I stumbled through the door carrying my pumping bag, work bag, and the full 20 lbs of a car seat and baby on my arm. My toddler trailing behind me.
A few minutes later, both kids were crying. Everyone needed to eat and I had no plan. And my husband was coming home late tonight.
I bounced my baby, trying to hold him off, while I searched for a snack or quick dinner for myself and my toddler.
This was dinnertime for my family. Every day, after a long day at work and daycare, and driving to two different places to get my kids, we came in exhausted and hungry without a plan for dinner.
I set out to find a solution, but after reading blog after blog, watching YouTube video after YouTube video, and subscribing to a meal planning service that all promised to be the solution for busy moms. I gave up.
The problem was these methods focused on prepping meals that took hours or required a lot of forethought. As a working mom who didn’t have much time, this never worked for me.
Most of the time I was quickly planning meals and throwing a grocery list together during my pumping break at work on the first day of the week. If I waited until I had time to inventory my pantry and fridge…well, it never happened.
So I gave up on other methods and started meal planning for working moms 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 feeling stressed out.
If you try to plan meals, only to end up running out for fast food on busy nights or putting grocery trips off for days or weeks, this is a great way to get started with meal planning.
Easy Meal Planning for Working Moms – The Easy Way
Step 1: Start with a Few Basic Meals
Start with 3-5 meals that are simple to make and don’t take a lot of time. You can start with a list of your favorite meals and work from there. But focus on quick and easy meals that your whole family likes. You can refine your list as you get better at planning.
Look for crockpot meals, instant pot meals, and meals with precooked items (like rotisserie chicken) that you can quickly throw together with your busy schedule.
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.
Now, what if you never cook and you don’t have 3-5 meals that you can come up with? Then you can grab this free ebook with simple recipes for busy moms and pick a few from there. It includes all of our family favorites.
I started this process with just 3 meals–pizza and salad, grilled cheese and soup, and spaghetti. Most weeks, I find myself at work realizing I forgot to order groceries (again). During my pumping break, I throw the ingredients for these 3 meals into my cart (along with other common items–milk, eggs, butter, etc.) and I’m done.
Three meals might not sound like a lot, but that’s three days of eating at home instead of eating out. And I’m a big fan of starting small.
Related: Simple Time Management for Moms
Step 2: Stock Items in Bulk
Buy my ingredients in bulk. Since you’re cooking the same three meals every week (I’ll get to variation later), you just buy the same items and stock them.
For example, I stock up on tomato paste, spaghetti sauce, shredded 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 add a salad mix to my cart, and maybe some bread. That’s all I have to worry about. I already have everything else I need.
This helps make grocery shopping flexible. Say you miss grocery shopping on Monday. You should have enough ingredients to throw together a meal and move groceries to Tuesday.
Step 3: Adding to Your Meal Plan
Once you’ve got your 3 meals down, you can start adding to your meal plan.
I started my meal plan in a busy season and felt accomplished cooking 3 nights of my work week. But if you want to cook 5 nights a week, this is how you get there.
Try one new recipe a week. Just one. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm yourself. Because then you’ll throw in the towel and go back to fast food.
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 as a working mom.
This will help you slowly build your weekly meals. Once you find one you like, save that recipe and start stocking those ingredients.
Keep adding different meals 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 stock ingredients and can duplicate some meals to make that grocery trip/order stretch even longer.
Meal Planning Tips for Working Moms
- Keep a master list of meals on your phone.. You can work through this list while you put together your grocery order (or list).
- Keep a physical and digital copy of your recipes. Print your list of recipes and put them in a binder for quick and easy access to them. Also, keep a digital copy in case you need to look the recipe up when you’re building your grocery list on the go.
- Order your groceries. Skip the list part and add your groceries to your order as you build it. When life is really busy, a trip to the grocery store can feel impossible. Consider grocery delivery (I get mine delivered from Walmart and Whole Foods).
Fighting Burn Out
Are you thinking, I don’t want to eat the same meals week after week?
This was an original concern of mine. So what can you do?
- Modify Recipes – Add different veggies. Make a different kind of pasta, pizza, or a different sandwich.
- Add Recipes (slowly) – Alternate recipes every two weeks instead of every week.
- Replace Recipes – If you get tired of a recipe, replace it with something new.
- Adjust for Seasons – Swap out cold foods for soups in the winter.
The Beauty of Familiarity
There is something magical about making the same meals over and over. It sounds boring, but you get familiar with these recipes.
And when you’re familiar with a recipe:
- You make it faster
- Cooking is easy
- You get creative
- Your husband can help
Benefits for Your Wallet
I used to buy ingredients for one recipe. They’d go bad before I used them again.
With my method of meal planning for working moms, I don’t waste ingredients anymore. I use the same ingredients over and over.
Healthy Meals & Special Diets
The beauty of this method is that it can work for anybody and any diet. If one of your goals is to eat healthier, choose 3 healthy meals to start with and follow this simple method.
I personally now follow an extremely restrictive Paleo for Autoimmune diet (AIP) and have continued to use this same method of meal planning for working moms since my switch. I just changed out my meals to include healthy options.
So if you want to eat healthy food, choose healthy recipes. (If you want me to put together a recipe ebook for healthy, easy meals let me know in the comments.) Soon you’ll have a bank of nutritious meals to pull from during your busiest moments.
Now You Try
Well, there you have it. That’s meal planning for working moms. With a little bit of planning, you can plan meals for the upcoming week. Use this meal planning method for busy weeknights, especially if you have young kids and find yourself staggering through the door to no plan (like me). 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 Busy Moms.