Simple Living

Simplify Meal Planning for Busy Moms

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guest post by Tu-trinh McGee

Momming is HARD 

I see you.

I see that from the moment you wake up, you have to be at 100%.

You’re getting the kids up, feeding them breakfast, packing lunch, getting them off to school, going to work, running errands, then picking up the kiddos, next taking them to soccer, baseball, gymnastics, piano, etc. By the time you get home, the house is still a mess and you are just D. O. N. E.

The last thing you’re thinking about is dinner because you have to reset for the next day.

I, very much like you, am on the Hot Mess Express most days.

And on the days when I don’t make it to the station, the next best option for me is dragging my behind onto the Struggle Bus. I get it. 

Meal planning 

I am naturally a planner and I can’t do procrastination. Maybe it’s the ADHD but mainly the anxiety. This is something I’ve struggled with my entire life. In college, if I knew that a big paper was due at the end of the quarter, I would write it and have it done within the first week because I know that I’m not the all-nighter or last-minute type.

When I plan, I feel good.

I get the same accomplishing feelings as when I wrote that big paper at the beginning of the quarter. It is planned, it is done, and now I don’t have to think about it anymore. I can move on to other important things.

Meal planning is one thing that I can do with ease. I purposefully spend as much or as little time as I want on it and then let I it go. 

Ten minutes 

When I talk to moms about dinner time woes and am asked about meal planning, I tell everyone, “10 minutes.” Certainly, not in a peppy – “You can do it!” voice. More-so in the tone of, “look Mama, schedule yourself ten minutes to just jot down about what you can shell out. You are a warrior and I believe in you!” I even say this to myself to start my meal planning process. 

I sit down on the couch while the kids are distracted and my baby’s napping. I grab my (reheated) coffee, a notepad, a pen, and I make myself plan out meals for the next two weeks. Sometimes, it’s less than ten, other times, it’s more, maybe there’s a cookie break in the middle – how you do it doesn’t matter, the goal is to hammer it down.

You can do this every week, two weeks, or month. The intervals are your choice. And honestly, if you want to take the least amount of time and just resurrect a meal plan of the past, even better! You can have theme days to make it fun and less overwhelming. 

Personally, I do two weeks because my husband’s paycheck is bi-weekly and I feel that it’s easier on our budget if I plan the grocery shopping this way. And if you’re curious, no, I am not making fancy meals with things like rose water or truffle oil. We’re talking one-pot pastas, slow cooker, instant pot meals, and my favorite, leftovers – because I detest waste.

Our fanciest meal is pizza Fridays, when my husband makes pizzas from scratch. PS – There’s no shame in getting frozen pizza! We used to buy the frozen Costco pizzas every month until my husband took up bread making. 

This is also a great time to incorporate fruits and veggies into the menu!

Don’t want to spend your whole day cutting and chopping? What if you don’t feel like wasting valuable kitchen space on a spiralizer or mandoline. No biggie! Buy precut/chopped produce. Buy the marinated meats. This is a fantastic option for parents who are just exhausted, don’t have time, or would rather use their time on other things and I love that so many grocers today have these available. 

Certain family members have allergies? Have picky family members or itching to try something new? This is also the time to plan for it. 

After the meal planning stage, I tend to either give myself another ten minutes or I will walk away and come back to the part about making a grocery list. I don’t walk away for too long or I’ll forget! This portion also takes me about 10 minutes or faster if I write down the ingredients I need while during the planning process. 

Make meal planning and prepping fun by including your kids throughout the process. This gives them a chance to learn and practice valuable life skills and the confidence they receive will be priceless. 

Autism Mom Life | 10 Minute Meal Plans for the Busy Mom
These are my meal planning essentials. This particular time, I needed coffee and chocolate.

Meal prepping

Make breakfasts and lunches easy.

I’m not sure what it’s like in your household but in mine, mornings are usually the craziest time of the day. I’m trying to wake up the kid that is still sleeping, another is up and refuses to comply with my orders of brushing their teeth and getting dressed, baby also needs to eat, and all while the clock is ticking! I know, I know – I should be waking up earlier to start the day and it’ll make things smoother, but I really, REALLY like my sleep.

Therefore, Hot Mess. HAHA! This is why I meal plan and prep breakfast too. 

One easy item I whip up are waffles. I’ll work on big batches of waffles on the days we do breakfast for dinner or Sundays and freeze them so I can easily pop them into the toaster oven for a few mins in the morning and viola! Hot breakfast! You can also do this with breakfast burritos, egg cups, overnight oatmeal, and so much more. 

Overnight oats have been a great “grab & go” meal for my husband. I’ll toss all the ingredients in a mason jar Sunday or the night before work and he warms it up in his office breakroom before digging in. 

I tend to make lunches particularly simple by keeping the same foods on rotation. The kids and I are on a revolving schedule of mac and cheese, PB&J, grilled cheese, or some sort of sandwich variation with some sort of fruit and water. Hubby gets dinner leftovers. Easy-peasy! 

You can take Sunday (or any day) to prep for the rest of the week. I usually will reserve my largest batch cooking for Sunday dinner and use the leftovers for my husband’s lunches for the week – he’s a bit picky but doesn’t mind eating the same thing every day since work is busy and he hardly gets to eat anyway.

I will bake my sandwich bread on meal prep day as well for the kids’ lunches. No, I’m not slaving in the kitchen kneading and baking bread. Instead, I plop all the ingredients into a bread machine and call it, good. Of course, buying bread is much, much easier! 

You can also use this day to do the chopping and prep food into zip lock bags or food storage containers for easy organization in the fridge. Pulling out what you need for dinner and realizing that you have very little prep work because you already finished most it the other day is a huge weight off your shoulders. 

One of our favorite one-pot meals – Creamy Mushroom Pasta

Grocery shopping: Pick one store 

I know some of you like to go to multiple stores to get the best deals and that’s fantastic! I love stretching dollars and making the most out of a meal but I’m talking to you about ease.

Most of the time, choosing one store and sticking to that store is the simplest and you will often save the most by doing so. How? Because time is money and gas is also money. Both of these are valuable, and you’ve got enough on your plate as it is. I’ll admit that I have done this many times to get fantastic deals on meat or pantry staples. Yes, it’s worth it but if you’re running on fumes trying to just get things done, a one stop shop is often times the best route. 

Online shopping 

Instacart! Click-list! Imperfect Produce! Amazon Fresh! I can’t tell you enough how much I love these options! These services are Heaven sent!! There have been many times when I see these guys pull up to my driveway and I’m praising God that I don’t have to get my stuff together and pack up my preschoolers and infant in the car to do the go-around at the store.

And let’s be honest, trying to focus on shopping and wrangling littles is not fun. 

While I still do a majority of my shopping at a brick and mortar store but it’s been fantastic to have my milk and a few other things delivered weekly. The option to say, “hey, instead of going to the store, I’d rather or need to do [insert any activity here],” has been a gift. Delivery services are also a fantastic way for you to stick with your list.

Sometimes, you’re shopping while distracted, hungry, or emotional. Which tends to lead to unwanted and/or forgotten purchases. This is such a great way to feel like you’re getting one errand done and moving on to the next with ease. 

Don’t beat yourself up for going to McDonalds! 

Sometimes, probably more often than I’d like to admit, I exhaustingly flop on my couch and to text my husband to pick up burgers and fries on his way home from work. I know it’s not the most nutritionally balanced food for my family and I used to feel ashamed for doing this. I felt guilty for not having the energy to feed my kids a homemade, well-balanced meal. That mom shaming is awful and what’s worse, is that we are hardest on ourselves. 

While I was pregnant and dealing with a whole host of symptoms with my third child, I kept telling myself that I just can’t do it and really beat myself over not being able to do it all. Sulking on the couch, of course, I took a deep breath and it dawned on me that when I can’t do it all, there’s no shame in outsourcing. In particular, I had a new perspective on how much of a blessing food is. 

So look mama, if you need to go through the drive-thru, do it. There is no shame in that and you shouldn’t feel like the worst mom in the world for doing it. I see it as a blessing.

It is a blessing that someone made this food for you.

It is a blessing that this food gives you energy and nourishes.

It is a blessing that you get a break from cooking.

It is a blessing that you are able to give this bounty to your family. 

Find what works 

My hope is that you will find some useful tidbits out my babbling. There may be weeks where you aren’t always prepared, and there may be times when you feel like you can’t get it done. Get your planning done in a way that works for you. Find your groove, stick to it, and when all else fails, it doesn’t hurt to order out – AHEM excuse me, I meant outsource.

But one thing that is absolutely essential to understand is that – at the end of the day, you are a SUPERHERO. The kids are fed, clothed, sheltered, and most of all LOVED. So three cheers to you, Mama! This messy, sweet, bountiful life you lead is full of light and love.

Meet Tu-trinh

I am a wife to my best friend and mother of three little ones.

Greetings all! My name is, Tu-Trinh McGee. I am a wife to my best friend and mother of three little ones. I have a passion for nutrition, children, and faith. I majored in Nutrition in college with the intention of going into pediatric nutrition. Pre-motherhood, I spent time as a Nutrition Educator and taught children how to grow their own produce and prepare simple recipes using their harvest. I also educated them in My Plate and how they can utilize it every day.

Currently, I am blessed to be staying at home with my crew. I love to window shop online. I am a photography hobbyist. When I get a chance, I enjoy diving into a good read. On a typical day, I am well caffeinated, frantically wrangling my herd, and attempting to keep my plants alive.

Related: How to Save Time & Money for Special Needs Families

Related: 5 Simple Ways to Healthier (as a Special Needs Mom)

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