I know with all my heart that I am not the only working (or just plain BUSY) mom out there who loathes dinnertime each day. I previously struggled so much with this “Mom Task” that I would make lots of excuses to just take the easy road of eating out every night. Our budget and our waistbands needed a major change, so I started getting serious about meal planning.
Hear me out, meal planning doesn’t have to be stressful or time consuming, but it does take a little bit of organization and commitment to get into a groove. Meal planning came easy to me because I just tend to be a list maker and generally organized person. If I make a plan, I can achieve whatever the goal is at the end. I used that mindset in my weekly grocery list and it didn’t take long for the dinnertime stress to go away! To make it seem less daunting, here are my pro tips!
Make your list and do all grocery shopping on the weekends. I go on Sundays. I give my fridge, pantry and freezer all a once-over before I get started. Once I have a good lay of the land in those areas, I make my list of what meals I want to make and all the ingredients I need to pick up.
Be mindful of your week’s schedule as you are picking meal ideas. For me, I look to see what I have going on each afternoon at work, each evening and what time my commitments begin (KICKBALL!!), and I am equally mindful of what my husband has planned after work during the week. I want to be extra sure that whatever I plan to make works with my schedule but also need to be aware of nights that my husband may have to put dinner on the table. Let’s say my kickball game is an early one this week and starts before 7pm. On that day, I will have everything pre-made as much as I can for Mark to finish up for him and our toddler OR I will utilize the working mom’s BEST FRIEND, the crockpot! (Side note, just because I wrote that we would have Lo Mein on Tuesday does not mean that is what we will absolutely have. We adapt depending on what pops up or the freshness of the prepared dish as the week goes on.)
Keep family favorites handy. I use Pinterest to organize my recipes. I have two Pinterest boards for meal planning: one board has recipes that I want to try on my family and another that I have tried and everyone loved! This helps me remember what my picky eaters really did enjoy and helps me to avoid having a whole week of “first timers”. Using Pinterest is a personal preference of mine, but I have several friends who do NOT do Pinterest and keep recipes on cards or printed in recipe books. Whatever works for you, do it! Just have a stash of go-to’s that you review each meal planning session to help build your week’s dinner menu.
You’re all done planning and you have your groceries, now it is time to PREP! This is the most time consuming part of my meal planning. I try to do it during naptime after church if I can OR after our toddler goes down. I mostly don’t want to be distracted from my family for too long, but mostly they just bug me the whole time out of their own boredom. I go recipe by recipe and do all my washing, chopping, portioning, cubing, etc all right here. I try to avoid getting any knives out during the week if I can avoid it. A great helper of mine are gallon zipper bags for the fridge and freezer. (GET FROM THE DOLLAR STORE BECAUSE YOU CAN REALY GO THROUGH THESE FAST!) I especially want to make sure I take care of all of the meat prep on Sundays because I want all the excess or discards to go in the trash for Monday trash pickup. Otherwise, I may cook with chicken on Tuesday and my discards start to really stink up my house by our next trash pickup on Thursday. For the most part, I get as far into a recipe I can without actually doing any of the cooking. That way, during the week I mostly just have to throw things together or put it in the oven. This makes things so much easier AND faster after a long day at work.
Freezer meals. I do a good freezer stock up once a month. Many of my weekly meals are coming from full meals prepared and stored in my freezer. I have found lots of meals that do great in the freezer, so I try to stock up when I can. If you have a small family like me, start with splitting your casserole that calls for a 9×13 dish into two 8×8 dishes. Prepare one for dinner that week and wrap and freeze the second one. I do this with baked spaghetti, chicken broccoli rice casserole, and enchiladas. Look for freezer meals on Pinterest or in recipe books. The Pioneer Woman (gosh, LOVE HER!) has great freezer meals, and my local library has lots of recipe books dedicated to freezing. You can also have things ready to take over to friends’ homes when they have babies, a loss in the family, or JUST BECAUSE. Filling a freezer is my love language.
Shortcuts that I have used and loved in the past. Never be afraid to fake it until you make it. There are meal planning programs that exist. I personally use 5 Dinners in 1 Hour and love it! They do all the meal planning, make your grocery list, and give you step-by-step what to do for prep work. It is super easy, affordable and FAST! I have also used Blue Apron in the past, and it worked well for us, but it is not as easy on our budget as I would like. Also, with two picky eaters (out of three eaters total **eye roll**), it isn’t always the best option for us. Also, I have used a meal planner printable in the past that helped me stay organized. My favorites came from Strawberry Mommy Cakes here.
There you have it! My best tips for meal planning. Make sure to give yourself some grace in getting started, but remember that your week will go by much smoother once you have all the legwork done at the beginning of each week. What are some tips you have for busy moms? Share them with me – perhaps on Pinterest!