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A Busy Mom’s Guide to Meal Planning

Meal planning is all the rage for busy families these days, and I totally get it. BFFs with meal freezing and slow cooking, meal planning helps take away the “uuuuhhhh…what’re you in the mood for?” moments that we all deal with. It also helps out the ol’ wallet. Plus, it’s better for the environment because you’re generally not wasting precious resources and food. See? Win-win-win. Wins all over the place.

Guess what, though. I generally suck at meal planning. Not sure why. Maybe I’m too loosey goosey (let’s say “free spirited”)? No, it’s not that. Probably because I’m not organized enough to stay on top of regular planning. Yeah. That’s probably it, to be honest. For some reason, the idea of sitting down to plot out an entire month (or more) of meals is just daunting. And makes me want to do, like, anything else on my to-do list instead.

But, especially with the little one coming insanely soon, we’re going to give this thing a shot.

Shoot me now.

Seriously, though, I’m going to simplify this thing as much as humanly possible. And, here’s how…

*Yes, I needed to organize it a tad better, but this is real life, folks. 😉

freezer_meals

Use alternatives. It’s all fine and swell when you see a list of foods that other bloggers suggest. “Oh, that sounds good. And that one. Well, that sounds like a processed nightmare, but the rest are good!” But, while I wouldn’t call 3-year-old Hadman a “picky” eater, I wouldn’t say he’ll eat…some foods. Say, the ones mommy and daddy happen to like a lot. So, while Dave and I would love to stock our freezer with chili and soups, we’ll still need to figure out an extra dinner for the little guy. Crap.

So, instead of sweating the small stuff, I’ll go with a Plan B. We can make some delicious squash soup and turkey chili for the freezer, but maybe if we’re having a salad (since, let’s face it, the Dorky Daddy can make a mean salad, and if I’m in the throes of nursing, his salad skills will be required) or quick PB&J/grilled cheese on the side (another thing he’s adept at making…I should thank his mom), we’ll hook Hadley up with that, instead. We still try new-to-him foods with him since you never know when he’ll actually decide he likes it, but I don’t push.

Plus, the kiddo is a fruit fiend. So, a PB&J with apples or strawberries on the side isn’t something I can argue with. Everyday? Yes, I’ll argue that. From time to time, though, it’s fine. And the fact that he will eat a salad? I mean…lucky.

This also applies to using alternative ingredients. So many food blogs don’t include “real food” options in their recipes. I’ve learned easy ways to substitute other ingredients, not sweating it much anymore. So, feel free to use whatchya got!

Stock up on the faves. Luckily, there ARE things that the whole family enjoys. My meatloaf muffins are always a hit. No clue why. So, I’ll double the batch to freeze and grab as needed. And when I find some organic or grassfed beef on sale, I’ll grab some extra for meatballs (meatball saaaaandwich!!!) or just to prep some burgers for the freezer. See? This stuff will also work on those nights we need to sub something in for the little no-he’s-not-picky-he’s-just-particular guy.

Figure out what your family’s favorites are, and whether you just have the components on-hand or you’ve already made and frozen them, at least *in theory* you’ll have less of those “Eh, I’m not in the mood for that” nights.

For the love of God, don’t plan a whole month. You know who can really use meal plans? Crazy busy people. You know who doesn’t have the time to write out 30+ days of meal plans? Crazy busy people.

So, take this shortcut (I’ve seen it a few places, wish I could cite where!) — plan two weeks. Just two. That’s fourteen meals. Then restart the rotation mid-month.

Every night doesn’t need to be the best meal ever. It just doesn’t. Pizza is allowed (whether you make it, get a frozen one – we prefer Paul Newman, but whatevs – or buy from your favorite local joint). Soup and sandwich is fine. If we don’t get a crapload of veggies into our systems every day, I don’t sweat it and try to aim for some healthier choices the next day.

Plus, have you SEEN some of these meal plans? Sooooo not healthy. Buy whole wheat pasta and call it a day. And rejoice on the days you have a full-blown, delicious meal. Even if it’s just one day on the weekend…every few weeks. 😉

Jot down your plan. In my case, this is helpful because it’ll help Dave and I both since he’ll be taking on a bit more responsibility as far as groceries and cooking. It also gives a visual for what you have waiting for you in your fridge rather than just assuming “there’s nothing I can make with that.” Plus, there’s less energy wasted when you stand there, dumbfounded with fridge door in hand for five minutes.

This worked great when we tried the Real Food Challenge, too. I wrote down a list of our favorites on our fridge dry erase board, particularly ones that I’d shopped for that week. *wink* I even separated them by breakfast, lunch and dinner. This time around, I may also write down a handful of recipes for the ones that are committed to my memory, just so that Dave doesn’t have a million questions and will know how much he can use of each ingredient. If I have time. We’ll see!

Are you into meal planning and/or meal freezing? Go ahead and share your tips below — we’d LOVE to hear them!