Does this sound like you? You have a night free, so you want to make a nice home cooked meal, but you look in the cupboard… or fridge… or freezer… and there isn’t anything worthy of dinner to be found. This leads to you running to the Kroger or WalMart on the way home from work and getting something for dinner… and some ice cream… and five cans of soup because it was on sale for $1.50 per can… and a bag of potato chips… and a bag of croissants from the day-old bread bin. All totaled you spent $30 for ‘dinner’ and that’s just one night! After one week you spent over $100 and the only things in the pantry was a half a bag of potato chips, stale croissants and some canned soup.
Planning nutritious meals for your family is not always easy for busy moms. We often spend our evenings running around town to meetings, practices and games. That’s why I created this Adaptable Meal Plan for Busy Moms. It lets you adapt the plan each week to fit your busy schedule.
Creating Your Adaptable Meal Plan for Busy Moms
1. Make a Recipe List
The first step to creating your adaptable meal plan is to create a list of every recipe you have in your arsenal. Every chicken recipe. Every pasta recipe. Every beef recipe. And so on. You know the ones: roasted chicken, barbeque chicken, stuffed pork chops, spaghetti… Yes, even as simple as spaghetti. You want an exhaustive list of meal ideas which will help you in the steps to come.
When I did this as part of a week-long meal planning activity created by 4 Hats and Frugal, I was shocked at how many recipes I could make. My list took up two notebook pages! And I am by no means a gourmet cook… ask my family. One thing it showed me was I had no reason to be stuck in a rut. Why was I rotating the same three chicken recipes again and again when I have over ten in my arsenal? Also, why am I eating chicken three times a week when I have so many fish, pasta, beef and pork recipes? It was eye opening.
Adaptable Meal Plan Recipe List
2. Categorize by Prep Time
The next step is to categorize each recipe into how easy the recipe is to make. The three labels I use are Bake, Quick Fix and Crockpot. I define Bake as any recipe which takes 30 minutes or more to get to the table. Quick Fix meals are recipes which take less than 30 minutes. Finally, Crockpot are recipes which are typically ready right when you walk through the door or soon thereafter.
3. Fill in the Activities Section of the Adaptable Meal Plan Worksheet
When you have all your recipes listed and categorized, now it was time to print the Adaptable Meal Plan Worksheet. The best way to start is with your family calendar. Likely, you already have a calendar filled with practices, games, meetings, etc. This will tell you what nights you will be able to make a home-cooked meal or will need one of those quick fix recipes if you have a late game or a practice.Adaptable Meal Plan Worksheet
4. Fill in the Prep Time Section of the Adaptable Meal Plan Worksheet
Now that you have noted all your family’s activities on each day select the required preparation time given the time you have. Prep time isn’t the only item you have to account for. We all know there are nights when we eat out, finish off leftovers or simply let everyone fend for themselves.
As a sports mom, I don’t have time to cook every single night, so I purposely plan for leftovers. For example, our games are typically Tuesday and Thursdays. Therefore, whatever meal I have planned for Monday or Wednesday I buy enough to have quickly reheatable meals on Tuesday and Thursday. Or I plan a crockpot meal on those nights, so it is ready when we walk through the door.
Some nights it’s just nice to let everyone fend for themselves. Or as I like to call it… “Clean Out the Fridge Night”. This means you can reheat leftovers, have a sandwich, have a salad… or one of those cans of Progresso Soup I bought on sale (remember those:-). Lunches or the day before you go out of town for a tournament are great “Fend for Yourself” meals because they (1) clean out the fridge of any leftover leftovers and (2) they rarely cause many dirty dishes.
The last preparation category is eating out. This includes not only nights you are going out to dinner, it also includes nights you are out of town for tournaments. Basically, it’s any night you won’t be eating at home.
When filling out the Adaptable Meal Plan Worksheet you can use these abbreviations for prep time:
- B for Bake
- C for Crockpot
- F for Fend for Yourself
- L for Leftovers
- O for Eat Out
- Q for Quick Fix
5. Fill in Each Day’s Dinner Meal
Now that the easy work is done you can start filling in your dinner meal plan. Since you already know the type of meal you need to make, you can easily refer back to the Adaptable Meal Plan Recipe List you filled out to find recipes which fit that prep time. For example, making lasagna from scratch on a night when we have a late practice is kind ridiculous. However, spaghetti is a quick fix.
If you need some meal ideas check out some of these ideas:
6. Fill in Each’s Day’s Other Meals
So far, using the plan above we have dinner covered. However, that’s not all. We also need to consider breakfast, lunch, snacks, staples and treats.
My family is pretty easy. We typically have some combination of eggs with bacon or sausage. However, some families might have cereal, pancakes, bagels, toast and the list goes on and on and on.
Something a lot of people don’t think about is how much they are spending on lunch. In the downtown area where I work, lunch is typically $8-10. (That’s up to $50 a week for my stat-loving friends out there.) That’s why when I am planning my meals I also plan enough to take to lunch the next day. My family also loves the Aldi bags of salad which are only $0.85/bag in the area of the country I live in. These are perfect for lunch with some chopped up meat from the night before. Imagine that, $0.85 for the salad plus a few cents in dressing and leftover meat. I call that a win!
There is this very unmagical period of time of the day between when the kiddos get home from school and when they leave for practice. This time can be very limited, but it is crucial to replenish their empty tanks with a nutritious snack which will tie them over until after practice without being too heavy. For this, we like to keep a stash of fresh fruits and vegetables, protein bars, and/or wrap fixings. I try to stay away from starchy, sugary food before practice.
Treats / Dessert
Whether it’s cookies and chips or full-on desserts, we can’t forget these fun must-haves.
7. Fill in Grocery Section
The final step of your meal planning is creating your shopping list. The Adaptable Meal Plan Worksheet makes it easy to add all the ingredients you need to purchase for each day’s meals. This leaves nothing to chance. Remember, if you are having a meal for two nights you will need to double the quantity. For me, the mere act of having a shopping list saves me money. I find that if I have a list I am less likely to pick up impulse items… and less likely to forget something which will cause me one of those $30.00 stops at Kroger.
Make sure to check your pantry when filling out the grocery list so you don’t forget any of those staples you will need in the coming week. These staples include ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, barbeque sauce, salad dressing, teriyaki sauce, tuna, olive oil, diced tomatoes, cream of chicken soup, cream of mushroom soup, frozen vegetables, frozen fruit, and baking supplies (flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, oil, etc.).
By stocking up on pantry staples you can save yourself so many of those one-off stops at the grocery store. You can also strike when they are on sale.
8. Prep Day
I know what you are saying, “If I don’t have time to make dinner then how am I going to have time to complete prep work?” I get you, but I assure you, completing the prep work will actually save you time. Whether it’s when you are putting the groceries away or at the beginning of the week, you will thank yourself for completing all your prep work.
Prep Work can include:
- Brown ground beef
- Pre-cook pasta
- Make sauces
- Cook & freeze casseroles (or at least combine ingredients and put in fridge)
- Combine crockpot meals in gallon freezer bags
- Make breakfast meals
- Chop and clean veggies
Some meals simply don’t lend themselves to prep work so at the very least, place all the ingredients together when you are putting away your groceries.
MONEY SAVING BONUS
Taking Advantage of Sales
Since you have an exhaustive list of recipes, you can check the local grocery store ads to match their sales to your recipes to find which ones will be the cheapest to purchase.
Multiple Week Plan
A serious time saver is shopping for two weeks at a time. I started doing this a few years ago and was amazed at how freeing, and money saving, it was.
SAMPLE ADAPTABLE MEAL PLAN WORKSHEET
Want to see what the plan looks like in action? Here is my plan for a couple of weeks ago.
Wow! We have talked about a lot so let’s wrap it up. Here is the plan: Tonight, take 15 minutes or so to complete items 1-2 below:
- Make a list of all the recipes in your arsenal
- Categorize your recipes by preparation type
Now that the hard stuff is out of the way you can focus on your meal planning. Every week follow steps 3-5 before you head out to the grocery store and enjoy your new-found freedom and savings.
- Gather your family’s calendar and fill in each day’s activity
- Fill in the preparation type or whether you will be eating leftovers, going out to dinner or fending for yourself.
- Fill in the meals you will be eating each day
- Fill out your shopping list.
Let us know how it works for you. You can tweet us @JazzinDisneyMom.
Sue Nowicki is an alumna of the 2014/15 Disney Parks Moms Panel. She is a team mom extraordinaire who has filled her time serving as secretary, navigator, head cheerleader, treasurer, athletic trainer and team psychologist for her daughter’s travel sports team for over 15 years before becoming a team owner. You can follow her on Twitter at @JazzinDisneyMom.