As a busy mom who works 2 jobs from home, I understand first-hand how hard it is to squeeze dinner into your busy schedule. I used to enjoy cooking dinner, but now its often stressful just to think about it, much less cook the actual meal. In the last year, I’ve really committed to getting “un-stressed” about dinner, because after all, it’s just food! I’ve learned a few things here and there that have helped me master meal planning so it’s not the monolithic task it can seem. If I can handle 2 jobs, working from home, a 2 1/2 year old, a husband, swimming lessons, MOPS and everything else, I know you can too! These are easy tips that are just from me to you, and can make all the difference in the world.
1. Create A Binder or Recipe Box With Your Favorite Recipes
Half the battle of making dinner is coming up with something that everyone is willing to eat, or that you know everyone will love. No mother wants to slave over the stove if the meal is rejected! Every family has their favorites, and there’s nothing wrong with having them in a regular rotation. You aren’t a personal or professional chef and you don’t need to come up with something new every night of the week. I personally enjoy grabbing new recipes from magazines, but was getting buried under piles of back issues. So I started tearing them out and putting them all neatly organized in sheet protectors in a binder. Now when it’s time to figure out dinner, I just pull them out of the binder and easily have a few ideas right away. You can do the same with a recipe box!
2. Plan On Cooking Dinner Only 3 Or 4 Times A Week
What? You’re not Mrs. Cleaver, a woman with perfectly coiffed hair who cooks dinner 7 nights a week?! Yes, I’m telling you that you don’t have to have a date with your oven every night of the week if you are smart about it. First of all, most of us eat out almost 1 time a week whether we plan on it or not. Second, there’s a little thing called leftovers! I love the slogan “work smarter, not harder” and its perfect for meal planning. Make large portions so that you can eat leftovers at least twice a week. It will save you the stress of planning 7 unique dinners and also save you money from over buying groceries! Rather than waste food because you end up eating out or just don’t feel like cooking yet again, be diligent about eating your leftovers. If you get sick of them easily, freeze them and reheat the next week.
3. Use Your Crock Pot At Least Once A Week
In my house, Tuesdays are Crock Pot Night. I don’t know why I picked Tuesdays, I just did. We often like to play outside with the neighborhood kids and I like having at least 1 night a week where I don’t have to cut it all short to come in and make dinner. It also means I don’t have to cook dinner on Wednesday because slow cooker meals always yield TONS of leftovers. There are so many options (not just soups and stews) that it’s silly not to use one because it takes all the work out of dinner. If you don’t have one, you will be seriously shocked how cheap they are. Spend the $20 and get yourself a super cute one at Target and you won’t regret it!
4. Write Out A Weekly Menu
I used to just plan my weekly meals in my head, and that didn’t work out so well. I would forget what I planned, wouldn’t write down the recipe ingredients and then end up going to the store multiple times a week. Needless to say I felt like I was spinning my wheels. I recommend printing a simple weekly “menu” like the one above and using it to plan out your week. Be sure to note planned dinners out, leftover nights and any other dinner plans. You will be amazed how reassured and stress-free you feel when you’ve planned out your entire week and don’t have to think any more about dinner. I use the very menu planner you see above, laminated it and use a dry erase marker for continued use!
5. Make Your Shopping List As Soon As You Plan Out Your Meals
Why not make this process even easier, and just write out your shopping list the moment you’ve planned out what you’re serving for the week? It’s no wonder that meal planning feels overwhelming when you think of all the tasks separately. But if you string them all together, it’s easy. Pick out your recipes, write them on your menu, and make your shopping list. I also suggest keeping a magnetic notepad on your fridge that you keep a running list of items you regular necessities like milk and butter that you need to buy. Simply add your menu picks to the list. Try and also plan a regular day you go to the grocery store and buy nearly everything you can at once. I hate running to the store for just 1 thing, and with this method I rarely have to anymore. If that’s not incentive enough for you, I don’t know what is!
6. Use A Recipe Board
Since the purpose of meal planning is to make your life easier, I’ve found that keeping my recipes for the week out where I can see them is helpful. Last year in MOPS we made chicken wire frames and I hung mine over my pitiful pantry (who makes a pantry that only goes up to your armpits!?). Once I’ve decided on my meals for the week, I pin them up to my board so they are right where I can access them come dinner prep time, and also so I can make sure I’ve got everything I need. I don’t have to go back in to the cupboard or my recipe box to pull it back out after I found it a few days ago. If you don’t want a separate board, commit a side of your fridge. Anything will work, so long as it makes your life easier.
If you like the printables on my recipe board then head over to OverTheBigMoon.com to download them for free!