Seasonal menu planning is one way I stay organized and save money on our food bills. Planning your meals by each season allows you to take advantage of lower prices of the foods that are in abundance and harvested during that time of the year.
I began seasonal meal planning when I noticed that certain produce was cheaper in the summer instead of the dead of winter. Our summer meals include a lot of produce and fresh fruits. In the Fall, as the weather gets cooler we take advantage of root crops and begin consuming more potatoes, beets, squashes, etc.
Through the winter, if I’ve been smart, I pull foods and ingredients that I’ve home processed into soups and stews and all sorts of things like jams and sauces from my stocked pantry. I also look for seasonal sales to stock up on ingredients.
If you pay attention to your local grocery store’s cycle sales, you’ll realize that every 6-12 weeks certain items will go on sale like clockwork. Many times, pasta, canned goods, meats, and more can be purchased at lower prices than normal.
Here are a few other reasons I love seasonal menu planning:
- Food is fresher when bought in season. Of course, we think of summer and fall most when we think about buying the freshest food, but there are spring crops and winter crops, like citrus and asparagus that make every season a good one to maximize savings and get fresh items.
- Seasonal meal planning allows me to plan once and rest for about 3-4 months. It is so nice to have a 6-8 week menu plan that I just put on repeat for a few months! No more wondering what I will make for meals because it is already decided for me. It’s a serious stress reducer for me!
- We eat healthier when I menu plan. Because we homeschool and I work from home, it is so easy to rely on junk food! When I have a plan, I make sure to include healthy foods like green smoothies for breakfast and salads for lunch. Every dinner has cooked and fresh vegetables or fruit. Very rarely do I have to rely on processed foods for our meals because my shopping lists are set for our menu plan. (we do have a fun night each week where we enjoy favorites like pizza and french fries, but it’s in the plan!)
- We save so much money! A lot of our meals are from scratch, bought in-season and on sale so even though we are a large family, I feel like we don’t spend nearly as much as we would if we didn’t plan this way.
- It’s a time saver. With seasonal meal planning, I save so much time. No frantically searching for ingredients, they are in the pantry and waiting. All of my recipes are either in my head or on Pinterest. I know exactly what I want when I go to the grocery store or I simply order it online and schedule a pickup. It’s now a streamlined, efficient process for me to follow. And for me, simplicity is such a blessing!
So, how do you get started with Seasonal Menu Planning?
The first thing I always suggest when getting started with any meal planning to anyone who asks is to get yourself a notebook. On one page label the top “breakfasts”, on another “lunches” and then on another page, “dinners”. Finally, label one more page as Snacks/Desserts.
Now, go ask your family what their favorites are in each category.
This is important because no amount of meal planning will be fruitful if your family doesn’t like what you make!
While you are doing that, keep the current season in mind. For example, it was summer when I asked my family their favorites the first time. Some of their answers for their favorites were better suited for the winter months. So I asked them to help me brainstorm for summer meals.
I was pleasantly surprised when they mentioned cold meals like sub night, Doritos taco salad, fresh tomatoes sandwiches, and Italian pasta salad. When I asked what fresh fruits they enjoyed, watermelon, other melons, and kiwi rose to the top. Ceasar Salad and Waldorf chicken salad were mentioned so on the list they went.
We filled up our page in no time and I had a good core menu to work with. So you will too!
Next, theme your days.
This simplifies when to make what. Right now our themes are:
- Monday – Leftover night – we raid the fridge and make a hodge-podge meal from our leftovers.
- Tuesday – Mexican – not just tacos, but lots of other Mexican-themed cuisines!
- Wednesday – Asian – My family loves noodle bowls, but we also do dumplings, orange chicken, and vegetarian fare on nights like this with an Asian twist.
- Thursday – Italian – in Summer it might be pesto tomato sandwiches or Caprese salad, in winter it is lasagne or chicken piccata and heavier comforting dishes.
- Friday – Sabbath, and Family Dinner – Once a week, we come together as a family at our table to pray, talk scripture together, discuss our lives and share a special meal. It’s a kind of Sabbath rest for our souls and the heart of our family. It’s our safe space and where we get intentional about our fellowship together. This meal is a special meal that I plan with great care and shower my family with love.
- Saturday – Simple or cold meal – On Saturdays, I try to do a cold or simplified meal. Sandwiches, simple pasta with vegetables, pizza, etc.
- Sunday – Slow cooker meal for the main meal after church. My slow cooker makes sure that a hot meal is ready and waiting for us when we get home from church. At night, I usually make fun food like chili fries or nachos.
Your themes may be different than mine. Do what works best for your family!
Fill in your themed days with your family’s favorite meals. Remember: seasonal menu planning is meant to be for a whole season. So remind them that these are the meals you will enjoy for at least 3 months
Now, you want to fill in each week with your family’s favorite meals on the appropriately themed days. Keep doing that until you have at least 5 weeks of meals planned out.
I’ve done longer menus of 12 weeks, with many dishes on repeat, but I’ve found if I can get a solid 5-6 week plan, we don’t get bored even with repetition.
What if I don’t have that many weeks of meal ideas?
That’s when it’s time to add some new meals to try with your family! Do they have a favorite restaurant meal that you can learn to make at home? Have you been wanting to learn a new cooking skill that you can put to use in the kitchen more?
Pinterest is my favorite place to search for recipes. When I was getting bored with our usual Asian cuisine, I began looking for new dishes to try and I came across a recipe for dumplings. I’ve never made dumplings by hand before but I learned and now it’s one of my family’s favorite meals.
I create secret boards on Pinterest to save recipes. And I usually title them according to the month I know I will use them. For example, I have one called “August Meals”. This way, when I need a recipe for my August menu plan, I know exactly where it is and can pull it up on my phone in the kitchen.
Make your shopping lists
Once you have a 5 week or longer plan, it’s time to make the shopping lists for each week. List every single ingredient you need to have in the house for that week’s menu plan.
After you’ve completed your lists, pair them with the correct menu plan and store them in a 3-ring binder or folder. I put mine in clear sheet protectors so that I can use a dry erase marker on my lists to check off items.
When it’s time to shop, all your shopping lists are ready to go!
Shop your pantry first
The day before shopping day, I go into my pantry, cupboards and freezers to see which ingredients I already have at home. Then I check those items off with a dry erase marker. I shop for whatever is left.
Put the current menu up on the fridge for the whole family to see.
Because I menu plan for all of our meals, posting it on the fridge helps us all to stay on the plan. (Most of the time!) My indecisive eaters are grateful because they don’t have to think about what they want to eat for each meal.
My creative eaters (who don’t always like being told what to eat) sometimes go off plan. But that’s okay, I don’t mind as long as they don’t deplete the ingredients we need for each meal. I make sure that we have plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and staples in our pantry that they can choose from when they don’t want what I am making.
So that’s how I approach Seasonal Menu Planning
I hope this inspires you and simplifies your meal planning process! If you are looking for printables to help you stay organized, check out my home management binder on Gumroad. There are pages for planning out your menus, as well as shopping lists that can be easily filled in. (as well as other useful printables to get organized!) You can also read more about my home binder and why I use one here.