One of the most inevitable questions of any day is “Mom, what’s for dinner?”
After a long day, it can be difficult to come up with an answer that won’t be met by groans from at least one family member.
But as with most things, a little preparation and smart grocery shopping can take the frustration out of meal planning for busy moms.
Follow these guidelines for providing tasty and healthy meals for your household every day.
15 Easy Meal Planning Tips for Busy Moms
Any busy mom guide to meals planning will include smart shopping, but with weekend time at such a premium, who wants to be at the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon?
Instead, plan aside just a few minutes on a weekend night to plan your meals for the next week.
With a concise shopping list, you can get your meal supplies quickly whenever you have time.
If you see a meal that looks interesting, clip or print the recipe right away and keep it in a folder of ideas.
Then, when you are planning for the week, you can pull out new options and add the ingredients to your shopping list.
You may want to float the idea to your family to ensure they agree that it’s a promising dinner idea.
Keeping your pantry stocked with the basics will empower you to be able to whip up something off the cuff when other plans fall through.
Again, convenience items may be key here. You don’t want to be stuck in a rut, but sometimes being able to get dinner on the table quickly is more important than being creative.
4. Meatless Day
Some families don’t think a meal is complete unless there is some sort of meat on the plate. But meal planning is increasingly going vegetarian, even if it’s just one or two nights per week.
Meatless meals can be quicker to prepare, healthier and a lot more forgiving when it comes to exploration of new ingredients.
5. Know the Schedule
When you are doing your meal planning, keep your family’s upcoming schedule in mind.
If you know your daughter has softball practice Tuesdays and Thursdays, you will need a super-quick dinner option those days. Or, when you have a meeting Monday that could run late, you can make a casserole in advance that your husband can just pop in the oven.
6. Freezer Meals
Many busy moms take one day per month to create dozens of freezer meals or pre-cooked ingredients that will allow them to throw together easy healthy meals quickly during the week.
There are many cookbook resources devoted to this approach and lots of online ideas.
7. Convenience is OK
Processed foods are not usually part of healthy meal planning, but not all the choices are bad.
Items such as jarred pasta sauce and frozen vegetables can have a place on your families’ plates and take less time to prepare.
Just be mindful of sodium, sugar and fat content in the ingredients you purchase.
8. Leftover Love
Take the opportunity when you have leftovers in the fridge to re-purpose them into new dishes.
A half-eaten rotisserie chicken can become chicken quesadillas or a pot of cooked pasta can be transformed with a creative sauce and fresh vegetables.
9. Husband Helper
If you are lucky enough to have a husband who can cook, get him in on the meal planning act. If not, you still should be able to teach him a few simple dishes.
Then, if you are unexpectedly held up at work or your son’s robotics club, he will be able to throw something together.
10. Switch it Up
For a fresh take on a favorite dish, consider switching some of the ingredients.
For example, try a cauliflower crust on your pizza or substitute firm tofu for chicken in your stir-fry.
11. Slow it Down
Many busy moms embrace the power of the slow cooker.
There are thousands of slow cooker recipes on the Internet, so be sure to include at least one slow-cooked dinner to your weekly plan.
Just a few minutes of prep in the morning can save you a lot of stress in the evening after work.
12. Kids in the Kitchen
You are less likely to get complaints about dinner choices when you include your children in the meal planning process.
They may be inclined to want macaroni and cheese for every meal, but you can steer them in new directions using your clipped recipes for inspiration.
Be open to their ideas; you may be surprised about what they will eat if given the chance.
13. Look at Ads
If you get a newspaper, the advertisements from grocery stores with the weekly sales usually come out on Wednesday.
Look at what’s on sale, then compare those ingredients to your folder of inspiration recipes. You might even spy an ingredient you’ve been wanting to try.
14. Shiny Staples
You don’t want to be in a food rut, but it’s OK to just stick with a staple dish every now and then.
After all, if your family didn’t enjoy these favorites, they wouldn’t be staples. It’s all right to include one tried-and-true dinner each week.
15. Off the Hook
In the end, remember that it’s not worth stressing too much of any one meal. You have a lifetime of dinners to create, so it’s OK if every now and then you have to pull out the emergency frozen lasagna.
Busy moms have a lot to handle, and meal planning can easily get pushed to the back burner. However, with a little forethought, dinners can be a low-stress, healthy opportunity for family time.
Busy Mom Guide to Budget Cooking
It can be hard to plan and cook delicious and nutritious meals while on a budget, but sticking to a budget doesn’t mean you have to eat boring meals and snacks.
You can still eat healthy and adventurous while sticking to your budget by using these 7 tips for budget cooking.
- Be Creative With Meals
Not having much to spend can force you to be a little adventurous with the meals you make or the food you buy.
Get creative with your limitations by learning how to substitute cheaper ingredients for less expensive ones, and figure out how to modify recipes to make them easier on your budget.
Cheaper cuts of meat can be made delicious with some extra preparation, and many vegetarian dishes can be made for cheap because they use no meat and lots of grains.
- Make a Cooking Plan
If you go to the grocery store without a meal plan or a list, you are more likely to buy more than you need and more of what you actually don’t need.
Sit down a make a weekly meal plan, and then write-up the ingredients for each meal.
Double check ingredients against what is already in your fridge. With a grocery list in place, you’re less likely to stray from the list and buy things that are unnecessary.
- Use Your Storage Wisely
When items that you use regularly are on sale, stock up if you can, and use your freezer to your advantage when fresh produce or other perishable items are offered at a good price. You’ll have great tasting food ready for months and it’ll cost much less over time.
- Use Up Stored Food
Make sure to pay attention to what is in your fridge, freezer, and cupboards, and make it a goal to make easy meals from your stored food at least once a month.
You’ll save money by skipping a trip to the store and actually eating food you’ve already purchased.
- Organization is Key
Knowing what you have and how much you have will help keep your budget on track. Keep your pantry shelves tidy and organized, and label food in the fridge or freezer.
This will help reduce food waste and make for an easier cooking experience come mealtime.
- Reuse and Re-purpose Leftovers
Leftover food can easily become a whole new meal if you plan correctly.
For example, roasting a chicken one night can mean chicken soup the next night, and then chicken salad sandwiches the night after that.
Plus one night of cooking can mean less cooking that has to be done the following nights, saving you time as well as money.
- Shop Around
Shopping at one store for all your items is convenient, but oftentimes other stores have lower prices on certain items that can make it worth shopping around.
Ethnic markets often have great deals on their products, and sometimes even produce or meat can be cheaper there too.
Making Healthy Eating Choices
Every person can gain significant health benefits from improving their eating choices. Whether you need to lose weight, address a particular health condition, or would like to improve your overall well-being, good eating habits are an important step on the road to feeling great all day long.
The following hints will aid you in making healthy eating choices for a better lifestyle.
- Cut Down on Processed Foods
The problem with most processed foods is the amount of fat, salt and sugar that is added to make them palatable.
Check the level of these ingredients in the items you consume most often and shop for similar products with better ingredients, or make your own at home.
- Reduce Sugar, Salt and Fat Intake
Sugars and most fats are the chief source of empty calories that do not contribute any necessary nutrients. While it can be difficult to cut them out altogether, it is possible to reduce their amounts and still have your food taste good.
High sodium intake has an adverse effect on blood pressure as well as other disruptive effects on your body’s liquid composition.
- Get Rid of Liquid Calories
Sugary drinks such as soda, juice and sweetened coffee and tea can deliver hundreds of calories in just one cup, while you continue to feel as if you haven’t eaten anything at all.
Be mindful of the effect of your drink choices on your diet, and try to gradually reduce the amount of sweetened beverages you consume.
- Cook at Home
When you make your healthy meals from scratch, you are aware of and control the ingredients that go into them. You can make the foods you love while adapting recipes for better health.
Burgers can be made with chicken or turkey instead of beef; small amounts of olive oil or cooking spray can replace chunks of butter for sautéing or braising.
Adding spices will make your food taste great without adding calories or harmful ingredients.
- Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Making good food choices is not just about eliminating harmful ingredients. A balanced diet should contain plenty of vitamins and fiber, which are provided abundantly by fruits and vegetables.
Berries are great for antioxidant properties as well, while vegetables like spinach and broccoli provide iron.
Replace some meat meals with vegetable protein sources such as beans and lentils, which are low in fat and high in protein and vitamins. Instead of candy or chips, have cut-up fruit or vegetable slices prepared for a healthful, delicious snack.
- Eat Healthy Fats in Moderation
Small amounts of healthy fats are necessary for optimum brain function and aid in nutrient absorption; they can also leave you feeling full for longer and eating less in the long run.
Olive oil and canola oil are the best fats to use for cooking. Use extra-virgin olive oil as the base for your salad dressing.
The key is to use small amounts – keep in mind that one tablespoon of olive oil is 119 calories. While necessary for your diet, a few drops of oil go a long way.
A healthy, balanced diet is crucial to your well-being. Making these improvements to your diet will help you in making healthy eating choices.