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10 Ideas For Stress Free Meal Planning For Busy Families

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All moms want their families to be healthy and healthy starts with food choices. With school lurking around the corner, the last thing on your to do list is meal planning.

With a little practice and a little time, meal planning can help you stay on track with eating healthy.  Meal planning helps you maintain your food budget too.

10 Must Do’s For Meal Planning

1 – Take Inventory 

This is a great time to organize your pantry, see what you have and what items you need to add to your list.

Next up, tackle your refrigerator and freezer.

Do not forget to throw out foods that are bad, wash down shelves and again, take note of items you are out of and put them on your list.

Make a plan to use what you have, your list will shrink and this makes it easy to stick to your budget.

2 – Check Your Local Store Adds For The Best Values 

Look around for websites that make this task easy.

In our local area, we have this site. 

There are also many apps available that include grocery lists and they include the ability to look at items on sale in your area.

One that I would recommend is Out of Milk.

You can find it on both the Android and the Apple market, there’s even a YouTube video that will explain the app. This is an area that you can spend a lot of time or a little time depending on your method.

Our local grocery stores tend to cycle what they have for store specials.

For an example, if lean ground beef is on sale this week, it will come around again in about 3-4 weeks. If you faithfully shop at one store, you can begin to see a pattern as to when items come around on sale.

What about coupons?

Again, use technology to your advantage on this one.

The typical way to make coupons work is to find the item for the coupon on sale and then it tends to be a great bargain.

Be sure to check packages of food for peel off coupons as well.

3 – Keep It Simple Sweetheart (KISS)

You can make things easier if you keep in mind that you do not need to be Julia Child on weeknights, save the culinary cuisine for the weekend and just do simple during the week.

Here are a few simple ideas that keep food preparation to a minimum and you are getting all of the necessary food groups:

  • Vegetable soup and a sandwich on whole grain bread.
  • Whole wheat pasta with sauce and a simple side salad
  • Whole-wheat tortilla filled with shredded cheese, canned beans, salsa and a simple side salad.
  • Roast chicken with potatoes and vegetables. (This has great leftover options written all over it!)
  • Chicken stir-fry with frozen vegetables and rice.
  • Grilled Chicken and Zucchini Noodles
  • Scrambled eggs with tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms and onions served with whole -wheat toast, yes that is right, breakfast for dinner!

Seriously, any of the above options have more curb appeal than your local fast food dive!

4 – Change Things Up

Ask my kids if they would like to have spaghetti for dinner and you will immediately hear: “No, we have that ALL the time” oh the drama!

Try this, prepare the pasta and sauce and mix it together, put it in a casserole dish, sprinkle some mozzarella cheese over it and put it under the broiler for just a couple of minutes until the cheese is bubbly, voila, no more spaghetti but baked pasta!

Check out recipes online. There are a lot of great sites out there including All Recipes, Cooks, and Pinterest to name a few. 

The best part about cooking versus baking; you can alter things to fit your taste and your needs.

I constantly see recipes that call for cream, low-fat milk works just fine and it reduces the fat and the calories in the dish.

If you decide to use low-fat cheese, one hack is to put it under the broiler for a few minutes and it will melt and be bubbly just like the full-fat version, just don’t tell the men in your life!

This will surely cause a melt- down if you profess to use the low-fat version of anything.

5 – Be Flexible

Make thigs work for you.

I am a planner; I would be a happy camper if I could map out all aspects of my day.

My husband, however, he is the definition of “fly by the seat of my pants”.

That being professed, we have several 30-minute options available and I typically have a plan A and a plan B.

We make the decision and then off we go to a cooking adventure.

6 – Spread the Love

There is no time like now to teach your children (at a reasonable age of course!) to help in the kitchen.

Did you ever recognize that food is also about socialization?

The kitchen is where I find out most of the current events happening in my two teen’s lives.

Some of them I deem “jaw droppers” you are left to ask, “how did that go?” and you hope for a good outcome.

Little ones, when mom has time and patience, can help with simple tasks like stirring ingredients and even helping to set the table.

I know of some families that as the kids get old enough, each night is designated to a child to decide what to have and to prepare the meal, of course with help.

7 – Have a Budget and Stick to it

After a few weeks of practice, you should have a good idea of how much you need to spend on groceries.

Back to point #2, if you are out of ground beef and you are unable to find it at a reasonable price; you may want to change it up and make a dish with chicken or even have a meatless meal.

A favorite at our house is Cheese Enchiladas with refried beans.

The key to success is to look at the grocery adds and plan accordingly. The most important element is to be sure you have a variety of foods to meet your dietary needs.

8 – Keep a List

If you make a list and stick to it, this will avoid unnecessary items in your basket.

It will also allow for those sales you did not know about.

For an example, if spaghetti sauce is on sale for .88cents and you know that you are low on this item, if you stick to your list, you should be able to add a few cans of sauce at this price point.

9 – It Is A Myth To Shop Alone, So Embrace It!

My favorite thing I read to stick to your list is to shop alone.

I rarely am alone so how does this concept of shopping alone work?

Nope does not happen, not at my house.

That is ok, use the grocery store as a learning experience.

As your kids get old enough, have them to help you find the best price for the item you are looking at.

You can point out unit pricing on the shelves; this is the price that tells you how much per ounce the item is and have them put the best value in the cart.

For little ones, give them a choice of a healthy snack, granola bars or a new fresh fruit, let them know they get to choose one.

As your kids get old enough, have them to help you find the best price for the item you are looking at.

You can point out unit pricing on the shelves; this is the price that tells you how much per ounce the item is and have them put the best value in the cart.

For little ones, give them a choice of a healthy snack, granola bars or a new fresh fruit, let them know they get to choose one and if their behavior is good during the shopping trip, you will take it home for them to have as a special treat.

10 –  Did I Mention, KISS (Keep It Simple Sweetheart!)

Don’t let this whole subject of meal planning intimidate you.

Take the best ideas and leave the rest.

Decide what your objective is.

Mine has always been to eat healthy and stick to my budget.

Along with this, I work on avoiding the fast food alley in my neck of the woods.

Happy shopping! If you have other ideas on how to be a rock star meal planner, do let me know. I love new ideas.

Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” Julia Child

The idea of meal planning scare you because you cannot possibly imagine how you'd have the time? Check out these tips for meal planning for busy families. Meal Planning | Meal Prep | Meals on a Budget | Food Budget | Family Meals | Family Meal Ideas | Family Budgets | Living On A Budget
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