Free Printable of the Day

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Visit Craft and Creativity to get a free set of printable Cookbook Markers to help with meal planning.  Just print onto card stock and cut according to directions.  Voila!

Create Your Own Meal Planning Binder – Day 10

Want to simply your meal planning routine? You’ve come to the right place!  Welcome to our series on Creating Your Own Meal Planning Binder. Here’s what you may have missed:

Day 1 – Introduction
Day 2 – Using Pinterest to Organize Recipes
Day 3 – A Tour of My Binder
Day 4 – Nightly Meal Themes
Day 5 – How to Choose Recipes
Day 6 – Putting It All Together
Day 7 – FREE PRINTABLES exclusively for our email subscribers!!!
Day 8 – Formulating Your Monthly Meal Plan
Day 9 – Time to Go Shopping!

The Flexible Meal Plan: An Alternative
I am convinced that everyone can be successful at meal planning. It is all about finding a system that works for you. No two families are the same, so it is important to tweak and alter your system until it fits your own personal needs and preferences.

For example, some folks function best by having no surprises. They find order and security in always knowing what will happen next. For them, traditional monthly calendars work well for meal planning. They can choose their recipes and assign each a specific date on the calendar so they know exactly what to expect.

However there are some who hate regimented schedules. They want to have the freedom to mix things up a little bit. This is where the Flexible Meal Planning System comes in. You can choose 25-30 meals for your month, purchase your non-perishable and frozen items just like before, but still have the flexibility to decide on a weekly basis what your meals will look like. Instead of a calendar, they use a spreadsheet with a list of recipes they have prepped, checking them off as they are used.  Here’s how it works.

Choose Your Recipes
1) Begin by selecting 8-15 of your favorite recipes, choosing those with similar prep work whenever possible.
2) Decide how many times you will make each one, for a total of 28-31 meals.
3) Choose your side dishes.

Write Your Plan
Instead of using a calendar, write your meal plan on a spreadsheet with space for checking off each meal as you serve it. You can find one in our free printable meal planning binder (shown above), or create your own using Excel (as below).

Your spreadsheet should containing four boxes to the left of the recipe name as shown above. Add an “X” or check mark each time you serve one of the meals listed. This allows you to easily see what you have already served and what you have remaining throughout the month.

If there are dishes you don’t plan to serve four times, simply shade in the boxes you don’t need during your planning session. In this example, I plan to serve Tex Mex Soup four times, so I have four white boxes. However I plan to serve French Dip only once, so I have shaded in three of the four boxes. Easy as that!

I hope you have enjoyed this series! Please email me at momsbyheart at gmail dot com with any questions, suggestions or comments.

If you want to learn more about meal planning, you can find my book on Amazon for just $4.99! Includes all the free printables you need to make your own meal planning binder, along with techniques for shopping and meal prepping and over 75 recipes. Get Operation Dinner – How to Plan, Shop & Prep for Easy Family Meals.

Create Your Own Meal Planning Binder – Day 9

Welcome to our series on Creating Your Own Meal Planning Binder. Here’s what you may have missed:

Day 1 – Introduction
Day 2 – Using Pinterest to Organize Recipes
Day 3 – A Tour of My Binder
Day 4 – Nightly Meal Themes
Day 5 – How to Choose Recipes
Day 6 – Putting It All Together
Day 7 – FREE PRINTABLES exclusively for our email subscribers!!!
Day 8 – Formulating Your Monthly Meal Plan

Today we are going shopping!
I have a confession that may surprise you. I do the majority of my grocery shopping in one big trip each month. After formulating my monthly meal plan, I make a list of freezable and shelf-stable food items I will need, including meat, veggies, bread and canned goods. These items are purchased during my monthly trips, with quick weekly follow up trips to replenish fresh produce and dairy items only.

my monthly shopping list

The general consensus among meal planners is that weekly shopping yields the best bargains, because we are able to take advantage of store sales and plan our meals around them. But for me, this leaves too much room for complacency. There is always at least one week every month that is super-busy, leaving the possibility for sloppy (or non-existent) meal planning. These weeks will invariably mean more convenience foods and take-out. So even if I am on the ball for 3 out of 4 weeks, I would blow my budget on my busiest weeks.

my monthly shopping trip results

With monthly shopping and meal planning, this trap is eliminated. I have my plan, and most of my components for every single meal. All I need is 30 minutes or so to run out and grab my perishables and I am good to go. Since I am spending less time in the store, I am spending less money too. Overall, monthly shopping has led to a more strict food budget, bigger time savings and healthier meals for my family.

As much as I love monthly shopping, I realize that the trick to successful meal planning is to customize your efforts to fit your lifestyle and preferences. So if weekly shopping is working for you, stick with that. If you’d like to save a little time, give biweekly or monthly shopping a try. There is no such thing as one right way!

Today’s Assignment
Decide on your shopping regime and use your monthly meal plan to make a shopping list!

If you want to learn more about meal planning, you can find my book on Amazon for just $4.99! Includes all the free printables you need to make your own meal planning binder, along with techniques for shopping and meal prepping and over 75 recipes. Get Operation Dinner – How to Plan, Shop & Prep for Easy Family Meals.

Create Your Own Meal Planning Binder – Day 8

Welcome to our series on Creating Your Own Meal Planning Binder. Here’s what you may have missed:

Day 1 – Introduction
Day 2 – Using Pinterest to Organize Recipes
Day 3 – A Tour of My Binder
Day 4 – Nightly Meal Themes
Day 5 – How to Choose Recipes
Day 6 – Putting It All Together
Day 7 – FREE PRINTABLES exclusively for our email subscribers!!!

UPDATE: Scroll through HERE to see them all

If you are following along with us, you should have your Pinterest recipes organized, your binder printed and assembled and your main recipes inside. Today I wanted to take you through one of my meal planning sessions and show you how easy it is when you use the binder.

As I mentioned before, cooking within a specific theme may seem like it would limit your menu options a little. But I’ve found the opposite to be true. Having a theme as a starting point, I’ve been inspired to look for new ways to bring it to life. I’ve managed to find spin-offs and variations that I may have otherwise overlooked. You can read more info on theme nights HERE.

When it comes time to meal plan my job is simple. Using my themes, I find four tex-mex recipes (one for every Sunday of the month), four salad recipes, four slow cooker recipes, and so on.  The recipes in my binder are divided up according to theme, so I know right where to look.  Here’s an example of one of my meal plans.

I changed my Saturdays from “chicken” to “sandwich” theme on a whim.  I have been known to do that…I found a few recipes on Pinterest I wanted to try, so I mixed up my routine a little.

You may notice that I don’t generally plan my sides.  If you’re the kind of person who needs this part of the meal planned out as well, simply add them to your calendar. I personally choose my sides based on what is in season and on sale at the farmer’s market.

Today’s Assignment:
Create a monthly meal plan for August using your predetermined theme nights and the recipes from your binder. Tomorrow I will show you how to turn it into a shopping list. We will also discuss the idea of monthly shopping!

If you want to learn more about meal planning, you can find my book on Amazon for just $4.99! Includes all the free printables you need to make your own meal planning binder, along with techniques for shopping and meal prepping and over 75 recipes. Get Operation Dinner – How to Plan, Shop & Prep for Easy Family Meals.

Create Your Own Meal Planning Binder – Day 7

Welcome to our series on Creating Your Own Meal Planning Binder. Here’s what you may have missed:

Day 1 – Introduction
Day 2 – Using Pinterest to Organize Recipes
Day 3 – A Tour of My Binder
Day 4 – Nightly Meal Themes
Day 5 – How to Choose Recipes
Day 6 – Putting It All Together

UPDATE: Scroll through HERE to see the entire series.

Today we are offering a huge set of free printables for your binder! They are available exclusively to our email subscribers. Here’s how you can get them:

  • Head over HERE and sign up to receive free daily email alerts
  • Check your inbox for a confirmation email.  Click to confirm your subscription
  • You will receive links to your free printables in your inbox right away

If you are already an email subscriber, no worries!  You will have access to these free printables in today’s newsletter.  For today’s assignment, simply print off the pages you would like to use and add them to your binder!  Tomorrow I will share one of my meal planning sessions.

Create Your Own Meal Planning Binder – Day 6

Want to simply your meal planning routine? You’ve come to the right place! We are presently in the middle of a 10-day series on how to create a meal planning binder. If you’re new to this discussion, here’s what you missed:

Day 1 – Introduction
Day 2 – Using Pinterest to Organize Recipes
Day 3 – A Tour of My Binder
Day 4 – Nightly Meal Themes
Day 5 – How to Choose Recipes

UPDATE: Scroll through HERE to see them all

To recap, we have discussed the contents for the front of the binder, including theme nights, along with a table of contents for our favorite recipes. It should look something like this…


Moving towards the back of your binder, the next two sections will contain:

Monthly Meal Planning Sheets – This is where I store blank meal planning sheets (you can use blank, undated calendars for this task).  When it is time to make a meal plan, you’ll be happy to have these sheets all printed off and ready to go in your binder.

Shopping Lists – Once again, blank copies for future months are stored behind this tab.

I have free printables for meal planning, shopping lists, category pages and more inside my ebook Operation Dinner.  Plus later this week, I’ll be giving them away for free to my email subscribers!  If you’d rather make your own, you can google “printable monthly calendar” and “printable shopping list”, or use Word, Excel or similar programs on your PC.  Print off extras and store them in your binder.

The final section contains weekly sale ads for my favorite local stores along with store specific coupons. Since I am a frugal blogger, it may surprise you to know that I do not chase every single grocery store deal that comes along. Instead I find much better savings by shopping monthly. You can read my rationale over HERE.  I use this section of the binder to review deals for monthly shopping trips, and to find the best deals on produce and dairy for my weekly follow-up trips.  More on monthly shopping benefits can be found in my book!

Today’s Assignment:
Finish Assembling your binder, including a section for meal planning sheets, shopping lists and weekly sale ads.  Make sure you have all assignments from Days 1-5 completed as well.  Tomorrow I will show you a meal planning session so you can see how this binder can work its magic!

How to Make Your Own Meal Planning Binder – Day 5

Welcome to the two week series on Creating Your Own Meal Planning Binder

Day 1 – Introduction
Day 2 – Using Pinterest to Organize Recipes
Day 3 – A Tour of My Binder
Day 4 – Nightly Meal Themes

UPDATE: Scroll through HERE to see them all

If you were with us on day two, you may remember the discussion regarding Pinterest as a tool to locate recipes and categorize them so they are easy to find later. It is the perfect place to store ideas and draw inspiration for new and exciting dishes to add to the rotation. But all of the recipes that are pinned are not necessarily binder-worthy.

The binder is sacred, you see. It is a compilation of our best loved and most complimented recipes. It is something I plan to use throughout my kids growing up years, and even through my grandmother years. Thanks to the binder, I will have at my fingertips the recipes for the best gingerbread cookies, the chocolatiest brownies, the most savory and succulent Thanksgiving turkey, the most satisfying casseroles and the most mouth-watering sweet rolls. My culinary prowess will be unmatched from potluck to shining potluck and people will come from miles around to taste the legendary dishes derived from my prized binder which shall be kept under lock and key and guarded by armed soldiers.

Or something like that…

But you get the point. It is my secret weapon. The best of the best recipes. Keeping it that way ensures that it is most useful as a meal planning tool. If I were to clutter it with untested recipes, it would become just a paper version of Pinterest that must be weeded through in order to do my planning.

As you assemble your binder, keep in mind that its purpose is to simplify your meal planning. So start with the recipes you are sure of, and then gradually add on as the months and years pass.

If you want to learn more about meal planning, you can find my book on Amazon for just $4.99! Includes all the free printables you need to make your own meal planning binder, along with techniques for shopping and meal prepping and over 75 recipes. Get Operation Dinner – How to Plan, Shop & Prep for Easy Family Meals.

Next week we will cover the final sections of the meal planning binder. I will share some more free printables and give you a tour of one of my meal planning sessions.

Make Your Own Meal Planning Binder – Day 4

Welcome to the two week series on creating your own meal planning binder.

Day 1 – Introduction
Day 2 – Using Pinterest to Organize Recipes
Day 3 – A Tour of My Binder

UPDATE: Scroll through HERE to see them all

Today we will start building our binder, beginning with the first section: Theme Nights.

What Are Theme Nights?
Theme nights give you a framework to plan meals using specific recipe categories for every day of the week.  Since your daily themes remain consistent, they make meal planning a lot easier.  In the photo above, you can see an example: Sunday is Mexican, Monday is salad day, Tuesday is slow cooker, and so on.  You can choose your themes based on what works best for your family, including food preferences, dietary restrictions, schedules, etc.

Cooking within a specific theme may seem like it would limit your menu options a little. But I’ve found the opposite to be true. Having a theme as a starting point, I’ve been inspired to look for new ways to bring it to life. I’ve managed to find spin-offs and variations that I may have otherwise overlooked.

Nightly Theme Ideas:

  • Slow Cooker Meal Night
  • Soup & Sandwiches Night
  • Pasta Night
  • Italian Night
  • Mexican Night
  • Leftovers/Eat from the Pantry Night
  • On The Grill Night
  • Chicken Night
  • Beef Night
  • Stir-Fry Night
  • Casseroles Night
  • Vegetarian Night
  • Fish Night
  • Pork Night
  • Roast Night
  • Breakfast for Dinner Night
  • Company’s Coming
  • Pizza Night

During monthly meal planning sessions, I know I’ll need four Italian recipes – one for every Wednesday of the month. So I can quickly go to the “Italian Recipes” section of my binder, find four recipes, then add them to my meal planning calendar. Then repeat this process for the remaining six themes.

The themes you choose will determine the recipe tabs you create for your binder. They will also dictate your “Table of Contents” pages.  Your table of contents will contain a list of favorite recipes and their sources so you never have to go searching again!  The example above is my list of beef recipes.  Most of these recipes are found in the binder, but those found in cookbooks are written in pink along with the book name and page number.

My meal planning binder is set up as follows:

Section #1: Recipes

  • Page 1: Theme Nights List
  • Page 2: Table of contents pages
  • Followed By: Recipes divided into tabbed categories

Today’s Assignment
Choose your themes and create your table of contents. Here are the printables you will need today:

Tomorrow we will discuss how to choose recipes for the binder.

If you want to learn more about meal planning, you can find my book on Amazon for just $4.99! Includes all the free printables you need to make your own meal planning binder, along with techniques for shopping and meal prepping and over 75 recipes. Get Operation Dinner – How to Plan, Shop & Prep for Easy Family Meals.