If you are a super busy Mum with a chaotic life that finds knowing what to feed her family each day a chore (yes, that’s most Mums then), you need my meal planning tips for busy families. Read on or check out the video below for my top tips that will save your sanity when it comes to knowing what to cook and get you more organised with your grocery shopping and stock rotation too.
1. Set Aside Time Each Week
One of the most important meal planning tips for busy families is to set aside some time to actually get it done. Although when you are super busy it seems counter intuitive to add yet another job to your list, but spending a few dedicated minutes meal planning each week will save you loads of time and stress.
2. Brainstorm Everything Your Family Will Eat Into One List
Keep a running list of all of the meals that you can make for your family that they will eat. This will save you having to rack your brains for fail safe meal ideas that you can guarantee will be a hit.
3. Have An Allocated Place For New Meal Ideas
As you come across new ideas for recipes that you would like to try, have an allocated place to “put” them so that when it comes time to lean plan, you know exactly where to look. You could take photos and add them to an album on your phone, book mark them or add them to a reading list on your browser, use an app like Evernote (I use this app for lots of things and it’s great), use your phone’s. notes section, or have a dedicated Pinterest board.
Whichever way you choose, stick to it and you’ll never be hunting for “that recipe you saw” again.
Bonus Meal Planning Tip For Introducing New Foods To Fussy Eaters
If you have fussy eaters in your family but would still like to introduce new foods, try not to do too much at once. Rather than planning en entirely new meal full of things that they have never tried before, plan a meal that you know that they will eat and add a new item to their plate.
Having some familiar times along side something brand new will make fussy eaters feel less overwhelmed and more likely to cope with the new foods.
You could even use a portion of something from your freezer that you have previously made for your fussiest family members on “new meal” nights and just encourage them to try a small amount of what you have made for the first time.
For more tips for dealing with fussy eaters, click the button below.
4. Look At Your Upcoming Week
Take a look at your upcoming week – what do you have going on? Do you have busy nights filled with extra curricular activities? Will every family member be home every night at meal times? Plan easier meals on busier nights and meal that take a little more time to prepare on quieter nights.
No this isn’t as relevant at the moment, as at the time of writing we are on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Still, when the world returns to “normal” busy night meals & quieter night meals will once more become relevant.
5. Take Stock
Look at what you have in your cupboards, fridge and freezer before you meal plan. What do you have lots of? What is going out of date soon? What needs using up? Have you got any pre-made or bac=tch cooked meals in your freezer to use up?
Write a list of anything that needs using up soon and keep this in mind when meal planning and grocery shopping.
6. Implement The Backup Method
For any non-perishable items, I like to use the “one to use and one as a backup” method. Rather than adding something to my grocery list when we use the last of whatever it is, I always have one “open” item on the go and one as a backup.
Let’s use jam as an example. We always have one jar of jam open in the fridge and one as a backup. When we come to the end of the jar of jam, we open the “backup” jam and jam is added to the grocery list so that the backup jam can be replaced.
7. Know Your “Always In Stock” Items
Certain store cupboard basics will be required for so many dishes, that you should keep them in stock whether they specifically fall within your meal plan for the week or not. These items will vary from family to family, but generally include things like your favourite cooking oil, certain condiments or sauces, fruit and snacks and drinks. These are the items that it is especially useful to use the “one for a backup” method for.
Make a list of which items fall into this category for you and ensure that these items are always added to your shopping list once your backup item is opened.
8. Keep A Central Shopping List
Keep one central shopping list for your family. Whenever any family member opens a backup item (or come to the end of a fresh item), they must write the said item on the central shopping list. Before going grocery shopping or completing an online order, I take a photo of the list that my family and I have collated and ensure that every item on the list is purchased.
We have a central family shopping list in our kitchen organisation station. For full details of how to make your own kitchen organisation station, including free printables, click the button below.
As soon as the grocery shop is complete, the list is wiped clean, ready to start the whole process over again.
9. Draft Your Meal Plan Before You Shop
Now this is the bit that people often over complicate. All this step involves is writing out which meals you plan to make on which night.
This is just a draft at this stage and far from set in stone. In fact, we will be looking at this meal plan again once we have done our grocery shopping, so don’t stress too much.
I like to write my meal plan onto my meal planning board in my organisation station. I write in white board pen that can easily be rubbed out should anything need to be rearranged.
Start with the busy nights
Write in your simplest meals for your busiest nights. If you have any pre-made meals in your freezer, plan these for your busy nights when you will have almost no time to prepare dinner.
Next fill out the remaining days
Fill the remaining days with meals that include ingredients from your stock take that need using up. Consider making double portions of meals on quieter nights and freeze the extra portions for busy nights next week.
Then add any missing ingredients required to make the meals on your meal plan to your grocery list.
10. Time To Grocery Shop!
Whether you do this in-store or online, make sure that you have the photo of your grocery list to refer to so that you don’t miss this off. You can transfer the items to a notes app or even a specific chopping list app if you like. Alternatively, you can sue the “mark up photo” option on your phone to tick off items as you purchase them, ensuring that you don’t leave anything off.
Bonus Tip : Bulk Buy For The Win
If it is cost effective to do so and you have the space, consider purchasing some items in bulk. We open purchase a tray of chicken breast from the local butcher then freeze it into grazable portions. Obviously this only applies to non perishable items, such as cupboard items and things that can be frozen.
11. Check Your Haul
Once you have your grocery haul as far as your kitchen, it’s time to re-asses your meal plan before putting it all away.
Was there anything on your list that you were unable to get that means that one of your meals is no longer an option?
Was there anything that you picked up that wasn’t on the list that will now have to be factored into the meal plan?
12. Rearrange Your Plan To Account For Changes & Dates
Before putting your groceries away, check the “best before” and “use by” dates of all of your ingredients. Rearrange the meals you have planned so that the meals involving ingredients with the shortest dates are first, with the order of the following meals dictated by dates in ascending order.
13. Set An Alarm To Prepare For The Next Day
I have an alarm that goes off once a day reminding me to defrost whoever is needed for the next day’s meal. If the meal plan indicates that nothing needs defrosting, I can simply ignore the alarm that day. If, however, the meal you have planned requires something to be defrosted, take this prompt to take it out of the freezer and pop it into the fridge to defrost overnight. This will be easier and make the food taste nicer than if you forget to defrost what you need and have to resort to microwave defrosting.
14. Flexibility Is OK
Remember the your meal plan is not set in stone. One of the reasons that I like meal planning using my white board pens, is that I can easily rub out and replan when life happens.
If you are having an especially tough day and end up with not enough time to prepare the meal that you planned, it’s perfectly ok to reach for one of your freezer meals or even have that take away treat. Just don’t forget to re-jig your plan for the rest of the week to make sure that you are still using your ingredients within their best before dates.
15. Don’t Reinvent The Wheel
So many people shy away from meal planning because they overcomplicate it. Following these simple steps will make your meal times less stressful and save money and waste too.
Don’t feel the pressure to cook master chef worthy meals from scratch every night. Unless cooking is something you genuinely love (in which case, go for it!), it can be a source of “Mum guilt” for many Mums with busy lives.
So instead of feeling the pressure to present your family with brand new cordon bleu meals every evening (which, if your children are anything like mine, they will turn their noses up at as they are resistant to change), go back to that bank of go to meals that you know your family will eat and plan from there.
Keep introducing new foods and in time your “go to” list of meals will get longer. Just don’t beat yourself up too much if your family eat similar meals each week. If the meals are balanced and everyone enjoys them, you are doing well.