One of the most important areas of my life as a working mom is meal planning.  I don’t write this to exclude those who don’t have children, nor those who work in the home – because meal planning can be just as useful and vital to them!  Be forewarned setting up a good system does involve a little bit of work on the front end however in just a short time this work will pay off.  I am going to share my system for meal planning, beginning with focusing on simply planning dinners

  • Brainstorm a list of go-to meals.  These are items that can easily be put together, that are staples in your cooking repertoire.  Sort them out however it works for you.  I like to make a list of actual meals (ex. Spaghetti or chicken stir-fry) and also make a list of no-cook meals (turkey sandwiches, grilled cheese and tomato soup).  This way if your plans don’t work or someone else steps in to cook there is an easily accessible list of favorites that can be easily done.
  • Keep a standard list of items that are always in your pantry.  Check out my Moroccan pantry staples here.  Always check these items before shopping – having them on hand will make you able to cook any number of things.
  •  Prepare to plan 1 to 2 weeks at a time.  I only plan one week at a time because it allows me some flexibility to be creative and find new ideas.  I also grocery shop weekly so changing my meals based on what’s in season and on sale is important.  Some people plan a month at a time – these items are totally up to you. 
  •   You can make your plan handwritten or electronic.  I like to use Google calendar because it allows me to make a calendar just for meals and to add the recipes into the note pages.  I can also send a text message to my phone in the morning and again in the late afternoon to remind me what’s for dinner that day.   I can pull anything out of the freezer before work, or put dinner in the crock pot before work. 
  • Go through your grocery flyer and see what is on sale for the week.  You may want to alter ingredients or recipes based on what your budget for that week is and what is on sale. 
  • Begin filling in your plan!  In the beginning use your go-to list until you get the hang of things.  I would add in 1 or 2 meals for the week that were new recipes I had found or ideas I had.  Also plan one day towards the end of the week for leftovers or takeout.  This is a great idea for a busy evening as well.
  • Double check your pantry, and make a list of the items you need for the week.  Shop your list.   

Taking it a step further.

Prepping – As often as possible I prep as much as possible beforehand.  This means chopping up a container of onions at the beginning of the week, potentially baking, and partial cooking meals and then freezing.  Especially during a busy week this is helpful.  I also do this in the mornings if I know I will have a late night.  This way everything is ready and the final step is to simply put it together and cook.  (Note: this is also great if someone is stepping in to put the meal together who doesn’t generally do it – think husband or mom/grandma).

Lunches – These can be built into the menu plan as well.  Some ideas;

1.       Dinner leftovers – just make some extra and pull it out before serving the meal to ensure there is something left!

2.       Salad or sandwich remakes using leftovers

3.       Dips with veggies and/or fruit

4.       Before picking up dinner dishes, make lunches at night so that the morning is smoother.
  1. A similar system will work by getting things ready the night before 
  2. Baking can be done one day and frozen to be thawed overnight and heated in the morning
  3. Just having a plan makes it easier even if morning is simple like toast or cereal.
Final Tips

          Keep it simple, start with dinner and use your go-to list until you’re in a groove.

          Begin collecting recipes to try and add them to a database such as Google Notebook or Springpad.
          Feel free to swap days and recipes, keep it flexible and do whatever makes it easier for you
          Map out the trouble and or busy days  and make sure an easy option is there, such as a crock pot meal or a pre-cooked, frozen meal that can just be heated up.

          Try creating your shopping list as you add meals to days, this will eliminate going back and viewing the recipes again- saving you time. 

Best of luck and please do share with me what worked for you!!!