Welcome to meal planning for busy moms! Whether you want to save money or eat healthier, throw all the old ideas out the window and start planning meals and grocery shopping the easy way. If you’re busy and just want to get food on the table every night, this is for you. Learn how to plan meals, grocery shop, and throw together a meal in less than thirty minutes every night.
How I Made Meal Planning Work for Me
When I got married, one of the first challenges I faced was cooking dinner regularly. It didn’t seem fair that marriage came with this new task of putting food on the table, but leaving it up to my husband never worked. Eventually, I grudgingly accepted that this was my new job (on top of my full-time job).
As the years went on, and we added more kids to the chaos, I ended up with more full-time jobs than I could count–mom, wife, librarian, blogger–and meal planning became even more difficult.
I read blog after blog, watched YouTube video after YouTube video, and even subscribed to meal plans. Nothing worked for me.
Most focused on prepping meals that took hours or required a lot of forethought. Or building a meal plan at the beginning of the week by taking inventory of the items in the house.
Sorry, but most of the time I was quickly planning meals and throwing a grocery list together during my break at work on Monday. If I waited until I had time to inventory my pantry and fridge…well, let’s be real, it would never happen.
Finally, I abandoned all of the advice and started meal planning my own way. And it worked.
Now I can throw together a weekly meal plan and grocery order (not list) in less than 15 minutes, while at work or on the go, using just my phone. And the best thing is that I can do it consistently, week after week without stressing.
If you try to plan meals, only to end up running out for fast food or putting grocery trips off for days or weeks, this method can help you. Because, let’s face it, whether you work full-time, part-time, from home, or stay home with the kids, we’re all busy moms who could need a little help.
So let’s get started with meal planning for busy moms, in 15 minutes (or less)!
Throw away your planner, your inventory lists, and even your grocery lists (well, you don’t have to throw them away, but you get the idea).
Start Meal Planning with a Few Basic Meals
You’ll start with 3-5 meals that you can make quickly and that your family likes. They don’t have to be the greatest meals ever. You can refine your list as you get better at planning. You want these to be meals that you don’t hate making.
For example, I have a Beijing Beef recipe that my family loves, but it takes at least an hour, maybe more, to prepare. I would not include that on my list because I will never make that after a long day of work. I might make it on a weekend and you can add one meal for that purpose if you’d like, but don’t count it as one of your 3-5.
Now, what if you NEVER cook and you don’t have 3-5 meals that you can come up with? Then you can copy mine. Grab my free e-book with the specific recipes that I use.
I started this process with just 3 meals–pizza and salad, grilled cheese and soup, and spaghetti. Every week, when I was at work and realized I forgot to put in a grocery order, I’d find a few minutes and throw these ingredients into my cart (along with other food items we regularly needed–like milk, eggs, butter, etc.) and I’d have three meals that I could make that week.
Three meals might not sound like a lot, but that was three days that we were eating at home instead of eating out. This saved us a lot of money and from consuming extra calories.
But that’s just the beginning! We’ll get into planning for more meals later on.
Stock Items in Bulk
Another trick that I learned over time, was to buy my ingredients in bulk. But wait, I said to throw that inventory list away, didn’t I? Yep, you don’t need it. Since you’re cooking the same three meals every week (stay with me–we’ll get to variation later), you just buy the same things and stock them.
For example, I stock up on tomato paste, spaghetti sauce, shredded cheeses (who has time to shred cheese?), pasta, meat, and tomato soup. I try to always have those on hand. If I run out, I add it to my grocery cart or a list on my phone right away.
So each week when I build my grocery order, considering that my basics are stocked, I’d add a salad mix to my cart (I later started adding romaine and stocking salad toppings, but a mix was a good place to start), and maybe some bread. That was all. I already had everything else I needed.
On top of that, say I didn’t have time to put in my grocery order on Monday? Oh well, I already have all of the ingredients that I need to make spaghetti. I can make that Monday night and get my order in for Tuesday without resorting to eating out.
Adding to Your Meal Plan
Now that you’ve got those three meals down, you can start adding to your meal plan.
I started my meal plan in a really busy season and was happy just cooking three nights during my work week, but if you want to cook 5 nights a week (or even 7), let me share how you can get there.
Try one new recipe a week. Yep, just one. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm yourself and give up.
Add in one new, easy recipe. If you don’t have any ideas for new recipes, you can search Pinterest or All Recipes. Or you can download my Meal Planning for Busy Moms E-Book with all of the easy recipes that I use for meal planning in busy seasons.
This will help you slowly build your weekly meals. Once you find one you like, save that recipe and start stocking those ingredients! This is now a new staple in your home.
Keep adding recipes until you’ve hit your goal. I typically plan meals with 7-10 recipes now. That means I don’t have to grocery shop and meal plan every week! I also still have my ingredients stocked and can duplicate some meals to make that grocery trip/order stretch even longer!
How Not to Get Burnt Out
I know what you’re thinking…I don’t want to eat the same meals week after week. Right?
I was concerned about this too and what I found is that many of the recipes I use are very versatile and can be modified. So say I’m burnt out on grilled cheese and soup. I might decide to make a vegetable soup and a chicken, pesto melt instead this week, or no soup and just turkey bacon avocado melt. I just need to remember to grab those alternative ingredients when I buy groceries.
Or I can make a different kind of pizza, a different kind of pasta, or add different veggies to something. Add a new side. There really are a lot of options. Plus, if you keep adding recipes, you can end up planning for two weeks instead of one. Then you’re repeating recipes every two weeks instead of every week.
You can also change some of meals with the seasons. I have a lot of quick soups that I can make when it’s cold out but I have to lean on other recipes in the summer. This helps change things up.
Why this Meal Planning Method Works
There is something magical about making the same meals over and over. It sounds boring, but the beauty of it is that you get really familiar with these recipes.
So when you’re tired after work, it seems just as easy to throw together what you have planned for dinner as it is to run out and get something.
And making the same or similar meals all the time, helps you get creative with those meals.
It also saves money and so much time.
I used to buy ingredients for one recipe and they’d end up going bad before I used them again. Because we’re eating the same meals regularly, I don’t waste ingredients anymore. If I don’t use the ingredients for something else, I make the meal again before the ingredients go bad.
If you love cooking, this doesn’t mean you can never try out a new, fancy recipe again. You definitely can. Just try out your new recipes on the weekend or when you have extra time.
As an added bonus, your husband or kids may also become so familiar with these meals that they can easily make them when you aren’t available. This was helpful for us when I started working a later shift and was coming home late. My husband was able to start dinner by making the recipes I’d been making for months.
- Keep a list of the recipes you use regularly on your phone. If you’re having trouble remembering your recipes on the go, I like to keep a list of the names of the recipes on a list on my phone. If I’m having trouble remembering one or more, while planning, I’ll check my list for a quick reminder. I’ll also put an asterisk next to them as I build my grocery list so I know which recipes I have the ingredients for that week.
- Keep a physical and digital copy of your recipes. Print the recipes you use out and put them in a binder to have quick and easy access to them (I got this idea from Jordan Page). The last thing you want to do on a busy night is spend extra time searching for your recipes. But also keep a digital copy in case you need to look the recipe up when you’re building your grocery list.
- Order your groceries. Instead of making a list and then going to the store, just order your groceries from one place and make your order, instead of your list. I normally order from Walmart, Target, or Whole Foods. Rarely do I ever step foot into a grocery store. I just don’t have the time. I can place my order at work and pick it up on my way home (or send my husband).
Well, there you have it. That’s meal planning for busy moms! It’s not complicated. No charts, planners, or lists. Just simple meals and stocking ingredients.
If you liked this post, share it with other busy moms who need help with meal planning. And don’t forget to grab my free e-book, Quick Easy Recipes for the Busy Mom.
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