Parenting

Meal Prep & Planning: A Busy Mom’s Sanity-Saving Tips

There are oodles of benefits to family meal prep and planning.

For me, a busy mom of four active kids, the benefits are:

  • It’s a time-saver because it takes the guesswork out of lunches and dinners.
  • It makes my life easier when our schedule is stacked with activities.
  • We avoid mid-week trips to the pizza shop.
  • My children eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • We waste less food and spend less money.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Nothing is worse than having to chauffeur kids around to different activities with no plan for dinner. Enter the hotdogs and stale goldfish crackers. 😬

I’ve come up with a list of 10 sanity-saving tips that will make your life in the kitchen easier.

meal prep & planning

Weekly Meal Prep & Planning

Plan a week’s worth of lunches and dinners.

On Sunday morning, I plan a week’s worth of lunches and dinners. Once I have an outline of my meals, I jot down an ingredient list for the grocery store. My husband cooks breakfast, which leaves plenty of time for me to do the shopping before we head to the soccer fields to catch an afternoon game.

Don’t go to the grocery store without a list! I’ve been there & done that. You’ll reduce excess and spend less money if you have that list in your hand.

I set a personal goal of making only ONE trip to the store per week. Nine times out of ten we manage it. Occasionally, I’ll have to make a quick stop for more milk or bread.

Warn your kids not to scarf up all the snacks in one day. If they don’t heed your advice, they’ll be feeling pretty hungry by Friday…

Here’s a quick peek at my weekly meal-planning worksheet:

meal prep & planning

At the end of this post, I have attached a free printable PDF of my meal-planning worksheet. I hope it saves you some time!

Clean all produce after you unpack your groceries.

I know. I know. It’s the last thing you want to do after you’ve spent an hour at the grocery store. But if you’re reading this, you want to cut corners on busy weekdays, right?

Toss your colander in the sink, roll up your sleeves, and start rinsing.

Peel and cut all fruit and vegetables.

Prep anything that may be time-consuming later on. Boil eggs, brown meat, peel/cut veggies, etc. This is my least favorite weekend chore, but I’m always glad I did it when I’m pressed for time on weeknights.

My kids get raw vegetables in their school lunch boxes. On Sunday, I peel and/or cut carrots, celery, cauliflower, and red peppers, and I put them in glass storage containers in the refrigerator. This makes it easy to grab veggies when I’m packing lunches on weekdays. The veggies make for good “snack traps” too (more on that in a bit…).

For lunches, I send whole fruit (apples, bananas, peaches, nectarines, etc.). If I purchase berries, grapes, or melons, I’ll slice those up and store in the refrigerator with the veggies.

Daily Meal Prep & Planning

Make Double Batch Dinners

My house is full of active dudes—-tweens & teens. They can EAT. I mean, really eat. Sometimes it seems like that’s all they do when they’re at home.

For dinner, I try to make double batches. For instance, this week I’m making Instant Pot Macaroni & Cheese with Spinach. I took my favorite recipe and doubled the ingredients. This is one meal in particular that yields enough leftovers to serve for lunch the next day.

Into those lunch boxes the macaroni goes!

I don’t always have leftovers. Like I said, my dudes eat and eat. If I’m making bacon wrapped chicken thighs, my kids gobble up every last bit of meat. 16 thighs consumed in less than 30 minutes? I don’t know if that’s impressive or disturbing.

Pack school lunches the night before.

This is a big one for me. No busy mom has time to pack lunches at 6:00 AM. It’s not happening. Nope. So get organized the night before!

After kitchen cleanup, pop those lunch boxes up on the counter and get to work. Put veggies in single-serve containers. Make sandwiches or slice whatever protein you’re offering your spawn. Set out pieces of fruit so they’re available to toss in the boxes in the morning.

I keep it simple. My kids have 20 minutes to eat at school, which isn’t long if you ask me. But it’s just enough time to consume a sandwich/protein, veggie, and fruit.

So I put what I can in the lunch boxes and store them on a shelf in the refrigerator. After I grab my morning coffee, I pull out the boxes and add fruit and ice packs. Toss the boxes on the table and behold!

Lunch is done. ✔️

TIP: If your teen packs his/her/their own lunch, ask them to pack it before they turn in for the night. They’ll be less likely to pack crap food.

Set out tomorrow’s water bottles so kids can grab & go.

I used to buy juice boxes for lunches. In fact, I used to buy the 40-count pack from Costco.

But I stopped for no real reason other than the fact that my children needed to consumer more water. Bye bye, juice!

Now I send them with refillable water bottles. Last year, the school installed water bottle refilling stations in the halls. That makes this switch a no-brainer.

I set the clean water bottles on the dinner table once it has been cleared for the night.

Set coffeepot on a timer.

If you use a Keurig, you’re golden. My husband and I prefer to keep it old school. We’ve had the same pot for the last decade.

Who doesn’t need that dose of caffeine first thing in the morning? I want a pot waiting for me.

Once I pack lunches in the evening, I get the coffeepot ready. My alarm goes off at 5:45 AM, so I set the timer for 6:00. If you’re feeling extra motivated, you can place a mug next to the pot. Then you’re really ready to go.

When you stumble to the kitchen at the butt crack of dawn, your fix will be waiting…

meal prep & planning

Set out easy breakfast items.

I stopped making breakfast once my kids hit middle school. With everyone rushing around to get out of the house, there just isn’t time for all that.

Instead, I stock my kitchen with easy breakfast options. Yogurt. Cereal. English muffins. Oatmeal packets. Fruit. Hardboiled eggs.

All four of my kids learned how to make the basics like scrambled and sunny-side up eggs. They don’t often make them due to a shortage of time. Sleep? Or scramble eggs? Sleep. Always sleep.

At night, I’ll set out the nonperishable breakfast items like cereal, bread, and oatmeal for the next day. Next to that, I’ll stack some small bowls, plates, and spoons.

It’s an easy setup, and it works.

Snack Traps

My sister-in-law taught me about setting snack traps in the kitchen. A snack trap consists of precut veggies or fruit. The trap is placed strategically in the kitchen. When your child drops by for a snack, they are more likely to grab the healthy offering because it’s out and available. Snack. Trap.

If you have a teen, you know they aren’t going to go to the trouble of locating the carrot container in the refrigerator. They’re going to opt for something crunchy and quick like a granola bar. But if the carrots are out on the counter? They’re more likely to grab a handful.

Healthy food flex! They’re eating more veggies and fruits.

Conclusion

I know this looks like a lot. Once you get in the groove of meal prep & planning, I swear it’s painless. It just takes some adjustment and time.

Chances are you’re doing half these things already, but you’re still feeling rushed and anxious. Cut down on stress by planning a little more.

Even if you add one or two of these tips to your routine, you’ll be more organized.

Here is a free printable PDF Weekly Meal-Planner for you:

Teal-and-Cream-Floral-Meal-Planner-Menu

Comment below with your time-saving kitchen hacks.

What do you do to make your life easier?

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