Struggling to plan meals every day? Don’t worry mama, you’re not alone. I only learned these simple meal planning tips for busy moms, two years into becoming a mother. I know that sounds like a really long time, but now meal planning is easy and quick for me. You just need to learn the basics and keep on doing it, until it becomes second nature to you.
Meal planning gave me a lot of benefits such as:
- Saved us a lot of money as it helps me to stick to my list, avoiding buying unnecessary snacks or other items
- We eat more healthily as I always include vegetables and fruits in every meal
- I can do my grocery shopping quickly
- Less stress in thinking what to cook for the day, week, or even for a month
If you want to learn the basics of meal planning, here are my tips:
Meal Planning Tips for Busy Moms
Check out the stock in your fridge
If you still have some meat – chicken, beef, fish, etc., – and some fruits and vegetables, list them down and get back to it later.
Think of the “star of the show” of every meal
What’s the base ingredient for the day? What’s the theme? Okay fine, I’m not a chef so I’m just coming up with terms here but think about the base ingredient for your meal. Mine is always a mix of chicken, beef, fish, pasta, egg and tofu.
So what I do with those base ingredients is to spread it around for the week. Say for Mon, I’m going to cook a fish meal, Tues will be a chicken meal, Wed will be a beef meal and so on. Download my meal planning template here to have an overview of your meal planning for the week.
Once I’ve decided on the main ingredients for the week’s meal planning, I think of two things next – cooking time and existing stocks.
If I know I’m gonna be busy on a certain day, I think or google easy recipes for that day and I cook that. If I have more time on certain days, I cook more than the usual meal for my family.
On Fridays, I usually cook a big dinner meal that will last until Saturday night. We always go and visit my in-laws everyday so I just refrigerate half of the Friday meals and quickly prepare them for going out the next day.
Then I’ll think of recipes where I can still use my existing stocks
So say, I still have some carrots and potatoes. I’m gonna use that for the Monday fish meal. I’d google recipes related to it and I’d usually find something easy to cook.
Most of the time though, there’s little to none leftover ingredients in the fridge. So I usually just buy new ingredients at the start of every week.
I do my grocery list based on the meals I’ve planned
So say for Monday meals, we’ll have the following meals:
Breakfast – oatmeal with banana, raisins and blueberries
Lunch – beef with stir fry with baby corn and bell peppers
Snacks – blueberries
Dinner – fried fish with mixed veggies
If you download my grocery checklist template here, I’ll put all the ingredients for the Monday meals and place it under the “For Monday Meals”.
You can also quickly see if there’s some duplicated food in each of the “For -Day- Meals” and just simply scratch that out.
Once I’ve completed my grocery list, buying it is a breeze. It usually only takes me 30 minutes to do my grocery shopping and that already includes the traveling time to the grocery! Well I’m quick to do grocery because one, it’s like a 5 minute walking distance from our house. Two, I know my way around the grocery store as I always buy there, so it’s easy for me to look for things. And three, I just stick to my list, go in and go out. Safer that way as well, because of these unusual times we’re having.
I usually just do grocery shopping once a week
If I want to stock up on meat and other ingredients that I can keep longer, like soy sauce, cooking oil, black pepper and such, I’d visit the grocery twice a week.
And that’s basically how I do meal planning. You can download my weekly planning template here, if you’d like to use it.
Some extra meal planning tips I’d add are:
Ask your family what they want
I only have a small family, so it’s usually just my husband (for now!) who has some strong opinion on what he wants to eat for dinner.
Always include vegetables and fruits
Eat healthily. It’s just good practice, especially for my kid. I want her to get used to eating vegetables and fruits everyday.
Cook basic meals
I’d sometimes cook a new meal but most of the time (especially during the lockdown here in Singapore), I cook the simplest of meals.
Cook only 1 meal for the whole family
I can’t stress this enough. Especially during a lockdown. You want less stress in your life, less dishes to wash, less time cooking especially when a toddler is hovering around in the kitchen.
Cook a lot of rice
If you’re a rice-eating family, like us, you can cook rice that can last you for 3 days then just keep it in the fridge. Saves you time from cooking rice every day.
Collect and keep recipes
I keep recipes in my phone. It’s in an easy to access folder that I can quickly whip up when I’m about to cook.
I also put the usual recipes in an excel sheet, print it and place it on my fridge. I don’t strictly follow it, it’s just nice to have something to turn to occasionally, especially when I want less stress meal planning for the day.
Below is a sample one month meal plan that I mostly followed during the lockdown here in Singapore. You can download this one month meal plan, along with the meal planning printables right here.
Cook a new meal every now and then
I try to mix things up and cook a new meal occasionally. Sometimes it’s a hit, sometimes it’s a miss. But it definitely saves us from a meal rut. So far, the creamy chicken meatballs in mushroom sauce with mashed potato and steamed corn is still a big hit for my family.
Stock up on food that can last longer and cooks easier
Food like fish fingers, nuggets, burger patties, garlic bread, mixed vegetables and such can last longer in the fridge and are certainly quick to cook. It’s a must to have them for days where you just don’t feel like you have the energy to cook anymore but you still have to feed your family. Just remember to include them in your meal planning and check their expiration date.
Take a “cooking day-off”
I cook everyday except for Sundays and Saturdays. Sundays I don’t cook at all and Saturdays, I just heat up the Friday leftovers. We do takeaways for lunch and dinner on Sunday. Dishes still pile up but it’s definitely less and gives me a rest day from cooking the entire week.
I used to do batch cooking for my kid when she was starting on solid food. But now I cook fresh meals everyday. I know other families who do early meal prep and cooks in batches but cooking fresh meals almost everyday just works for us – my husband definitely prefers it – so I’m sticking to it. We don’t have an oven, a slow cooker or an air fryer. Just basic pots and pans, a microwave and a small toaster oven.
I have a very basic way of meal planning as I don’t want to complicate my life with lots of checklists on what to do and what to avoid on prepping meals. Let me know if you’ve tried any of it or if you want to add more tips by commenting below.