With busy schedules, getting a meal on the table can be hard — and the most challenging part may be figuring out exactly what to make. A little organization and a few smart strategies, though, can simplify everyday meal planning.
Moms are teeming with great ideas for simplifying life. We spoke with a handful of moms with young kids to find out how they maximize their time and their family's nutrition.
Use the interweb
Mom Betsy swears by mommy bloggers for her meal-planning ideas. Many blogs, like mix and match mama, feature free weekly meal plans for mamas everywhere. The meal plans allow you to just print your menu and grocery list for the week without having to think about it twice.
The drawback of blogs is that they are less adaptable if you'd like to swap out meals you don't like in the meal plan. Low-cost subscription services like emeals offer the same functionality as blogs, but they're more adaptable to your family's needs.
Count on leftovers
Marisa, meanwhile, counts on her Pinterest board to help her plan wisely. "I usually plan 4-5 meals per week so I don't overwhelm myself at the store. I look at 'Things I've Made' on Pinterest for three of the meals, and then I pick a new one for the fourth." She knows her family never finishes a whole dish, so she counts on leftovers two nights per week. If her leftovers are freezable, she'll pop them into the freezer and then rotate in dishes that were frozen in previous weeks so her family doesn't grow tired of eating the same things.
Use protein wisely
"I've always had to save money when meal planning for my family," Patricia said. "So I would bake large batches of chicken or beef, and plan my meals around the protein for the week." Like many moms, Patricia found that preparing a large quantity of protein makes meal planning easier, as the chicken and beef can go in casseroles, sandwiches and soups for an entire week. Once you select and cook your proteins for the week, the remaining meal preparation is a snap.
Utilize a prep day
If your schedule is jam-packed during the week, you may want to take a weekend day to prep your food for the coming week. "Every Sunday is my day to chop veggies, make marinades and prepare freezer bags of food for easy crock pot use during the week," mom Allyson said. "I plan my entire week of meals, and they're done in a flash when everything is pre-prepared."
Take an inventory
Regardless of how you choose to plan your meals, it's extremely important to take an inventory of your fridge and pantry before heading to the store. "I always check to see if I've forgotten about a meat or veggie that needs to be used before it goes bad," mom Cindy said. "If I see something that needs to be used, I add a special dish to my meal plan before going to the store."
Menu for starters
Still not sure how to plan meals for your family? Check out these four recipes for rotisserie chicken for ideas about how to use baked chicken for four different and nutritious meals. Supplement each meal with a veggie and a grain for a well-rounded dish (and no one will judge you if it's frozen veggies and quick brown rice).
More meal planning tips:
Here's a step-by-step guide for taking stock of what you already have and using it to plan a week's (or even a month's) worth of meals.