If meal planning conjures up an intimidating, spotless, color-coordinated refrigerator filled with BPA-free containers labeled in calligraphy – YOU’RE NOT ALONE. But, meal planning is, simply put – a plan, for what you will eat.
This post is for the mama who doesn’t want to hit the drive-through every night or constantly ponder the never-ending question of what’s for dinner, but still wants to put reasonably healthy meals on the table. It’s how I survived my first month back from maternity leave with my second kiddo while still keeping my family fed (and myself sane) this past year.
First, leverage apps.
Keep your grocery list on your phone – record pantry staples as soon as you see you are running out, so you aren’t caught without a key ingredient when it comes time to cook. Or when mom brain hits and you can’t remember that one thing when you’re at the store (or when entering items into your cart for grocery delivery or pickup)! Wunderlist or Google Keep are favorites in our house. It’s also perfect for when your husband calls at the last minute and asks if you need anything. And, when going to the grocery store as a family, we can divide and conquer, checking off items real time from separate corners of the store!
Go with what you know!
- Pick your favorite recipes and repeat, just like a capsule wardrobe. My husband would eat chili and buffalo chicken every day and my kids would eat cereal bars and macaroni and cheese and never complain. Ease the pressure, mama. Use a little creativity but stick to what’s easy, what goes over well, with a bonus that when you repeat meals you rarely need a random ingredient not already found in your pantry. Brownie points if you theme your dinners – Taco Tuesday, Leftover Thursday, Pizza Night Friday, Seafood Saturday and so on. Again, free that mind space to focus elsewhere.
- The same goes for where you source recipes. My top 3 food bloggers are Danielle Walker, Alex Snodgrass and Michelle Tam. They are working moms focused on healthy families, so this is their wheelhouse! I can count on instructions that are easy to follow, often with options to modify for slow cooker, pressure cooker or freezer meals.
Cook once and eat twice (or 3 times)!
I spent my grad school career on scholastic probation thanks to failing economics first semester, but I did learn about economies of scale. Maximize effort by meal prepping, cooking and cleaning one time, but double that recipe of soup, meatballs, chicken spaghetti or muffins and start stocking your freezer. When the inevitable schedule change happens you’ve got a freezer meal ready to pop in the microwave or the oven.
Make a plan for the nights you’ll go out to eat.
Sure, it can be expensive to feed a family but if you use our Kids Eat Free Guide you can easily feed the family for $25-$30. And, spirit or “percentage” nights are also a great excuse to eat out and support your local school or a favorite charity. This is for your sanity and to get you out of the kitchen! Yes, that’s “meal planning,” too!
Make the main dish the main dish.
I recently learned about the term “high/low” in fashion thanks to my sister-in-law. My. Mind. Was. Blown. Essentially you pair an expensive name brand item with lower cost pieces and they mix and match with the focus on the “high” fashion piece. Translation to meal planning – pair a fancy protein that might take a little longer to prepare with a side of frozen steam-in-the-bag veggies or thrown over a bagged salad. Making your mom’s famous mashed potatoes? That’s the night to pull out frozen chicken tenders and toss some corn on the cob to boil.
A few other easy ideas to ensure your sanity in the kitchen:
- Paper plates. Because dishes. Oh, my word. Dishes.
- Take it from the French, mise en place. Separate tasks into measurable chunks by measuring out your spices when you have a few minutes, chopping veggies while the kids are playing or napping and then, finally, cooking later so it’s less overwhelming to do all at once.
- Supplement when needed with meal delivery or prepared meals from the grocery store and build your freezer stash that way, too.
- And, lastly, don’t forget that a smoothie counts as a meal, too.
Happy meal planning, mamas!