Moms, we hear it all the time, don’t we? The question that can make us sigh and roll our eyes or want to hide in a corner. We don’t know the answer today and we know we won’t have the answer tomorrow.
“Mom, what’s for dinner?”
If your house is anything like mine, the questions start around 10AM- right after they’ve had breakfast and a snack. I love and encourage curious minds, but seriously?
And that is just one reason meal planning has saved my sanity.
I know we have all heard it before…the key to organization for busy moms is MEAL PLANNING. We have heard it so many times that our brain tends to get fuzzy and our eyes glaze over when someone like me tells you to do it.
I understand. The thought of planning yet another thing is daunting, but I promise you that NOT planning is costing you a whole lot of time, money and energy.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be difficult and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Anyone can do it and can do it in a short amount of time and reap the benefits. Whether you can’t stand cooking or it’s your favorite thing in the world, you can and should still meal plan. Meal planning is simply the act of scheduling and/or prepping your meals ahead of time to save you the exhaustion of going through the “What’s for dinner?” every night.
I am a mom of six, soon to be seven, and meal planning quite simply saves my sanity. On weeks when I have let it slide, I find myself stressed and disorganized, especially during the busy seasons of life when we have activities and newborns and whatever else.
Many moms I talk to don’t meal plan because they don’t know where to begin.
I’m going to break it down into simple steps to show you how I have meal planned for my family.
HOW TO START MEAL PLANNING
Make a master list of meals or recipes you normally use and enjoy.
Every home has their go-to recipes that show up week after week. Taco Tuesdays, breakfast for dinner, pizza night, Italian night, etc. Add those meals to your master list. Involve your husband and your children and get their opinions on what meals they want to see on the meal schedule. At this point, you are only making one big list, so don’t worry about when and how you will actually make these meals. You are just keeping a master running list of meals your family enjoys.
Discover new meals.
Now that you have all your tried and true recipes on your master list, you will want some variety. Don’t go crazy here, because you will get overwhelmed and give up. But take a few minutes and browse any recipe books you have or search on Pinterest for some new recipes you’d like to try. Remember to gather a wide variety of recipes – meats, side dishes, crock pot meas, soups, casseroles etc. You can now add these meals to your master list or keep a separate list of meals you want to try. Either way, be sure to take note of where you got the recipe from so you can reference it quickly when you need it.
Decide how far in advance you want to meal plan.
This will vary from family to family. I have tried meal planning for a month at a time, and while I loved the idea of it, it just wasn’t realistic for me. I also have found that meal planning for one week at a time isn’t enough for my sanity level right now, but it has worked very well in the past. I am now meal planning for 2 weeks at a time and I find it is just what I need at this stage. If you’re new to this whole meal planning idea, start with a week and see how it goes. Even planning your meals for a week in advance is going to save you so much time and stress as a mom. As you get used to meal planning, you can plan out much further. Meal planning isn’t just about taking the stress off you, but about creating routine and predictability for your family. When my kids can see what is for dinner each time, they are less likely to ask for something different and I actually get less complaints because they know exactly what to expect.
Get out your calendar and take a look at the schedule.
This is it! The actual meal planning part. You now have a master list of old and new meals and you have decided how far in advance you will meal plan. Now you need to get it down on an actual schedule. Your family’s schedule will dictate which meals you plan for what night. When are your activities planned? Do you have get togethers to attend? Is there a holiday coming up? When are the kids needing to be taken to sports or school activities? Do you have meetings?
- For busy evenings, plan quick meals. Sandwiches, soups, salads. A crock pot meal works wonderfully for nights you won’t have time to cook. I often put a meal in the crock pot in the morning and am so thankful when I remember I don’t have to do anything later on.
- Plan homemade meals for days with less activity. If you have the time, use those days for big meals that take up more time. At this point, we do have a few days a week that we are home bound. I save the bigger meals for those days, since I have more time. Another helpful tip I have learned: when I am making the bigger meals, I tend to make double and freeze half of it. This saves me from making a home cooked meal at a later date. When I’m making my master list for another week, I can look in my freezer and see what meals I already have made.
- Prep freezer meals and casseroles for emergencies or last minute changes. We all know that the best laid plans don’t always work out. Things come up when we least expect them and it is wonderful to have a few meals prepped at all times, frozen and ready to be cooked when needed. Casseroles and Crock Pot meals are perfect for this situation. They can be easily thawed or thrown in the oven or crock pot.
Write down which meals you will have on which days/nights. You now have your meal plan and all you need to do is shop and prep! I created a FREE Weekly Meal Plan printable for you to use if you wish. Just download and save and you can print a new one each week!
Before you go anywhere or buy anything, take a look at what you need for each meal. You should have written down where to find each recipe on your master list, so pull that out and see what ingredients you need. Take inventory of what you have on hand for each recipe and what you need to add to your shopping list. Do you have all the condiments, spices and herbs that you’ll need? Do you already have a few pounds of chicken breasts in the freezer? This is all about saving time and money, so you don’t want to come home with ingredients that you already have.
The key here is to make one trip for all of your ingredients. Going to the store multiple times throughout the week not only cuts into your schedule and wastes time, it cuts into your budget. I do my shopping for two weeks at a time and I go with a budget. If I am going to the store multiple times in a week, it is amazing how quickly my allotted budget seems to disappear!
You’ve planned and shopped…Now, let’s prep.
You did the planning, you did the shopping. So, now what? Now, we do some prep, because a plan is only as good as the preparation you do before it. I will say you do not have to meal prep, but I highly suggest it. Again, this is all about saving you time.
Divide up meats into your meal portions and freeze. Decide how much meat each meal calls for and divide it up accordingly. I also cut up my chicken, depending on the meal I’m planning. Some meals call for strips, some call for cubes and so on. Likewise, cook any meat that needs browning, such as ground beef, turkey or chicken.
Now, chop your veggies and fruits, if needed. Just like with the meat, the more you get done ahead of time, the less you will need to do on those busy weeknights. I find that when I cut up veggies and fruits and make them available to my kids, they are less whiny and they tend to eat more veggies. See if you can use your chopped veggies for more than one meal, and save time in the future.
Put together all of your casseroles or frozen meals. Be sure to label them properly with the meal name and date. I know you are likely only planning for a week at a time, but this will come in handy when you plan further out down the road. You’ll get there!
NOW… You’re a meal planner! You did it! You’ve planned, you’ve prepped and now all you need to do is cook the meal when the time comes. The best part is…you know exactly when that time is coming!
Remember, this isn’t supposed to be a chore. It may seem like it at first, but it will become second nature. Cooking and providing delicious and nutritious meals for your family is wonderful and the planning takes the stress out of the constant starting over every day. I even get my kids involved in some way. Some kids can chop veggies and I am training my two oldest children to cook some simple meals. We put some music on and dance away as we prep!
So, the next time your kids ask, “What’s for dinner?”, point them to where you hang your meal plan…and I bet you won’t even have to say a word.