If you aren’t meal planning, you should be! It is the ultimate time saver for busy moms who want to make healthier choices for their family. Years ago a friend of mine introduced me to meal planning. At the time I was teaching part-time with a 2 year old and a baby on the way. My time and energy were limited. Trying to figure out what to cook for dinner at 6pm with a screaming toddler attached to my leg was just not working for me. When my girlfriend told me about how she planned out her meals each week, I jumped on the idea.
Fast forward nine years later and I am still convinced that weekly planning of our meals was one of the best decisions I made. Here is why it can benefit your life as a busy mom too!
Saves Time/Reduces Stress
How many times have you stood in front of the pantry or refrigerator searching for something to make for dinner? And then started cooking a meal, only to realize halfway through that you are missing a key ingredient? That was me, until I started meal planning. Planning your meals in advance saves you from spending wasted time trying to figure out what to feed your family on a daily basis. I’m also not as stressed at mealtimes because I know exactly what I’m cooking. An added bonus is that I almost always have an answer when my kids ask the dreaded question, “What’s for dinner mom?”
It is embarrassing how much food we wasted before I started meal planning. I would buy whatever sounded good at the store and come home and try and plan a meal around the items I had purchased. Problem was, I wouldn’t always be able to plan a meal around what I bought, and often ended up throwing expired food away. With meal planning I know exactly what I need when I make my grocery list and rarely stray from my list. If I notice that something in our fridge is close to the experation date I alter my meal plan so that the item doesn’t go to waste.
Meal Planning Saves Money
This goes hand in hand with less waste! Planning out our meals saves me from buying unnecessary items when shopping at the grocery store. If you shop with a list you will be less tempted to buy extras that you don’t need. I stick to my list, and we use the food we buy.
One of my favorite aspects of meal planning is that it has allowed my family to make healthier choices. Over the past several years we have made a very conscious effort to reduce our consumption of processed foods. Planning meals in advance ensures that we are making healthier choices, relying less on prepackaged meals or frozen items. I have a handful of quick and easy dinners in my files that I can make in 30 minutes or less.
Plan around extracurricular activities
This is a big plus in our house. My oldest two have multiple after school activities they are committed to, my husband has meetings, and occasionally I actually get to go out with the girls. By sitting down once a week to meal plan you can schedule around all of your afternoon and evening activities. Often on busy nights I do crock pot dinners or have some sort of pasta salad premade in the fridge. While we try to sit down to dinner as a family as often as we can, the reality is that it doesn’t always happen. By having dinners ready to go my kids can eat when they need to and not be hungry during practice and rehearsals. I feel good knowing they are getting a nutritious meal and aren’t just snacking for dinner (although occasionally that does happen – if I haven’t planned ahead!).
Variety in meals
I love looking for and trying new recipes. I have found that I mixing up our meals has made my family more adventurous eaters. We definitely still have our favorites, but sitting down to plan out meals has inspired me to change things up a bit in the dinner department. I try to look for one new recipe each week.
Meal Planning Process
My typical meal rotation is from Saturday to Friday. Usually you can find me on Thursday or Friday night sitting down surrounded by my favorite cookbooks, recipes, and Pinterest app open planning our meals. It probably takes me about 30 minutes to plan, write my grocery list, and check my pantry for any missing ingredients.
I always plan out dinners, lunches for the kids, and have a rough idea of what we will eat for breakfast during the week. I also add in a few easy snack ideas for the kids to take to school. This way I can remember to add these items to our grocery list. My meal plan is kept on a clipboard at our desk in the kitchen using this Weekly Meal Plan. I also have a chalkboard sign in our pantry with our weekly dinners so that the kids can reference that instead of asking me 20 times a day what is for dinner.
Once I am finished planning I write out my shopping list and double check the fridge and pantry. Usually my husband goes grocery shopping on Saturday mornings before the stores get busy. He even sometimes takes one or two of the kids with him. Yes, I know, he is amazing! Mid-week I make a quick grocery store run to replenish produce or pick up anything we have run out of (does anyone else go through gallons of milk and multiple loaves of bread in one week??).
Tips For Success
- Be flexible. If you need to make last minute changes or switch around dinners, do it! Your plan doesn’t have to be set in stone.
- Do what works with your schedule. If you have time to prep part of dinner while you are making lunches for the kids – go for it! Sometimes I chop vegetables for soups, stir fry, or pastas while my youngest is eating breakfast or lunch. I also have friends who prep parts of meals for the upcoming week on the weekends. Anything that will make your life easier come dinner time.
- Involve your kids! My kids love to give input about snacks and meals. I have found that mine are more likely to eat the meals I prepare if they have had a voice in the process. I also put them to work. My two year old can get her own utensils and cups out of the drawer, my older two are able to help set the table, cut vegetables, and can even help cook. Everything doesn’t have to fall on your shoulders.
- You don’t have to cook every night! Use leftovers for lunch or repurpose for another meal.
- Take baby steps. If you have never meal planned before it can seem a bit overwhelming. Pick one meal a day to start planning and go from there. Maybe you try just planning out dinners for a month before you add in lunches or snacks. Make it work for you! In no time it will become a weekly routine and you will be a pro at meal planning!
So have I convinced you yet that meal planning will be a major game changer for your family? In case you need that extra nudge, I have created a simple meal plan template that you can use to try it out. I created two, a Vertical Weekly Meal Plan and a Horizontal Weekly Meal Plan because I know some of us (like me) are choosy about that type of thing…
Good luck! Please reach out to me at email@example.com if you have any questions. I would love to hear about how meal planning works for your family!
I love it! I printed out the weekly template. You have inspired me!!!
Hooray! I knew you would start meal planning again some day! You do know who my friend is that started me meal planning all those years ago, right? 😉
Nice job mom!
Thank you sweetie! I love that you are excited about my new adventure!
Lauren @ Simply-Well-Balanced says
These are great tips. I have been meal planning for a few years and it is amazing how much time and money we save. Not to mention the stress of what to buy at the grocery store and what to make for dinner. Being flexible, as you mentioned, is definitely a key to success. We often swap meals depending on evening activities and sometimes just what sounds good to eat. It’s never stressful because we still know we have the ingredients for additional meals throughout the week. Thank you!
Lauren, you are very welcome! Late this afternoon I realized that I had forgotten to plan dinner for tonight! With kids off in all directions I was able to throw something quickly together since I have a fairly well stocked pantry/fridge. It definitely takes the stress out of things when meals are planned in advance!