Spend less time scrambling to put meals on the table and more time doing what matters with these simple, fast meal planning tips for busy moms!
We’ve all been there. It’s 4 p.m. and you’ve been run ragged all day, right? And then, the dreaded question comes. You know the one. The one that makes every mother on the planet cringe and start looking for takeout menus.
What’s for dinner?
If your house is anything like mine lately, this question makes you come to the sudden realization that nothing is for dinner. At least…nothing has been planned. Nothing has been pulled out of the freezer. So, now what?
I've been a meal planner for as long as I can remember. Certainly as long as I've been a mom! But lately, I haven't done so great at it. I don't know if it's because it's summer, or because my attention has been elsewhere or what, but meal planning hasn't been a priority. Unfortunately, that means we have nothing for dinner! Or, we have to scramble to figure something out at the last minute. (Thank you, Instant-Pot!)
Related: Meal Prep Must-Haves for Busy Moms
Meal Planning to the Rescue!
I know. No one really likes meal planning. It takes time, and energy, and the kids probably aren't going to eat it anyway! Right? I have to share something I've recently learned, though.
NOT meal planning has caused more stress and chaos!
I took an unintentional break from planning our meals so that I could just relax and enjoy summer. It turns out, though, that by not sticking to a plan, I set us up for stressful evenings and an hour of rushing to get dinner prepared. That's the opposite of what I wanted to do! So, I'm back on the meal plan bandwagon and I wanted to share with you just how much it can help you stay organized.
The good news is, it can be really simple.
Proper meal planning shouldn't feel like a chore. In fact, it should be incredibly simple and natural, even for non-planners! Once you have your system in place, it should only take about 15-20 minutes a week to set your family up with healthy meals. Let me put it this way: You'll spend less time planning your weekly menu than you do trying to scramble to feed your kids something last minute when your day gets away from you.
I want to share some simple tips for planning your meals in a way that doesn't add extra stress to your day.
Gather your favorite recipes.
The first thing I did when I started meal planning was to set up a binder with our favorite recipes. These are the meals we rotate through quite often, because I know everyone will eat them. Every family has these recipes. Taco Tuesday, anyone?
So, ask your family what their favorite dinners are, and get to work on your family recipe binder.
Look for new dinner ideas.
I like to look for one new idea every week to help us mix things up. After all, eating the same things over and over might be easier, but it sure gets boring. We're foodies, and we all really like trying new things! Well....except the three year old. I've yet to find a toddler that likes trying new things.
However, don't go overboard with this. I've made the mistake before of picking all new recipes to try in one week. There are a few reasons this is a bad idea.
- Trying new recipes takes up more time and concentration. One or two is fun, but when you have a full week of new meals to prep, you'll get burned out much faster.
- New meal ideas means new ingredients, and new ingredients means a higher grocery bill. Plus, if the recipes are a total flop, you've wasted a bunch of food!
- You'll spend a lot of extra time trying to find new recipes that sound good, which makes the whole process more daunting. Keep it simple!
Want some meal inspiration? Be sure to check out my recipe board on Pinterest for ideas!
Pick 7 meals to add to your weekly menu.
I know some people like to plan a month's worth of meals at a time, but that just seems so overwhelming to me. We eat a lot of fresh foods, so I have to go to the store every single week anyway. Why not just plan one week at a time since that's how often I'll be there?
I used to plan out two weeks at a time and buy all of our meats and dry goods on pay day, then go back for just produce the next week. What I found, though, was that I spent more money that way. Now that I go every week and buy the food we need for 7 dinners plus our daily staples, I spend a lot less, and spend less time in the store! It's a win-win!
Write your grocery list.
Once I have all of my meals figured out for the week, I write up my grocery list with all of the ingredients I need. This way, I don't find myself making mid-week trips to the grocery store! With two kids tagging along and a 20 minute drive to the closest good grocery store, the less often I have to go, the better.
So I look at each recipe, figure out what I need, and write it all down so I can take it with me when I shop.
So, the term "planning" makes this whole process sound really rigid and strict, but that's not how I plan my meals at all. When I write them down, I'm mostly just looking to make sure I have ideas for every day of the week. I know which evenings are busy and which evenings we'll be home, so I usually have a general idea of what we'll eat each night, but it's always subject to change.
Sometimes I just don't feel like eating a burger, you know? Yes, that feeling is incredibly rare (I'm a really big fan of a good homemade burger), but it does happen on occassion! So, when I write out my menu for the week, I know that things will move around. My biggest focus is that I have enough meals to last every day of the week, and that I have the ingredients on hand to make them. If I've got all of that, I consider it a success!
You did it!
You have no officially survived your first meal planning session. Do you feel accomplished? You should! You just set yourself and your family up for a less chaotic (and more healthy) week of dinners. Remember, this should never feel like a chore. If the process is too overwhelming for you, try to find something to simplify next week. Personally, I got overwhelmed when I tried to keep up with prepping everything in advance. That stressed me out and made me so tired, so I stopped! Once you get started, you'll find the best way to make meal planning work for you.
No longer do you have to dread the question "what's for dinner?" Because now, you'll have an answer on hand every night!