Before having kids, me and my husband would go to Costco, spend hours wandering the aisles and get what we needed to make our meals for the week. We found new recipes to try, enjoyed making dinner together, and didn’t feel stressed about the food we’d eat.
Something changed when we had kids. This enjoyable part of the day turned into something I would dread. We were now busier trying to keep our little guy alive and keep ourselves somewhat sane. There was new worry around every meal, are there enough veggies, will everyone eat this, how can I get it on the table and still have time for the bedtime routine, how do I get the meal ready when my kid needs me more during dinner time than any other time of day…
I no longer enjoyed looking for new meals to cook, but felt guilty for feeding my family the same thing over and over. And to be honest, none of the meals were as healthy as I’d like, but I was just happy to get something on the table.
I stressed about meals every single day for the first couple years of my kids lives. Then I started staying home and the stress multiplied. Now I felt even more responsible for making Pinterest worthy meals every single night while keeping the house clean and the kids well behaved.
I tried lots of meal planning ideas, downloaded countless meal planning templates and continued to feel overwhelmed. What I learned through all of this is, in order to simplify meal times, you do have to plan, but there is more that goes into meal planning than that.
6 steps to meal planning with success | My meal planning how to
1. Let go of all expectations.
The only job is that you feed your family. That’s it. It doesn’t have to look a certain way, you don’t have to have your kids in the kitchen with you if you don’t want to, noodles can be dinner, you don’t have to share food images (with a clean kitchen behind you) on Instagram. Let yourself relax and focus on the actual job: keep your kids alive by feeding them.
I know, this one sounds scary. Won’t that take way more time that I just don’t have? But trust me, having a plan going into the week will lighten your mental load and keep you organized and focused with less effort. For the detailed description of my planning system, you can read, “The Secret to Meal Plan in Under 30 Minutes Per Month” anddownload my meal planning bundle for the full meal planning how-to. It will provide you with the steps I take and some fill in the blank meal planning templates for easy implementation.
3. Keep it simple
We are so accustomed to needing 3 meals a day, including one huge meal at night, but these meals can be simple. Write down 3-4 healthy breakfasts and lunches with things you always have on hand and keep those stocked. I would choose 10-15 dinner options that are super simple for you to cook without having to buy new ingredients or look up a recipe. Then just rotate through those meals so you don’t ever have to think about what to have. If there’s time on the weekend, go ahead and get them ready so you can pull them out easy when needed. I use these bento boxes which help out a ton! Here’s an example of my lists:
Breakfast (add a veggie and fruit on the side)
- Scrambled/hard boiled eggs (can cook ahead of time)
- Pancakes (these freeze easy or the batter can be made the night before)
- Muffins (these freeze easy and make great on the go snacks or meals)
- Yogurt or cottage cheese
Lunch (add a veggie and a fruit)
- Sandwich (whatever we have in hand- meat, pb&j, or grilled cheese)
- Chicken tenders
- Bean, rice, cheese burrito
- Chips with hummus
- Tortilla chips or crackers with hummus
- Yogurt with granola and/or fruit
If I have leftovers from the night before I will use those in place of any of the options above if it’s easier. Also, just because it’s breakfast, that doesn’t mean you have to serve breakfast food. You can feed your family whatever you have at any meal.
4. Prep whenever you can
If you know you’ll have three meals with chopped veggies this week, use small chunks of time whenever you have them to chop some veggies and save them in the fridge. Cook your meat ahead of time. I cook lots of chicken and beef in the Instant Pot ahead of time if I know I’ll need it. If you have 1-2 hours in one block, then you can do all your chopping, seasonings, marinades, etc in one sitting. Do what works best for you and your schedule. I talk more about this in my meal planning bundle and how I utilize my prep time.
5. Take the pressure off
If you know you’re going to have a busier than normal day or you just can’t get the meal you planned on the table and still have the patience you need to parent, then serve your kids cereal for dinner. Not every meal has to be perfect and not every meal has to be perfectly balanced. If you are trying to feed your kids decently nutritious meals most of the time, there is no harm in raiding your cabinets for something easy on days you’re too overwhelmed.
6. Unclutter your kitchen and your pantry
Stock only the items you use all the time in your pantry. You don’t need tons of snack options, spices you’ve only used once, 3 different kinds of grains, and 4 types of rice. Once you’ve made your lists of recurring meals, make a list of the items you need for these meals and stock those. If you need a new spice or grain for a meal you’ve decided to try, get the amount you need from a bulk bin so you don’t have to store the remainder. If your pantry is overflowing, you will be overwhelmed before you start.
The same is true with your kitchen. Do you have drawers of utensils or other items? Do you have to move stuff off your counter to be able to cook your meal? All of these things cause unneeded resistance, which will keep you from making meals or at least from enjoying the process.
Now it’s your turn. And since meal times happen every single day, you can get started right now. Download your free meal planning bundle, let go of all expectations, and simplify your family meals. Taking the overwhelm out of meal time will make your entire life simpler.
Please take a moment to share this with a friend who may have the same struggle. We’re all in this together!
Have a blessed day!