Meal time can be an extremely stressful time of day when you’re a parent with a busy schedule. And if you don’t have a plan for your meals, you may find yourself spending more money at the grocery store (or drive-thru).
I can remember spending so much money at the grocery store for just the two of us. It wasn’t until we started budgeting that we realized that our spending was out of control. So when our family started to grow, I knew I needed to figure out to cut our spending. The answer…meal planning!
Over the years, I have perfected a laid-back meal planning approach. This method saves me time, money, and my sanity. And I want to help you too! So today we’re talking meal planning for busy Moms (and Dads)!
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Table of Contents
What is meal planning?
Meal planning is planning your meals for the week. This simple task will make your life so much easier when it comes to your sanity, time, and money!
What are the benefits of meal planning?
Let’s discuss the benefits of planning your weekly meals and why you need to start.
Meal planning saves money
Planning out your meals for the week will help you save money in several different ways.
- When you have easy and delicious meals planned, you won’t be tempted to spend money on fast food.
- Planning simple meals that your family loves helps to reduce wasting food (because they’ll eat leftovers) and money.
- Using what you have on hand to plan your meals will help save money on groceries.
Meal planning saves time
Meal Planning takes the stress out of trying to figure out what to make on those busy nights. Having to run all over with school activities and sports with no meal planned for dinner is the worst. It usually leads to spending money on fast food that is pricey and not the most nutritious.
Meal planning is healthier
Home-cooked meals are overall a better option than takeout. Even if it’s a semi-healthy kid-friendly meal, it’s still more nutritious than a Happy Meal.
Meal planning makes your life easier
Having your meals planned out takes the guessing out of meal time. You know what you’re having, and you have prepped (or at least mentally prepped) to save time. Meal time is no longer a burden for me. Meal time is no longer a burden and I now somewhat enjoy planning meals, prepping, and cooking our breakfast, lunch, and dinners.
Meal Planning for busy Moms
So, let’s talk about how to start planning your meals.
Set your grocery budget
Each month when you make out your monthly budget, make sure to include a realistic grocery budget.
I budget $600 per month for groceries for our family of five. I prefer to shop weekly because we waste less this way.
Regardless of how often you prefer to shop, it’s important to set a realistic so that you’re not going over budget and spending more than you can afford.
Check your schedule
Look at your schedule to see what you have going on for the week. If you have days/evenings that are crazy, plan a quick meal you can prepare the day before or something you can throw together fast.
Inventory your kitchen. See what you have on hand in your fridge, freezer, pantry, and cabinets. This way, you can plan your meals using what you have, and just shop for the ingredients you need.
Plan your meals
Using your schedule and your food inventory, plan easy and quick meals that your family will eat. This is very important! Don’t try to get fancy with gourmet meals unless you love to spend hours in the kitchen or you don’t have picky eaters in the family. Keeping it simple and yummy is the best way to be successful at meal planning.
Create your grocery list
After you have your meal plan, make a grocery list of the ingredients you need to make all your meals including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
Meal planning tips
Here are my best tips for successful meal planning as a busy parent.
Create a master list of meals
I keep a binder full of recipes that my family loves, and I add to them as we find new recipes.
Create a go-with-the-flow menu
Having a flexible meal plan is best. This way nothing is set in stone. If you don’t feel like cooking one day, have a sandwich or leftover night. I like to plan 4-5 meals for the week with 2-3 leftover nights. I choose what I am making the night and prep as much as I can beforehand to save time and energy.
Meal plan and shop on the same day
Choose the same day of the week to meal plan and shop. This will help you get into a routine and meal planning will become habitual. So, pick a day that you meal plan and a day you pick up groceries. I meal plan on Sunday night with my husband, and we pick up groceries on Monday morning.
If you struggle with coming up with meals, choose a theme for each day of the week. This not only helps you plan, but it keeps things fun.
You can make up whatever theme you want! You can plan the theme by cooking method (oven-baked, fried, or slow cooker meals), types of food (soup, pasta, sandwich, or casseroles), or flavor profile (Mexican, Chinese, Italian). Pizza night and Taco Tuesday is always a favorite in our house!
Try new meals sparingly
Introduce new recipes slowly. I would recommend only adding in one new meal every week or two. This way, if a meal doesn’t work out, you still have ones you know the entire family will eat.
Stick to family favorites
I have an extremely picky family (husband included). And while I do encourage trying new things, it’s just not a fight I want to pick at mealtime. So my advice is to stick with the meals you know your family will eat. You can introduce new meals occasionally. But, making meals your family likes means that you won’t be wasting time, food, and money.
Meal prep in advance
Do as much prep as you can on a day off or during downtime. This will help make your weekly meal plan run smoother. For example, if you’re having spaghetti with meat sauce and tacos one week. Cook the ground beef in advance for both meals. This way, it makes mealtime quicker.
Keep it simple
Unless you enjoy being in the kitchen for hours, keep meals quick and easy. Not every meal has to be gourmet and requires hours of prep and cooking.
Double your recipe
If you’re making a dinner that freezes well, make double and freeze. Batch cooking will help you stock your freezer with backup meals. This can be a lifesaver some nights.
Schedule a “fend for yourself night”
Plan a couple of nights to clean out the leftovers from your fridge. Pull it all out and everyone can fend for themselves. I love leftover nights. It’s easy and it saves us money and prevents waste.
Repurpose your leftovers
Create a new meal from your leftovers. Leftover grilled chicken can be repurposed into chicken alfredo, BBQ chicken sandwiches, or caesar chicken wraps.
I absolutely love grocery pickup. It helps me to stick to my shopping list, stay on budget, and cut back on impulse spending. It’s also great because I can add to my grocery order if I forget anything. It saves me both time and money.
Swap your favorite recipes with family and friends. I love to share my new delicious recipes that we try.
Stock your freezer, fridge, and pantry
Stock up on items when they are on sale. You don’t need a huge stockpile because the sales run every couple of weeks. But, stocking up when things are on sale will help you build a small stockpile that you can meal plan from. I usually use the money left over in my weekly grocery budget to stock up on pantry staples and meat.
Create backup meals
Having a couple of easy backup meals on hand for nights you don’t feel like making anything is a great way to reduce dinner time stress. Whether it’s a store-bought lasagna or a home-cooked freezer meal, they’re great to have in a pinch.
Make sure to have the right kitchen equipment
Having the right kitchen equipment is a huge time saver. I keep a very minimal kitchen and have multi-use items that help make mealtime a breeze. Here are four of my favorite items that I can’t live without.
The Instant Pot is a great multi-purpose item. It pressure cooks, slow cooks, sears, cooks rice, and makes yogurt. I honestly don’t know how I lived without it…it’s that great!
I got a refurbished KitchenAid mixer about 20 years ago and it’s still going strong. I use it to mix, shred meat, make mashed potatoes, whipped cream, and more. It is a great investment for anyone that wants to cook more from scratch.
My Vitamix Blender was an impulse buy years ago, but it was well worth it. I make amazing smoothies, ice cream, soup, pesto, and spaghetti sauce. I even grind coffee beans with it!
Basic cookware set
I really don’t like a ton of pots and pans. But, I have a high-quality cookware set that is everything I need and gets the job done.
What I use when I meal plan
Here are the best resources I use to help me meal plan.
I keep a binder full of my favorite recipes. You don’t have to get fancy. Grab a binder from Dollar Tree and keep all your recipes organized.
When I want to try different recipes, I turn to Pinterest. I have a Pinterest board full of my favorite recipes and one for recipes I want to try.
A meal planner helps me keep track of my week and plan my meals accordingly.
Walmart grocery app
After I meal plan, I make my shopping list in the Walmart Grocery app and schedule my order. Using the app to shop and plan my grocery pickup, helps me save so much money and time.
A sample weekly meal plan
Here is an example of how I meal plan. This is a sample meal plan from this week.
|Macaroni & Cheese|
|Honey Nut Cheerios|
Bagels and fresh fruit
Cereal with fruit
Waffles with fruit
Grilled cheese & tomato soup
Macaroni & cheese with carrots & ranch
Chicken nuggets with broccoli
Mississippi roast, mashed potatoes, & broccoli (freeze half for later this month)
Grilled chicken sandwiches, pickles, and chips (use leftover chicken for alfredo)
Chicken Alfredo with side salad
Tacos (use leftovers to make quesadillas later in the week)
Fruit (strawberries, grapes, bananas)
Carrots with ranch
Chocolate chip cookies
|Ranch seasoning $.50|
|Au jus gravy mix $.96|
|3 lb. Potatoes $2.83|
|2 lb frozen Broccoli $2.74|
|1 lb American cheese $8.48|
|Potato rolls $4|
|Pack of 3 romaine $2.74|
|2 Parmesan cheese $4.44|
|2 Milk $5.14|
|3 Avacados $2.34|
|Red onion $1.39|
|8 Bananas $.192|
|2 Bread $3.56|
|Chicken nuggets $12.48|
Since I budget about $150 per week, I use the money left in my budget to stock up on essentials we’re running low on.
Let’s face it, meal time sucks when you’re a busy parent. But, meal planning can help take the stress and anxiety away from meals. It can also help you save a lot of money and time that can be used on other more important things. So, make sure to set your grocery budget, check your schedule, inventory your kitchen, and plan delicious meals your family loves using what you have on hand.
Do you meal plan? Leave a comment below and let me know how you like it!