Getting Good, Really Good, at Meal Planning

These people. They eat ALL THE TIME. And when they’re not eating, they’re thinking about what we might be eating next. And when they think of what they’d like to eat next, they ask me what my plans are … while I am STILL cleaning up from their last meal.

Every time it happens, I want to scream things like, “I spend my entire day planning meals for you, buying food for meals for you, cooking meals for you and cleaning up from meals for you. And you’re seriously asking me that? Do not even start with the questions about what we’ll be eating next.”

I turn into some kind of fire-breathing monster instead of the sweet mom who kisses them goodnight.

Please tell me I am not alone in this.

The thing is, without a plan I eat like crap and so does my family. So to avoid going to the grocery store every day or putting on 20 pounds from eating fast food, I have to plan meals. It’s not my favorite thing, but it’s necessary for my sanity, body and budget. Here’s my advice for making meal planning work for you too.

Be Realistic About Your Meal Plans

The overachiever in me really believes that I will cook a great meal for my family seven nights a week. Wouldn’t that be nice? It would be so nice, but it’s completely unrealistic. More nights than not I’m rushing around taking my kids to and from their activities, so I’m either not home or too tired when I get home to make a decent dinner. And when that happens, all those groceries I bought go bad, and the only thing left of my grand plan is spoiled food and wasted money. So now I shop for five meals for the week, giving us two nights for leftovers or dinner out.

Take a serious look at your calendar and be realistic about everything you’ve got going on that week and meal plan around it. Slow cooker dishes are great for busy days when I know I won’t have time for lots of food prep, and for Sunday supper I like to plan bigger, more involved meals with all the fixings (and plenty of leftovers). Grocery days are usually my prep days; I chop and dice things to have in the fridge for quick wraps and salads, great for all those nights when I don’t have tons of time to cook.

Try a Rotation Schedule

I am a lover of routines. In our house, every week we usually have one slow cooker dish, one pot of soup or a large salad (depending on the season), some type of taco night, one “fancy” dish for Sundays, a brunch dish (that later acts as breakfast on busy school mornings), and one new recipe to keep things fresh.

A rotation schedule like this makes meal planning part of your routine, plus simplifies grocery shopping since you know what you typically need each week.

Let the Internet Do the Work

As a working mom, I have learned to love the Internet, or at least the part of it that helps me care for my home, deal with my finances and do my job. It’s a huge help with meal planning too. Websites like No More To-Go, Plan to Eat, or emeals offer menu-planning services that make weeks like mine a LOT easier.

Put Your Phone to Work

I’m rarely without my phone, and I’m ALWAYS sitting around waiting for my kids between activities. Sound familiar? Make use of all that time you spend waiting by downloading an app that helps you meal plan. Copy Me That, Paprika, MealBoard and MealPlan all are great options for busy moms on the go!

Meal planning doesn’t have to turn into some big to-do. With a little legwork, you too can create a meal plan that works for your family. So … what are we eating next?

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