When the alarm sounds each morning, it’s time to hit the ground running. It doesn’t matter if you’re well rested or are in desperate need of a few more hours cuddling the pillow. There are children to be cared for and tasks to be completed, not to mention a full day at the office if you’re a working mom.
While I don’t have to spend eight or more hours in the workplace hammering out reports, tending to sick patients, completing projects, or anything of the like, my day is still inundated with tasks from a monstrous to-do list. Once the evening rolls around, the last thing I want to do is spend hours in the kitchen creating a nutritious meal for the family.
That’s where meal planning comes in. Planning a menu ahead of time slashes the time spent preparing meals in half and I’m not forced to feed my children takeout each night for the sake of convenience.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
1. Compile Your Favorite Recipes
You don’t have to head to Barnes & Noble and fork over a wad of cash on an oversized recipe book. Instead, you can view meal ideas on sites such as My Recipes, Food.com, Food Network, or Epicurious. (Another one of my all-time favorites is All Recipes.)
Also, consider downloading Green Kitchen or EatingWell’s Healthy in a Hurry app, both chock-full of recipes for the health-conscious cook. You can also consider taking a cooking class to learn a few more recipes and techniques that will save you time in the kitchen.
Most importantly, stick to simple recipes, since your time is limited and the primary goal of meal planning is to be more efficient.
I typically create a meal plan once a week for the household. But if you only visit the grocery store once or twice monthly, it may be more feasible to create a biweekly plan.
2. Make Cuts to Reach Your Final Selections
Let’s face it: That scrumptious steak dinner or medley of sautéed vegetables may not be feasible this week because the ingredients are too pricey. And even if they aren’t, it’s best to narrow down your options by going grocery shopping in your pantry.
In fact, I use an app called Big Oven, which allows you to enter three or more ingredients and gives you a meal idea incorporating all of them. This ensures everything in the pantry, fridge, and freezer is consumed before I buy more.
Another tip: On those nights when you sense things might unravel, a “breakfast dinner” is always a last resort. We prefer chicken tenders and waffles or my husband’s famous egg sandwich. The prep time is minimal and we always have breakfast food on hand.
3. Go Shopping
After compiling your list of ingredients, it’s time to head to the store — but not before reading “12 Surprising Ways to Save on Groceries,” where I provide a dozen suggestions to help you reduce grocery costs. A few things to keep in mind:
The best time to shop is early in the morning or late at night on Wednesdays. Weekly sales circulars are typically released on that day and bargains are typically presented in the wee hours or an hour or so before grocers close their doors for the day.
Let money-saving apps do the work for you. If you’re an avid couponer, CardStar and Pushpins automatically display deals and add them to your customer loyalty card.
Think outside the box, since produce stands and meat markets sometimes offer better deals than traditional grocers.
Another tip: Always have a few spare recipes in your arsenal in case the sale items you need are out of stock on the shelves.
4. Prepare Your Meal — in Advance
If you’ve had a long day at the office or the kids have driven you to the point of insanity, the thought of preparing ingredients can be dreadful. So it’s best to slice, dice, and divide all your portions ahead of time if you can.
Also, prepare double portions if possible as they not only cut down on the time spent in the kitchen each week, but eliminate temptation to grab a quick bite to eat. In addition, you’ll have plenty to take or send along to work the following day. When reheating leftovers, use an oven or stove to preserve the freshness and flavor.
And if your children are old enough, allow them to pitch in. My oldest son is always excited to share his experiences in the kitchen with family and friends. At this point, I honestly believe he can prepare a basic meal without assistance.
5. Dinner Is Served
It’s always helpful to solicit feedback from your family on their favorite dishes. If they enjoy a particular meal you prepare, it’s a no-brainer to include it on the menu each week, filling idle space on the meal-planning calendar. That’s a win-win for everyone.
I hope this motivates you to start planning your meals. If you prefer a pre-labeled printable to list your meal selections, check out this one offered by Moms Confession. It contains separate lines for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack, each day of the week. Prefer to harness the power of technology? The Paprika Recipe Manager app will get the job done at the tap of a button.