Raise your hand if you have a busy schedule and you find it challenging to get healthy meals on the table every night—especially ones your kids will actually eat! My hand is raised right up there with ya. Meal planning, prepping, and serving has always been a thorn in my side. At least it was until fairly recently, and that’s because I finally decided to let go.
Last month I wrote an article about things in my life I let slide and if you read it you might remember that meals is one of them. I thought it might be helpful if I explained that in more detail and gave you my 3 ways to make meal planning doable even with a busy schedule.
A peek into our busy schedule…
For my family, a regular week includes after school/evening activities 3-4 days a week, I teach class or have clients 2-3 evenings a week, and my husband also works several nights a week. When you also factor in PTA meetings, and other occasional commitments, our typical week tends to be quite full. I’m sure yours is too! My schedule may resemble yours, and it may not, but I share because I want to demonstrate how it is possible to create structure and routine even in the midst of apparent chaos.
When I said here that I have let meal planning and prepping slip, I don’t mean that I’ve let it go completely. What I mean is that I don’t try to make things interesting anymore. I have become okay with serving the same things week after week. I’ve become okay with our regular meals being predictable, easy, and, at times, maybe only semi-healthy.
Here are my 3 ways to make meal planning doable even with a busy schedule:
1. Plan ahead
Have you heard the saying “fail to plan, plan to fail”? I’m not sure who said this first but whomever it was, they were right! On the weeks when we don’t make a meal plan and we don’t shop for our groceries ahead, we end up spending more money, eating less healthily, and finding ourselves in more chaos.
I avoid all of that by setting aside time each week (usually either Saturday or Sunday mornings) to make a meal plan for the week, create a grocery list, and then go shopping. When I’m doing that I take into account what we have going on each evening of that week. I plan meals that fit with our schedule in terms of how much time is needed to make them, what prep is involved, and who will be cooking it..
All of this planning ahead may seem daunting but if you follow my next two steps and use some of the tips I’ll share later, it’s really not daunting at all. Planning will save you so much hassle!
2. Share the work
In our house, I am not the only one who plans and preps meals or does the shopping. My husband and I share those tasks by each doing them every other week. We also share an on-going grocery list with each other on an app called “Our Groceries.” My husband and I both prep and cook meals depending on who is home earlier each day of the week. We involve our kids in some of the planning, making sure at least one evening a week we’re making something they choose. This is why we have spaghetti once a week without fail. Sharing the work makes it easier for me, and it means more people get to buy and eat what they want.
3. Make it simple
As I mentioned before, we cook a lot of the same meals week after week. We don’t try a lot of new recipes during the week simply because that requires more time, more planning, and more uncertainty. We stick to meals that are easy to prepare, have few ingredients, and are at least somewhat healthy.
Do you want to know what some of our most common meals are? Here you go!
Spaghetti – I mentioned before, this is on our list every week because it’s a meal all three of our kids enjoy. It might be the only one they all like! There are a lot of ways to add variety to spaghetti. You can make it will all different kinds of sauces and pastas (even veggie noodles). I always like to make a salad on spaghetti night too.
Burgers – These are easy and I like them because everyone can add their own toppings. It’s also easy to adapt burgers by eating them bun-less or wrapped in lettuce, adding veggies, cheese, or no cheese, etc.
Make-your-own tacos or burritos – I love meals where everyone can add their own toppings and condiments. It makes it a lot more likely that everyone will be happy.
Rice Bowls – We like Asian inspired bowls in our house and, again in this case, everyone can add the toppings they enjoy. You can also do Mexican-inspired bowls, Greek-inspired bowls, etc. The possibilities are endless!
Change Your Life Chicken from The Lazy Genius is another recipe that shows up on our meal plan almost every week. It’s so easy and so tasty and four out of the five of us will eat it!
Even more tips to make meal planning and serving as easy as possible:
- Don’t cook every night of the week. Eat leftovers or—if it’s in your budget—get takeout 1 or 2 nights a week.
- Think ahead! If you think one day ahead, you can take frozen meat out for the next day, prep a sauce, a side, or chop veggies ahead of time. I like to think about what I can do now that will make my life easier tomorrow.
- Keep a running list of easy go-to meals. If you have an ongoing list of easy meals your family likes, you won’t have to think very hard when you do your weekly planning.
- Go super easy (and maybe unhealthy) sometimes! Sometimes you might just make mac n cheese from a box, grilled cheese sandwiches, or hot dogs. That’s okay. There’s no shame in making things super easy and convenient sometimes. With meals like this, I always make sure we have some raw veggies on the side.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Do my 3 ways to make meal planning doable with a busy schedule feel workable for you? Do you have meal planning tips to share with me? Your suggestions are always welcome.
As always, just take things one step at a time, do what feels right for you, and enjoy! Happy meal planning!