Pam Molnar, contributing writer

Fall gives moms a chance to hit the reset button. For me, it is the time of year that I tell myself that I will make time to plan out our dinners in advance, shop for everything at one time, and serve a healthy meal every night. That usually lasts a week before I am throwing my hands up and ordering pizza.

I know I am not alone when I say I am both intrigued and aggravated by the bloggers who share their monthly meal plans. In theory, they are amazingly planned out with a shopping list and sometimes a nutritional chart. However, when I start looking at some of the recipes, I realize that my family of picky eaters will only eat half of the suggested dinners.

This year I decided to come up with a plan that worked better for my family. Here are some suggestions to plan a month of meals that your family will eat.

  1. Start by making a list of the family go-to meals. How many times do you make them each month? For my family, I make eight family favorites two times a month, which satisfies 16 days. Next, make a list of meals that you make only once a month like a ham, roast, or something else that takes several hours to cook. Then, add in simple, quick meals that can be cooked in 15 minutes, like sandwiches or omelets. Finally, choose a few crockpot meals that your family enjoys.
  2. Create a makeshift calendar on your table or countertop using sticky notes. Write each dinner on a separate sticky note and arrange them in calendar format. As you put your days together, be realistic about your family’s schedule. If you will be occupied from 3 to 6 p.m. one evening, don’t plan a dinner that takes hours to prepare that day. As you lay out your sticky note calendar, plan meals with similar ingredients in the same week to avoid waste. For example, if two recipes use half a can of tomato paste, put those two meals next to each other on your makeshift calendar.
  3. Make a shopping list for the month. Shop for all non-perishable items at one time and shop weekly for fresh produce or dairy. Meat can be purchased and frozen or purchased fresh weekly. As you see a pattern forming for your staples, pick up a few extra ones at the store. With the unpredictable schedules of my teenagers and their friends, I like to keep extra items like frozen burgers or extra packages of rice or pasta to supplement a meal if we have extra guests.
  4. Leave some flexibility in your schedule. If you know one of the nights will be too busy to cook, plan a leftover night by making a double batch the night before. If your son has a soccer game that ends at 6 p.m. and the field is right next to the take-out Chinese restaurant, plan that into your menu. Also, if there is a great sale happening at the store one week, feel free to adjust your plan. For example, this summer the cost of eggs dropped drastically. As a result, we had breakfast for dinner a few nights in place of our regularly planned meals.
  5. Consider cooking a week of meals one night. While I have yet to master this, many busy moms spend one long afternoon chopping, mixing, and cooking their family dinner for the whole week. It is a great time saver to make dinner when you have the time instead of during the busy after-school rush. You can put more than one kind of meat on the grill, chop all veggies for the week’s menu, or make soups, casseroles, and sauces to freeze for later.

With dinner plans already taken care of, you will have time to help with homework, play a game with your kids, or just put your feet up and relax.

Download a free meal plan calendar like the one mentioned in this article: