Meal Planning: Dinnertime doesn’t need to be complicated. Here’s a busy mom’s guide to easy meal planning to help you create delicious meals for your family every time.
As a busy mom, I know how complicated dinner can be. The truth is, I’ve always hated meal planning. And it’s sad, really, because I absolutely love the cooking part.
But only if I know what I’m cooking. And only if it’s easy enough for me to grab the ingredients, get busy with it, and serve before my hungry kids start complaining.
What’s For Dinner?
For me, the chore is in figuring out what to cook. How do I combine what I already have in the pantry and freezer to make a meal my family will love?
For years, I’d stand in front of my pantry staring at my canned goods forever. Then, I’d head over to the freezer, open the door, and stare at my frozen peas.
Who else has a pantry full of groceries with absolutely no idea what to make for dinner?
After a while, I resorted to the same old dinner routine. Each week we had spaghetti night–well actually 2 spaghetti nights because I made enough for leftovers–and another night I served something like hot dogs or meatball subs. That’s why going out for dinner just sounded so much tastier–and easier, too.
But the problem was, I wanted to serve dinner from my own table. I wanted to save money, not throw it away on takeout, and I wanted to create meals for my family that served them with wonderful family experiences and memories, too.
That’s when I decided to become a little more strategic in meal planning. And I’m happy to say, with just a little extra effort, I now am able to serve my family a variety of meals every night without spending a lot of money or spending too much time slaving over a hot stove.
Here’s how I plan my meals each week to create easy recipes for dinner that doesn’t break the bank.
A Busy Mom’s Guide to Meal Planning
#1 Organize Your Recipes
How many recipes have you clipped from magazines or scribbled on a sticky note, but never tried? Purchase an inexpensive binder and protective sleeves to keep your recipe ideas corralled in one place. With Pinterest, it’s never been easier! And if you love gazing at the beautiful food footage like I do, it’s super fun to find recipes, too.
Just create an “Easy Recipes” or “Quick Dinner Ideas” board on your Pinterest page. Then, while you’re browsing, pin all those easy recipes for dinner onto your meal ideas board to keep them organized.
Here’s a link to one I created. Follow mine to get you started:
#2 Try Something New Each Week
After creating an easy recipes binder or setting up your dinner ideas board, make it a goal to try ONE new recipe a week. Remember to pace yourself with this challenge and keep it to just one new idea on a weekly basis. That way, you don’t become overwhelmed with new ingredients or new techniques. Start with an easy one and, if it’s a winner, take note with a comment on the pin, and move on to try another the following week. If you found the recipe bland or the steps too time consuming, just delete it and replace with a new idea.
#3 Keep it Simple
When you first begin meal planning, look for easy recipe ideas that don’t require a lot of ingredients. The food photo may look delicious, but if it requires two days of prep work and a page long list of ingredients you don’t keep on hand, then it shouldn’t be designated as an easy recipe. There are tons of recipes out there that require very few ingredients that taste great.
#4 Make Seasonal Choices
For my family, there’s nothing more comforting on a cold rainy day than a warm bowl of chili or a hearty bowl of chicken stew. Plan your meals around the weather. Find a new sandwich or cold pasta recipe for hot days and try out a new soup during the winter months.
#5 Check Your Pantry
Spend a little time discovering what’s already in your pantry and use it as a guide to plan next week’s menu. Incorporate those items into your upcoming recipes and note the other ingredients you need from the store.
#6 Keep an Ongoing Grocery List
You’ll never be able to make anything without the ingredients. Make sure to keep an ongoing shopping list as you go. That way, you have everything you need on hand when you need it.
#7 Note What’s On Sale
Your local sales paper makes meal planning easy. By focusing on a specific meat that’s on sale for instance, you can easily build your meals around it. Chicken leg quarters on sale this week? Find a recipe to use them! Ground beef on sale? Then this week I’ll plan a day to make my Best Ever Meatloaf. The local sales ad is by far my greatest tool for meal planning, and I always scan what’s on sale at my local grocery stores each week before anything else.
#8 Set Aside a Go-To Plan
Life is busy and sometimes our days don’t go as we planned. That’s why I keep a couple of extra meal ideas on hand every week. Choose a go-to meal that is so easy to make you could prepare and serve it in your sleep. Keep those items on hand for busy days when you forget to take the meat out of the freezer you needed for that casserole, or your child’s soccer practice took longer than expected.
#9 Create a Weekly Menu Plan
When I first began meal planning, I would sometimes forget what I had planned! As you plan your meals for the week, jot them down on a calendar and post it. That way, you can work ahead for the following day to make sure frozen foods have time to thaw or slow cooker meals are added to the Crockpot™ to allow enough time to cook before dinner. You’re welcome to print out a copy of my free weekly menu planner. Just click HERE to print your own.
#10 Pull Out The Slow Cooker
Seriously, my slow cooker is the best thing since sliced bread. It’s super easy to use and there are so many wonderful meals that can be created in your Crockpot™. Challenge yourself to find 5 new slow cooker recipes this week, and mark them on your calendar to try over the next couple of months. It will save you tons of time in the kitchen so that you can spend more time doing the things you enjoy with your family.