Basic Meal Planning for Busy Moms


No cooking 2I have three kids in sports.  I volunteer at school.  I like to have lunch with friends.  I have a weakness for shopping.  I spend time with my husband on his days off, which we have dubbed “Date Days”.  I sneak away for morning hikes sometimes after school drop-off.  Bottom line is I make the term “Stay-at-Home-Mom” a bit of an oxymoron.

There is one thing above all others that saves my sanity and my budget:  Meal Planning.  When you get home at 7pm and need to squeeze in dinner, homework, and baths before bed, there’s nothing like a well-executed plan.

My meal planning starts with what I have on hand in my pantry, fridge, and freezer.  Once I have an “inventory”, I try to link common ingredients to reduce waste.  After that, it’s time to make a shopping list for the remaining items.  Lastly, I do as much prep work as I can to streamline my busy evenings.

Now let’s take that step-by-step:

SpaghettiInventory: Write down what you have to work with, especially perishable items like meat and produce.  Include serving amounts like “3 lbs of ground beef” or “2 meals worth of ground beef”.  Don’t forget about sausage, bacon, hot dogs, canned tuna, eggs, etc.

Connect the Dots:  If you have lettuce and tomatoes, plan on meals to utilize them like hamburgers, tacos, and BLT’s.  If you make chili, plan on having chili dogs with the leftovers.  If you roast a whole chicken, be sure to pick it clean for chicken spaghetti or chicken pot pie.  Leftover french bread makes great french bread pizza.

Shopping List:  The better you plan, the less you’ll have to buy.  As a couponer, I have stockpile of all the items we regularly use, but I realize I am the exception and not the rule.  Without becoming a crazy hoarder {like me}, you can still stock up on a few staples like rice, pasta, and canned beans, veggies, & tomatoes.

Shredded ChickenPrep for Success:  Chopping veggies for the week is a big help, but my biggest time saver is precooked meat!  I cook extra when I have the chance and put it in freezer bags with a description and the date.  It’s so fast to make a casserole or throw together a crock pot full of soup.  Life changing tip:  I use the beater paddle on my KitchenAid to shred cooked boneless chicken and pork!

At the beginning of each month, I try to make a more generic list of meals for the whole month before I start specific weekly plans.  That way I’m less likely to duplicate meals too frequently.  Each week, I use my vague monthly list to assign meals to certain days.  I put the easier meals or crockpot meals on nights with sports, and I put more labor intensive meals on night when we don’t have much planned which also might let me do extra prep for another night.

Grilled CheeseOne of the things I always want busy moms to know is that the simplest of meals are still considered homemade.  Grilled cheese or quesadillas are easy, but incredibly satisfying.  How many restaurants make billions just by selling sandwiches?  Some of our favorite easy meals are ones that we each assemble ourselves like nachos, paninis, and baked potatoes with toppings.  The most important thing for us is gathering around the table together to have a real conversation and reconnect over a meal.

What are some of your favorite meals and tips? I’d love to hear some new ideas!