It’s 5:00pm, and I’m trying to wrap up last minute tasks at work and scoot out the door to pick up Little M from daycare. I fly across town to try to get there by 5:30 (already much later than most of the parents).
Around 5:45pm I walk in the door and find Little M something to snack on while I cook dinner. Once she’s situated, I find myself in front of the freezer staring at all of the options and weighing out the pros and cons of each meal choice.
“Frozen pizza? Unhealthy.”
“Steak? I don’t have any side options.”
“Grill that seasoned meat? Takes too long.”
“Why didn’t I put something in the crockpot? Maybe we’ll just eat cereal for dinner.”
I value having regular home-cooked meals but hate trying to pull something together last minute after work. If there’s not a plan, I end up eating something unhealthy or just random things thrown together. That’s not good for my figure or the budget. So, I’ve been on a mission to do better meal planning and reduce that decision fatigue. I’ve pulled together a lot of resources here in one place to make it easy for you to meal plan and prep your meals.
This is the third post in my series for reducing decision fatigue and organizing your working mom life! Some other posts you might like:
1. Make a master meal list
The best thing you can do for meal planning is to compile all of the meals in your repertoire. I really find myself in a rut of grilled chicken and steamed veggies, when I’d like to have something different than that. In the world of never-ending drool worthy Pinterest recipes, it’s easy to get overloaded by options and also to forget about those recipes you tried once or twice.
Try one of these methods:
- If you’re a Google Drive user, start a spreadsheet on Google Sheets. You’ll be able to access it from your phone, computer, or any device where you can get to Google Drive. You could do a column or even a tab for each category.
- Print & hand-write your list using my printable Master Meal List <coming soon>. You could put this in a family binder if you’re uber organized, or just tape to the fridge or inside a cabinet door.
- Do a bullet journal spread to list all of your options.
- Organize your recipes on Pinterest – make a board for each category. The only problem with that is you might have tried & true family recipes that aren’t out there to pin.
I’ve been working on refining my master list since being back to work after maternity leave. I’ll be sure to share soon! In the meantime, be sure to check out my Pinterest board devoted to easy meals for working moms.
2. Plan your meals
Once you have a list of all the meal options you have, you should be able to plan more easily. Meal planning can be done as far out as you want, but I would do weekly at least. Remember – your goal is to plan ahead and reduce all the headache of decision making about meals on weeknights. I like the idea of monthly planning, but I plan around what groceries (mostly meat) that I buy on sale that week, so it’s not really feasible to know that in advance unless I’m stocked up on something.
Keep a copy of your weekly meal plan handy – either on your fridge, family command center, or otherwise. Pro tip: take a picture of it so you don’t forget during the week.
Things to remember:
- Mondays are usually the hardest day, so make that the easiest meal day. I opt to have leftovers from Sunday or a crockpot meal.
- You don’t HAVE to cook something new every single day. Cooking in larger batches is great to have leftovers for the next night, or for taking to lunch. Pasta is probably the first thing that comes to mind, but really anything can be doubled up to have extra.
- Prep for the next day when you can. Using the batch cooking principle, you can prep things for the next meal while today’s meal is cooking. For instance, if you are doing ground beef for tacos, cook enough to use for chili the next night, or spaghetti.
- Simplify using themed nights; Monday – crock pot, Tuesday – Italian, Wednesday – Mexican, Thursday – casserole, and so forth.
- Use what you have and don’t waste what you buy. If your casserole calls for half an onion, use the other half in another recipe this week. You don’t want to buy items (especially produce) that will go to waste before you can eat them because of poor planning.
- Be practical about time limits. If you get home late on Tuesdays, then that’s probably not the time to bake a fancy dish with a sauce from scratch and elaborate side dishes. Set yourself up for success by taking considerations for how much time you’ll have to cook. My daughter is ready to eat no later than 6:15, so that gives me less than 30 minutes to get dinner on the table for most weeknights. Occasionally on the weekends I get the itch to bake, and I have more time to devote to more involved meals.
3. Grocery shopping & prep
There are two schools of thought here: grocery shop for what you plan, or plan around your pantry/sale items you buy. I tend to lean towards the latter because I’m pretty frugal. Unless there’s just something specific I’m craving, I buy what’s on sale and make meals out of what I have in combination with my staple pantry items.
It’s really your preference!
4. Eat yummy dinners
Voila! Just taking 15 minutes to plan for the week will keep you on track and avoid the endless question of “what’s for dinner?”. I should note that meal planning doesn’t just include dinners. You need to eat breakfast, lunch, and snacks, so be sure to factor that in as well.
Remember, there’s no perfect system for meal planning. Whether you go a hand-written route with a printable or a digital option, find what works for you and your family. Working moms don’t all come in the form of an 8-5 schedule, so craft a plan that works. Most importantly, remember to be flexible and give yourself grace to still order pizza or hit up the drive-thru when you just.can’t.deal.