Learn the basics of how to meal plan as a busy mom so there is less scrambling at mealtime and more quality time with your family.
Meal planning may sound intimidating, but once you jump on the bandwagon, you’ll find it can simplify daily mom life. Meal planning takes some legwork on the front end, which pays off in dividends when it’s dinner time in your home each night.
Most moms begin to meal plan for specific reasons, most often, they desire to:
- Save money or stay on budget
- Reduce take-out or eating out
- Eat healthier
- Cater to specific food allergies
- Take the stress out of the all-too-stressful mom life
Not only does proper meal planning cut back on your grocery store budget and trips each week, but it also gives you peace of mind that you’ll have dinner ready and waiting for your family each night. There are many variables of family life that are out of your control as a mom, but thankfully, meal planning doesn’t have to be one of them.
As a mom of four always-hungry kids, here are my go-to tips for successful meal planning for a family.
1. Make a Master List of Recipes
The first step to successful meal planning is to make a master list of recipes that you know your family loves. If it’s hard to remember tried-and-true favorites, make a Pinterest board dedicated to favorite recipes that you can easily access. You can also reference your board for inspiration each week when you meal plan since you know it contains recipes your family already loves.
To easily find your favorite recipes, break your board into specific category sections to make planning easier. Some category examples may include Crockpot, Quick Meals, Casseroles, One-Pan Meals, Soups & Stews, etc. Also, create a board called New Recipes to try so you can save any recipes you come across that look tasty. If you test out a recipe and your family likes it, then move it over to the appropriate section of your favorite recipes board.
If you’re a paper and pen person, dedicate a small spiral notebook to jotting down your favorite recipes all in one place that you can reference easily.
2. Know Your Schedule for the Week
Whether you have one child or five, weekdays can be busy as you are often resident chauffeur, scheduler, laundress, maid, and chef. Before you start planning for the week, break out your family calendar to see what’s scheduled between work obligations, appointments, and sports, social, or church activities. On these busy nights, plan for quick meals, crockpot meals, leftovers, or thawed-out freezer meals.
If you have a flexible schedule, consider meal prepping on mornings that are less busy. Prep work may include thawing or marinating meat, dicing veggies, or prepping a casserole to cook that evening. If you’re feeling really ambitious and have enough time, think about doubling your recipe (specifically soups and casseroles) so that you have one ready for dinner and one to freeze for a busy night in the future.
3. Shop Your Pantry and Local Grocery Store Sales
Before you begin choosing your recipes for the week, be sure to see what you already have in your pantry and freezer. If you frequently buy meat and pantry items in bulk when they are on sale, you will spread that food out in your meal plan over several weeks.
Also, be sure to look at your local grocer’s sales ad. Basing your weekly meal plan menu around sales ensures you are stretching your grocery budget. Consider ordering your groceries online and picking them up curbside. Not only does online shopping make it easy to get everything on your list, but you can also easily tell if you stay on budget. And many stores offer online coupons and specials in their online systems.
4. Plan Your Dinners
Now, you’re ready to choose your recipes for the week based on your schedule, your grocery store’s sales, and your family’s taste buds.
A big time-saver tip is to cook once and eat twice. This doesn’t just apply to making a large meal such as a casserole so you can have leftovers. You can also cook a large portion of meat (especially if it’s on sale) and eat it one night, then reuse it in a meal for another night. For example, we love to grill marinated pork tenderloin. We’ll eat it with side veggies for one meal, then the next night I’ll repurpose it to make pork “fried rice” by sautéing it with riced cauliflower and other veggies.
Write down your meal each day in your family calendar and make any notes regarding prep work. So if you’re throwing together a crockpot meal because you have a busy evening, make a reminder for that morning to throw the ingredients into the crockpot.
If your recipe uses fresh produce, plan to schedule that meal for earlier in the week when produce is the freshest. There is nothing worse than planning to cook vegetables at the end of the week only to find they’ve begun to rot or mold.
5. Write Out Your Grocery List
It’s especially crucial to write out your list if you’re shopping in person at a grocery store. If you’re well acquainted with your store, group items together based on the route you typically take through the store to ensure you don’t overlook anything. If you order groceries online, open up your recipes for the week in separate tabs on your computer so you can see the ingredients and immediately add those items to your cart online.
Besides ingredients for dinners, also consider breakfasts, lunches and snack items. If I ever have to make a mid-week trip to the grocery store, it isn’t because I ran out of food for my dinners, but because I ran out of food for lunches or breakfasts. Taking inventory of what you have will help you plan better for these meals.
If your family eats leftovers for lunch, adjust your recipe sizes accordingly. If they eat basic sandwiches, chips, and fruit, make sure you add these common items to your list or cart.
Practice Makes Perfect
The more you practice meal planning for your family, the easier and more routine it will become. Many busy moms cook a favorite meal a few times a week, which makes planning a little easier. At any rate, having a weekly plan laid out for meals means that all you have to worry about is meal execution. To lighten things up, assign simple food prep and cooking tasks to your kids. Most kids are eager little helpers who love to contribute.
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