We've already covered the magic of meal planning in a previous blog. But meal planning wouldn't be complete without effective meal preparation. First, to ensure we are all on the same page, let's define meal planning and meal prep and how they differ. Meal planning is the process of making a grocery list and deciding what meals you'll have for the week. Meal prep is cutting up the veggies or otherwise preparing the ingredients, cooking, and portioning out meals in advance, so you're ready for whatever the week throws at you. Think of meal planning as your strategy, and meal prep as your execution - together, they're a winning combo for busy moms!
1. Choose a Day to Plan
Choose a day each week to sit down and plan out your meals for the week ahead. This will help you stay on track and ensure that you have everything you need for the upcoming week.
2. Make a Shopping List
Create a list of the meals you want to make for the week, along with the ingredients you'll need. Be sure to check your pantry and fridge first to see what you already have on hand.
3. Shop in Advance
Once you have your list, do your grocery shopping in advance. It’s preferable if your shopping day is not the same day you’ll be cooking the meals for the week. Doing the shopping and cooking on the same day can be overwhelming. This will save you time and prevent the need for last-minute trips to the store.
4. Prep in Advance
Take advantage of your meal planning by doing some prep work in advance. This could include chopping vegetables, marinating meat, or cooking grains. A good day to do this is the day of your grocery shopping. As you are putting the items away, take a moment to prep ingredients you plan to use when cooking the next day. This will save you time and make it easier for you the next day to cook multiple dishes.
5. Keep it simple
Don't feel like you have to plan elaborate meals every day. Simple meals can be just as satisfying and can save you time and money. Stick to simple recipes that you know your family loves, that use just a few ingredients, and can be prepared quickly. Focus on using fresh, whole ingredients and experimenting with different herbs and spices to add flavor.
6. Plan for leftovers
Leftovers can be a busy mother's best friend. Plan to make extra servings of your favorite meals so that you have leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day – or put it in the freezer for a busy or lazy night. You can also get creative and make leftover into a totally new dish - turn yesterday's chicken into today's chicken salad sandwich. Leftovers that can keep well in the fridge are life savers on busy days or in a case of unforeseen events, such as a visitor staying for dinner, that may throw off your meal plan.
7. Don't Be Afraid to Cheat a Little
Listen, we're all human, and we all have our limits. There's no shame in using store-bought rotisserie chicken or pre-cut veggies to save some time. Plus, they can be a great starting point for a quick and easy meal.
8. Celebrate Small Wins
Meal planning can be a journey, not a destination. Celebrate small wins along the way. Maybe you cooked a meal from scratch for the first time, or your family actually ate all their vegetables. These small wins can motivate you to keep going and make meal planning a regular habit.
9. Don't Forget the Joy of Eating
At the end of the day, meal planning is about enjoying good food and good company. Don't get bogged down in the details and forget to enjoy the process. Play some music, pour yourself a glass of wine (or your beverage of choice), laugh with your family, savor the flavors, and appreciate the joy of eating together. Try out new recipes now and then (when you have the time to spare), experiment with different flavors, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. After all, they say that the best recipes come from happy accidents, so have fun with it!