Mom’s Quick & Easy Guide to Meal Planning

As a mom, it can be exhausting to come home after work or a full day of activities, only to look in the refrigerator and see this…

Refrigerator Sunday
I mean, that’s sad right?! Confession, this is what my refrigerator looks like on Sunday night. Notice the bottle of Pinot trying to make an appearance.

While you wouldn’t realize it from this picture, over the past few years I’ve been meal planning. I know the idea of meal planning can seem overwhelming at first, but I promise it will save you time, money, and sanity in the long run. Here’s how I do it:

1. Pregame. Survey the refrigerator, and throw out all the old left overs and expired food. Whew, that felt good! While you’re in the mood to throw things out, survey your pantry. Toss any foods you haven’t used in a while or food that have expired. Time allotment: 5 minutes max

2. Check your schedule. Decide what nights you want to cook. There’s no reason to plan seven dinners if you’re only eating five dinners at home.
Time allotment: 2 minutes max

3. Create a menu. First things first, you don’t have to be a gourmet chef to cook. When making your menu, plan meals that are manageable. For example, I like to cook meals with fresh ingredients that can either be thrown into a slow cooker or cooked in 30 minutes or less. Our weekly menu usually consists of a meal that we grill because it gets my husband involved (hooray for teamwork!), a meal that I cook in the slow cooker, a meal that’s easily thrown together (30 minutes or less), and a meal that I can repeat (aka, leftovers). Time allotment: 10 minutes

A planner is a wonderful tool to use to keep track of your weekly menu. If you're better at technology than I am, a Smart phone works just as well!

A planner is a wonderful tool to use to keep track of your weekly menu. If you’re better at technology than I am, a Smart phone works just as well!

 4. Don’t forget the grocery list. A grocery list is the most important element to meal prep because shopping with a list saves you time and money. Plain and simple, don’t ever step foot in the grocery store without a list. If you’re feeling extra organized, create your list in the order of the store – produce, dry goods, meats, dairy.  Time allotment: 10 minutes

Click here to access my grocery shopping template

5. Load up the kiddos and head to the store, or if you’re lucky, take a mom-cation and shop alone. Grocery shopping becomes so much more manageable when you have a menu and a list (especially if kids are in tow). Before I started meal prepping, I would wander haphazardly through the store tossing random cans of green beans and Frito chips into my cart. My grocery trips took more time, I spent more money, and more often than not, I would have to revisit the store for additional items. Now, I can usually grocery shop in 30 minutes, spend less than $125 for a week’s worth of groceries, and only make one grocery trip per week.

If you’ve ever read grocery shopping tips, you may have heard to save time and eat healthier, shop the perimeter and skip the aisles. This is bogus advice. Wine is in the aisles, and coffee is in the aisles. No mom in her right mind is skipping the aisles! Just skip the aisles that don’t stock items you need, and stick to your list Also, figure out ways to make shopping easier and faster. For instance, I receive a weekly produce delivery from a local farm. This eliminates shopping for produce while forcing us to eat healthy and seasonally. I also purchase seafood and beef in bulk, and store it in a deep freezer. By using co-ops, I’ve essentially narrowed my shopping trips down to additional produce, dairy, dry goods, and other meats (chicken, pork, turkey). Other moms are really big into clipping coupons. It’s not really my thing, but if it saves you time and money, then clip those coupons!
Time allotment: 30 minutes (we’ll give it 45 minutes to accommodate traffic)

6. Put food away wisely. Now that you’ve done all the hard work, it’s time to have fun! Wash the produce you’ve purchased, chop anything that needs chopping (if you have time), and put items away in bags or clear containers. Doing this makes life easier so you’re able to see what you have available when you need it. If you’ve purchased meats that can be precooked to add to a later recipe, precook them now. Chicken and ground meats are great items to cook ahead. Precooked items will generally last for 3-4 days in the refrigerator, but it’s always safest to eat precooked foods soonest.
Time allotment: 45 minutes – 1 hour

If my Sunday refrigerator picture looked sad to you, then behold the Monday refrigerator! It’s redemption day.

Monday is shop and prep day (usually). I try to only purchase and prep enough to get our family through the week.

Monday is shop and prep day (usually). I try to only purchase and prep enough to get our family through the week.

7. Do your best and forget the rest. Meal planning is like writing. The more you do it, the better you become at it. Try not to become overwhelmed when you start meal planning. Do your best, and forget the rest. Also know that not every tip or trick will work for your family, but hopefully some will help you plan, save time, and save money.

Have you tried menu planning? What are your tips and tricks?

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