Free Printable: Monthly Meal Planning Step-by-Step Worksheet

Start meal planning today with this free printable step-by-step worksheet!

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Need some help getting organized? Try meal planning! Use this easy step-by-step worksheet to guide you through meal planning for a whole month of family meals.

Stuck on what recipes to use? See my family-approved Recipes for ideas.

Not sure how to meal plan? Follow along with my Meal Plans to see how I’ve done it.

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What’s in your pantry?

Keeping the essentials on hand can help your family eat in more often. Don’t be caught flatfooted, keep the necessities in your pantry!

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Whether it’s in my meal plans or not, there are some non-perishable items I always keep handy “just in case”. These basics allow my family some flexibility, for example, if I can’t cook due to an unexpected bout of overtime, or if I spontaneously need a batch of cookies in the house. They also let me explore different recipes on the weekends without taking away from those meals that are part of my well-thought-out family meal plan.

My main goal for having a well-stocked pantry is cost. Sure, it may cost a little bit more each trip to include items that aren’t on my meal plan. However, that small cost is well worth not paying for takeout due to “food boredom”.

There are plenty of thoughts on just what would be good to keep around. One that I’ve personally referred to over the past few years has come from CBC. Back in 2013, CBC had its own assessment of the basics as part of their “Live Right Now” program. (side note, “Live Right Now” seems to have died on the vine, but this reference sheet is pretty timeless).

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Now, I’m not suggesting that the list above is the be-all and end-all of pantry lists. For example, I bought a small bag of couscous back in 2013 and I’m pretty sure it’s still in my cupboard… I’ve made my own personal list that meshes well with the types of meals and snacks my family consistently make.

Bare basics

These bare basics are things I never let run out, or else the ground will swallow me whole:

  • Raisins – This is the perfect snack-food for my daughter. Never mess with a hungry toddler.

  • Peanut butter – Another one that’s purely driven by my toddler. She asks for this specifically; a pretty large feat considering her toddler-level vocabulary.

  • Flour – I bake most of the bread in my home ($0.70 a loaf as opposed to $2.50), plus it’s used in a lot of recipes and sauces. I usually keep whole wheat, but if that runs out, there’s always another type of flour (white, pastry, or bread) to make due until the next grocery visit.

  • Sugar – Baking, cooking, or just in tea. This is a must-have, although we have been using less and less as our daughter grows. Looks like the little tyke is a good influence.

  • Spices – Without these, food would probably make me cry.

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    • Salt – if you’re cooking from scratch, salt is a must to bring out flavours.

    • Pepper – Added at the table, pepper helps Gord and me spice things up while our daughter has a milder version of whatever we’re cooking.

    • Cumin – I don’t know why, but just a dash of this stuff brings out the flavours of whatever I’m cooking.

    • Garlic Powder – Used in a lot of my dishes, I always have a big 500g bottle of this in my cupboard.

    • Chili Powder – I cook a lot of tex-mex style foods. ‘Nuf said.

    • Cinnamon – Gord does breakfast most of the time, so this is his critical spice. Pancakes, french toast, random baking endeavours… this stuff is pretty tasty.

  • Canned Tomatoes – Tomatoes are used in practically everything I cook. I ran out of these once. There was a riot… Now I make sure there are at least 6 extra cans over and above my month-long meal plans.

    With all the tex-mex style cooking and curries, I use tomatoes probably 3-4 times a week. Thank goodness I don’t have to deal with heartburn…

  • Beans – Canned and dried beans are always in my cupboard, at minimum chickpeas, kidney beans and black beans. A few times, we’ve had a lazy Saturday with baked beans and toast for lunch.

    Lazy beans are the best, Yum!

  • Pasta – Need something quick? Tomoatoes + Beans + Spices + Pasta = quick, easy and tasty meal.

  • Rice – Whole grain rice (I use basmati a lot) is a must in our household. Take the same ingredients you’d use on a pasta dish, add rice instead, and you’ve got something brand new!

  • Canola Oil – Baking or cooking, we use a moderate amount of this in most of our meals.

  • Onion – When cooking from scratch, onions are the base to most of my home cooked meals.

  • Eggs – Breakfast, baking and the occasional lunch, I always have a backup carton of eggs on hand.

Over and above what meshes with the CBC list, I also have a few family “must haves”:

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  • Frozen home-made dinners – Grab-and-go frozen lunches are a must-have when you have two working parents. Sometimes lunch doesn’t get made in time for work, so these frozen lunches keep us from buying fast food. Plus, it’s nice to have a home cooked lunch in the middle of a work day.

  • Chocolate Chips – CBC’s list says “Dark chocolate chips”, probably because of the sugar. But really, if you’re going to bake cookies, the chocolate chips aren’t what’ll break the sugar bank…

  • Onion Soup Mix – I actually use Onion Soup Mix more than I use bullion. I use neither that much, but I do use them enough to have some of each in the pantry.

  • Gravy Browning – If you’re from Newfoundland, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I always have this handy.

  • Bottled Butter Chicken Sauce – Gord’s all-time favourite meal is butter chicken. I would be doing him a disservice if I didn’t have one of these handy at all times.

More ‘miss’ than ‘hit’

So, while the above list showcases my essentials, and I do take most of my pantry items from the CBC list, there are a few things on that list that I disagree with.

I suggest, like anything on the internet, that you take this list with a grain of salt. Assess what’s right for your family and be willing to experiment, but also know your own limits.

The following have made it to my, nuh-uh, “what were they thinking” list:

  • Wheat Bran/Wheatgerm – I bake with whole wheat flour and have never, ever needed just wheat bran or wheatgerm.

  • Dried Pears or Apples – I have never needed these dried fruit in the history of ever. Plus, I’ve never even found these items other than in one particular bulk store. Although, that possibly has something to do with the fact that I haven’t been looking too hard…

  • Agave Nector – This is one of those trendy “superfood” items that’s also “super expensive”. For the low amount of sugar we use, it’s not worth having a sugar substitute like this around. Honey is much more accessible.

  • Pumpkin seeds – I don’t know why this is on a list of “Staples”. I wish they had explained the items (like I’m doing here) to justify this one…

  • Flax Seed Oil – While I’m sure flax seed oil has some pretty neat-o properties, I’ve never been inclined to use anything other than canola and olive oils.

  • Fresh Beets – Gord won’t eat beats, and they go bad too quickly compared to potatoes. I buy these once in a blue moon, but they don’t make it to my “must have” pantry list.

  • Frozen tortillas and pitas – I’ve never had a frozen tortilla. Maybe I’ll add a few to my list next time and see what this one’s about. Maybe…

  • Sardines – Big fat fluffy nope!

  • Kale – I tried, I really did. I had eight kale plants growing in my garden. I tried it in a stir-fry (it took about 2 hours to become edible) and it was tough and unpleasant, and I tried it baked as desiccated kale chips. Neither one were worth the effort.

    If you are about to say “smoothie”, I refuse to try a kale smoothie. After how aweful my other two experiences with kale were, that just sounds gross (I was vegetarian for two years; I’m no stranger to trying new things and still, the thought of kale smoothies grosses me out).

  • Swiss Chard – Another one that’s off the mark for me. While I’m sure it’s a perfectly lovely green, it doesn’t make it to my family’s “must have” list.

  • Couscous – While I’m sure the writer’s heart was in the right place, I’ve literally used couscous twice. And only because it was in my cupboard from this list. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy there. Quinoa, on the other hand? I use that all the time.

So that’s my list and my anti-list.

What about you? What’s in your pantry?

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2016 Calendars – Free Printable

Use these 2016 calendars to plan meals, organize your month or track savings goals, whatever fits your needs.

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A little late, but here they are: Calendars for the year. Below is a link to my 2016 monthly calendars, plus year-at-a-glance. I hope they help you stay organized in 2016!

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Ten weekday rules for family bliss

In my household, both my husband and I work on roughly the same schedule. Our work days end at the same time and we get home in time for supper, where we rush to put together a decent meal so that everyone can sit down together. When food’s eaten, we play for an hour or so, bathe our daughter, get her ready for bed, then take a deep breath before we tackle the day-to-day chores.

These rules help us keep our home intact until the weekend, where we can catch up on all the chores – and the fun – that we might not have gotten to during the week.

#10: Food comes first

This rule works on a few different levels: Before mom and dad can play, the food has to be cooking. Also, before junk is eaten, some manner of real food has to touch our child’s lips.

On the cooking side, sometimes my daughter’s eager to help, stirring the stovetop food as we safely hold her, or mixing dry ingredients in a bowl. Other times, it’s a game of mommy-daddy ping pong where she’s the ball, bouncing between whoever’s currently holding her and the parent who’s actually being productive. It means all-hands-on-deck when making supper, but it exposes her to the process of making healthy meals. We learn by doing, and hopefully some of those skills will rub off, allowing her to be comfortable in the kitchen as she grows.

For me, the key ingredient for successful after-work meals is a prepared meal plan. Without planning ahead, I find it’s a mad scramble to figure out what to have, let alone cooking it in time for everyone to eat together.

Armed with my trusty plan, weekday meals get whipped up right quick-like.

#9: No phones at the table

This goes for mom, dad and toddler (no, she doesn’t have a phone, she has a “phone”, which she loves about as much as we adults love our adult-type-tech). No surfing, no checking tumblr, no reading the latest facebook post… and no “wheels on the bus BEEP! BEEP!”

We try to use the dinner table as a place to spend 10-15 minutes of uninterrupted time together. Sometimes we chat about our respective days; sometimes we talk about the food or upcoming events. Always in person: no phones (or “phones”) allowed!

#8: If it fits in the dishwasher, it goes in the dishwasher

This is my favourite rule.

When dinner is done, with minor exceptions for special items that are too sentimental (Nan’s hand-me-down china) or dishes that take up half the bottom rack (my favourite lasagna pan), everything that touches food ends up in the dishwasher. Sure, some of those one-of-a-kind plastic decals that I used to love get worn off, but at least it’s clean.

Sometimes, if I’m feeling especially productive, I may hand wash a few things during the week, but usually that sucker is running a metric marathon every evening.

I’d give up my phone before I’d give up that workhorse!

#7: Everyone helps

This includes my daughter and both of us work-weary parents. While it may take twice as long to enlist the “help” of a toddler, it’s so rewarding to see her learn a useful life skill. She loves to load cups on the top rack of the dishwasher (the right way down!), and she’ll clap gleefully for every sock that makes it into the hamper. A little encouragement and enthusiasm and she’ll stay focused until her (admittedly brief) chore is complete.

Small steps. Eventually she’ll be doing her own laundry.

(A mom can dream, right?)

Speaking of laundry…

#6: Folding is optional

During the week, I usually wash a load a day, and anything that’s washed makes it into the drier. Beyond that… well the rule says it all: Folding is optional on weekdays. Sometimes, clean dry laundry makes it to a carefully selected heap on the bedroom floor. Other times, it makes it to a neatly folded pile in a basket to the side. Even rarer, neatly folded items make their way home to a dresser or closet.

Not usually, but it’s been known to happen.

Corollary (#6.5): The dirty pile must not touch the clean pile

On the off chance the laundry doesn’t get washed between Monday and Saturday, it can pile a bit higher than the laundry baskets allow. That carefully selected clean dry laundry pile? It’s nowhere near that towering monstrosity of old socks and crumpled work shirts. Never the twain shall meet!

#5: An hour a day keeps the grunge-monster away

As an adult, I’m cursed to pay taxes on the things I buy and the money I earn. This particular tax (a chore-tax if you would) of one hour a day keeps the worst of the grunge at bay. On occasion, it even “earns” me extra time to focus on fun outings on the weekend instead of playing chore catch-up.

When I neglect to pay the chore-tax, though, the grunge builds up a horrible dirt-debt that takes hours off my precious weekend family time. To avoid that aweful fate, I suck-it-up and do some housework after the little one is asleep.

“A penny saved is a penny earned” as they say.

#4: Tag out when tempers flare

True of both toddlers and parents, sometimes you just need a “time out”. If I’m home alone, the mommy “time out” may take the form of stepping into a separate room and taking a few deep breaths before re-engaging the Tantruming Toddler Titan.

#3: Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Even though my husband and I are both parents, we’re both people too. And as people who each work from nine-to-five, monday-to-friday every week, a mid-week break from all-family-all-the-time is necessary to maintain mental and emotional balance.

For me, I volunteer on Tuesdays. For my husband, he slays virtual dragons on Thursdays. Once a week, we each regularly solo-parent, and once a week, we each regularly get a night out to recharge. Our daughter gets to experience some alone time with both of her parents, and both of us get to interact with humans outside of our immediate family.

It’s win-win for everyone!

#2: Bedtime before Overtime

Both my husband and I are lucky enough to be able to work from home, if the need arises. When we do, though, from supper time until our daughter’s bedtime, we’re on a lunch break. It may not work for everyone, but it works for us (and I’m so grateful that it does).

Finally, and most importantly…

#1: Ignore all the rules

The best part about knowing the rules is knowing when to break them!

So, go ahead, take these rules and make them your own.

Or, better yet… share your experiences: What rules keep your family running in tip-top shape?

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