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9 Ways to Simplify Meal-Planning for Busy Moms

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As a busy mom caring for three children under the age of three, meal planning is a major part of Amy's routine.

This sun-dried tomato chicken dish is one of my new favorite baked meals.

This sun-dried tomato chicken dish is one of my new favorite baked meals.

1. Do Away With Weekly Grocery Shopping Trips

Saying goodbye to my ritual Saturday morning grocery shop has been one of the best breakups I've ever had! I have replaced my weekly shopping trips with one monthly shopping trip. It takes more work and time upfront to plan for a whole month, but once it's done, it's done! I do have to run in to the grocery store occasionally for fresh produce items or have my husband swing by on his way home after work from time to time. However, I don't consider running in for two or three items equivalent to making a weekly grocery trip. You may be wondering what I do with a month's worth of food?

2. Freeze Your Meals

That's right, I typically prepare meals four at a time and we eat one fresh and freeze the rest. I do this by doubling most casserole recipes and then dividing them into four 8x8 foil pans. There are two incredible perks to this method worth mentioning here:

  1. I cook a meal one time to get four meals. That means doing practically the same amount of work to get four times the meals.
  2. I only double the meal, but by separating it into smaller portions, we waste less and spend less.

I used to think freezing meals meant sacrificing flavor and freshness, but if you freeze and store properly you don't have to compromise either one.

3. Adjust Recipes to Accommodate Your Family Size

In my family, we have two adults and three hungry toddlers. If you only have one adult and two small children you probably aren't going to consume an entire casserole that serves six to eight people. Rather than waste half the dish, use smaller foil pans to for baking and separate the meal into two pans. You can use one for the day of preparing and wrap the other tightly in cling wrap and foil then freeze it—just don't forget to remove the plastic wrap and re-cover the pan with foil before baking once you decide to serve it. Another option would be to just cut the recipe in half from the get-go, but I always prefer to maximize my meals for each recipe in order to save money and time.

4. Utilize Sale Ads and Price-Matching

Always use coupons and price-matching policies to your advantage when they are available at your local grocery store. This alone will help save money. I usually look to see what fruits are on sale each week and that's what I buy for snacks over other fruits that aren't on sale.

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5. Create a Master List of All the Meals You Make

If you try new recipes often, make sure to include some things you have been wanting to try. Then when you are creating your monthly list, you can refer back to your master list. This helps save a ton of time because rather than going blank trying to think of a month's worth of meals, you are just picking out meals that sound appetizing from a master list. The more meals you have on your master list, the more effective this method is. Be sure to take into consideration how many meals you'll actually need to make for the month. I typically go for 20 dinner meals. However, I only select about 7–9 different recipes because many recipes will be doubled or tripled and then divided to make 2–4 meals.

6. Use the Same Ingredients in Multiple Meals

If you select a meal that requires condiments like sour cream, diced onions, etc., try to pair it with a meal that will use those same ingredients. This will help avoid excess and unnecessary waste. For example, if we are having tacos, I'll usually plan to serve hamburgers soon after to avoid wasting onion and tomatoes. This will help you save food and money!

7. Say Goodbye to Excess Sides

I used to feel like each meal needed to be a five-course dinner. Consequently, a ridiculous amount of food went uneaten. Unless it's a special occasion, there really is no need to have three separate side dishes with each meal.

8. Make Crockpot Meals

Many people don't realize the full potential of their crockpot. It can do so much more than make a roast or chili (not that I'm opposed to a nice, tender roast or some homemade chili on a nice, cool day). There are endless recipes online for making just about anything in a crockpot. Crockpot dishes are perfect for working moms and dads (and even stay-at-home moms or dads) like myself that struggle to prepare time-consuming dishes with toddlers in the home.

9. Make Casserole Dishes

I don't understand why casseroles get such a bad reputation! Casseroles don't have to be bland, weird, or unhealthy. In fact, the photo at the top of this article is a casserole with chicken breast, broccoli, potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery glazed with sun-dried tomato dressing. My favorite things about baking casserole dishes are that I don't normally need to worry about making sides or having an excessive amount of dishes to wash. Another benefit to making casseroles is that with most recipes, you can prep the night before and just refrigerate overnight until you're ready to pop it in the oven. Oftentimes, I'll prep a casserole dish during naptime and then refrigerate it until close to dinner time.

© 2017 Amy Dean

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