Making home cooked meals in the midst of a busy week can feel impossible. Between the kids’ sports and after school activities, long work days, and evening events there isn’t much time to make a meal and share it with your family. But if this is a priority for you, like it is for me, here are some tips for creating a meal plan that works for your busy family!
Meal planning with your family schedule in mind can reduce stress and prevent those expensive fast food and pizza trips! Plus, you’ll get to spend time together and stay healthier!
Meal Planning and Shopping Time
Figuring out what to make every night in the midst of a busy family schedule is stressful! Taking a little time each a week to plan out what you will cook during the week removes the stress of figuring it out on the fly. Having a meal plan ready allows you to know what to make each night and to have the ingredients ready. With the plan in place, it will be easy to whip up that tasty family meal without much thought!
Choose a time in your schedule when you can think about your meal plan. Make it part of your weekly routine. Depending how much time you want to commit, planning may only take 10 minutes of your time. Just a small commitment to plan ahead can make a big difference in the week to come by reducing your stress and getting those meals on the table.
I like to make my meal plan on Sunday mornings after making a yummy family breakfast and before church at 11am. I can usually sit down with some coffee or tea and enjoy my time thinking about the week and what I want to cook. Prepping on Sunday’s helps me feel prepared to handle the hustle and bustle of the week to come.
Depending on how my morning is going and how much time I have, I may even order my groceries online to be picked up later in the day. It saves so much time and stress for me in the long run. I love it! If not, my husband or I will do the shopping later in the afternoon.
The first step in creating a meal plan for your busy family is to look at your family schedule. How much time will you have for cooking each day? This can be affected by after school activities, long work days, or events that are planned for the evenings. I note these on the corresponding day of my meal planner.
Based on the schedule, I can then determine how much time we will have in the evening for cooking and eating. If its’s a short timeframe, I can plan to have a crockpot meal that’s ready to go when we get home or plan to have something that I can whip up in 20 minutes, like tacos. On the other hand, if it looks like a day that I will have time and energy to cook the full meal at dinner time I can plan accordingly for that.
Alternative Cooking Times
There are days that I know I won’t have time to cook at meal time. In these cases there are few options I use to still get a home cooked meal on the table.
One option is to prep some food earlier in the day. A casserole, enchiladas, meatloaf, or other stable foods can be prepared in the afternoon and then kept in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook them.
I like to use this option on days when I’m driving around picking up kids from after school actives. I can just pop the prepared food in the oven to warm up while I’m out driving around. The food is hot and ready when my husband gets home and we can all eat together. It takes a little planning but it is totally worth it.
Another option is to do some food prep on the weekends based on the meal plan that you come up with. For instance pre-chopping vegetables or pre-making batches of your proteins and carbs. We like to make diced chicken, rice, quinoa, or roasted potatoes. Other times I’ll make a big pot of soup. Having pre-made foods is a great option when you need to throw together a quick dinner or lunch!
Some of you may live in nice climates and wonder why in the world I’d be talking about the weather in a blog about meal planning…You’re lucky!
Here in Wyoming we have some crazy weather. It can range from 30 below zero to 100 degrees. It might be cold, snowy, rainy, windy, hot, dry, or windy. Did I say windy twice? That’s because it is SO windy here! Many days it is a mix of several types of weather. Oh, we also do get some nice days occasionally 🙂
The point is, that I’ve learned that I like to eat with the weather. So I look ahead and incorporate that into meal my plan as well.
If it looks like a big snowstorm is coming or its going to be in the single digits or lower, I know out family will want to eat something warm, hearty, and comforting like a thick stew with corn bread, roast, or a casserole. If I plan a light meal like fish, a veggie, and rice, I will most likely not follow the plan and we will end up eating junk.
The opposite is true for hot summer days. I don’t want to be cooking in the oven or standing over a hot stove. I’d prefer to make something out on the grill or have a salad.
I don’t know about you, but around here, if a storm, special event, or holiday is coming, the grocery store gets CRAZY! If this is likely to happen during my normal shopping day, I will move my shopping day to another day. In order to do that, I may need to plan some extra meals so that we can shop after things settle back down.
I’m a bit claustrophobic in big crowds, so I’d prefer to avoid that chaos! For me, the extra planning time is worth it.
When planning meals for the week, it is important to keep in mind what items will go bad first. Make sure to use up those items early in the week. And only plan to use them on days when you are sure you’ll have energy and time to make that meal! Otherwise, they may end up going to waste.
If you are creating a 7-10 day meal plan, the foods at the end of the plan need to be more stable. Things like potatoes, squash, zucchini, cabbage, and frozen or canned foods. Fruits, veggies, and fresh meats such as fish that go bad quickly need to be eaten at the beginning of the week.
Use What’s on Hand
Do you already have a freezer full of meat? A pantry stocked with miscellaneous items? This is the perfect time to use up some of those ingredients!
Write Your Plan
Now that you know how much time you will have, what the weather will be and if you have any ingredients you want to use up, it’s time to write the meal plan!
Choose what you want to make each day keeping in mind nutrition and family taste preferences.
When I can’t think of ideas I check my cookbooks, ask my husband or kids for ideas, or look at my Pinterest for inspiration. I recommend sticking to recipes you are used to making for most of the days. If you want to try something new, I recommend only making one new recipe per week to keep things simpler and reduce stress.
If you will need to look at a recipe, note the recipes location on the meal plan for easy reference the day you cook.
For basic meals plan a protein, veggies/fruits, and a carb.
Here are some examples:
• Pork chops with cabbage and apples, bread on the side
• Salad with grilled steak on top, fruit. We love salads with grilled meat and some fruit in the summers!
• Chicken fajitas (chicken, peppers, onions) with tortillas. If you are going lower carb serve on lettuce or with lettuce wraps instead. Serve with a side of fruit or baby carrots
• Crockpot shredded meat on rice/cauli rice with a side of veggies
You may also want to plan for big batches that can be eaten as leftovers later in the week. Big batches of meat are handy because they can be reused in a new way.
• Chicken into sandwiches, quesadillas, or soup
• Roast into stroganoff, stew, or fajitas
• Leftover rice can be used for porcupine meatballs or in a soup
• Lasagna usually lasts for 2 meals in our house. When the boys were little we’d get 3-4 meals. Things are always changing!
I hope these examples sparked some ideas for tasty, easy, healthy meals that you can make for your family.
Now that you’ve got your meal plan written it is time to write the shopping list. Look at each day and write down any ingredients that you’ll need that you don’t already have on hand.
Note anything you might need for breakfasts, lunches, snacks, or household items. Then go shopping!
If things come up and your plan doesn’t work out, it’s ok! Don’t be hard on yourself, just adjust. Meeting your families needs is what matters, not your ability to follow a meal plan. The food can usually be used on another day or frozen.