhood favorites in a binder.
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 cooking 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.
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 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 you want to do if you are meal planning for your whole year is assign a theme to each night of the week.
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 them… 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 meal plan.
Once your theme nights are done, your meal planning will become infinitely easier whether you are planning for a day, week, month, season, year, or even just a camping weekend or a road trip. (Is meal planning for a day even a thing? Well if it is, I’m sure it will still be easier with theme nights.)
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 isn’t 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.
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.
So now I will write down Macaroni and Cheese on every Tuesday night.
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.
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 of all of ours in my meal planning spreadsheet. Our build it meals include:
- Gado Gado
- Portabello Fajitas
- Baked Potatoes
- Don Buri
- Patatas Bravas
- Malasian 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!
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.
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.)
I keep a page on my spreadsheet with a list of all of our favorites where I can easily see which favorites take more time to make, which ones are best in which 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 (or maybe I just don’t want to make it more often then that, Ross would probably eat it every day if I made it every day).. 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.
Monday this year is going to be Simple Family Favorites.
So I will look back at my spreadsheet and put in all those family favorites that are nice and easy and work well for a weekday.
Now if you are keeping track, I’ve moved from writing in my easiest theme nights to writing in my most time-consuming one.
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 my entire year took me…
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!
Are You 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 plan your meals without feeling overwhelmed, spend less time in the kitchen, and feed your family healthy meals (while still having time for yourself!)
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 a Set-It-And-Forget-It Meal Planning Template 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 just grab the Set-It-and-Forget-It Template and work through it yourself. 🙂
Check Out My 2022 Meal Plan Video
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 Decision Fatigue, check out Why Is Meal Planning so Difficult.
For Quick, Healthy Breakfast Ideas, read How to Get Started Planning Quick Healthy Breakfasts.