How to simplify weeknight cooking for busy moms + Free Meal Planning Printable’s
When life gets crazy, healthy, home cooked meals often gets pushed to the back burner. I am currently climbing out of a healthy cooking rut (or lack of healthy cooking to be exact) and I’m determined to get myself and my family back on track. I notice a huge difference in myself and my family when we eat healthy, home cooked meals. I for one have more energy,I feel better I sleep better and I actually feel less stressed knowing that I’m giving my body the fuel it needs to thrive.
As a busy mom, who’s life just got even busier which I didn’t think was even possible, I’ve learned to simplify my weeknight meals. Often times I, like I’m sure many other moms, overcomplicate things. But you know the good ol’ saying K.I.S.S – Keep it simple sassy (I would never call you stupid)? Well I’ve learned to apply this principal to all areas of my life, including cooking for my family.
Here is my secret, tried and true, top notch, sophisticated, healthy cooking formula that I use. You ready for it?
- Step 1 – Plan
- Step 2 – Prep
- Step 3 – Shop
Hardly a sophisticated formula but still effective none-the-less. Let’s elaborate on each step.
1. Meal Plan
Having a set plan in place and knowing what meals you’ll be preparing, before preparing them is a game changer. If you’re anything like me, the thought of not knowing what I’m making for dinner as dinner time is approaching stresses me out. And often leads to eating something quick and usually not the healthiest. When you have a set plan in place, you’re intentional about feeding your family hot, home cooked meals.
Here is a simple 3 Step System for providing your family healthy, home cooked meals during the week.
Benefits of meal planning:
- Provide healthy, home cooked meals for your family
- Spend less money
- Save valuable time
- Reduce waste
- Improve your and your family’s health
- Achieve fitness goals
How to meal plan
- Have a designated time each week to sit down and plan your meals. I like to plan every Sunday my meals for the following week.
- Sit down with your weekly schedule and create a meal plan that fits in your schedule. Plan for quick, easy meals on busy nights when time is limited and plan meals that may take a bit longer to prepare on nights that are not as busy.
- Create a shopping list of the ingredients you’ll need as your planning your weekly menu. This way you won’t forget ingredients needed for your meal while it’s still fresh in your head. We’ll get to this in step 3.
- Plan meals that you can stretch out over a couple meals. Cook extra’s so you can have leftovers to turn into another quick, easy meal.
Meal one – Chicken roaster with sweet potato fries
Meal two – Chicken enchiladas with leftover chicken and make a side of rice
Meal one – Breaded chicken cutlets with mashed potatoes
Meal two – Chicken parmesan with leftover cutlet and make a side of veggies
Meal one – Pasta with marinara sauce and meatballs
Meal two – Baked ziti with leftover pasta and make a side of veggies
Here’s what a typical weekly menu looks like in my home.
Monday – I like to cook a lot during the beginning of the week to hopefully have leftovers during the week. Things get complicated as the week goes on and the more food I have made in my fridge the better off i’ll be. I like to make reinforcement meals that I can stretch out throughout the week. Meals that I know will be a good back up that we can grab in a pinch if our schedules get to hectic and I don’t have time to cook a certain night or if the kids don’t like something I make. I usually make a large pot pie or a bunch of chicken cutlets for the kids. And a large pot of chilli or escarole and beans for me and the hubby.
Tuesday – Taco Tuesday. Reoccurring meals each week definitely simplifies meal planning and weeknight cooking. Every Tuesday night is Taco Tuesday. You can change it up to keep things interesting. For example one week It’ll be taco’s, another week can be enchiladas, another week fajitas, another week taco boats… You catch my drift? The premise is pretty much the same.
Wednesday – I like to try a new recipe to hopefully build my repertoire of healthy meals. My go to website to find recipes is skinnytaste.com
Thursday – is a left over night or I resort to quick go-to, healthy meals:
- Pre made meals that I froze previously
- Organic macaroni and cheese (I like Ani’s or Back to Nature)
- Nitrate free hot dogs (I use Applegate)
- Frozen organic pizza, or dinner burrioto’s (I like Amy’s organic)
- Whole wheat or veggie pasta with organic butter and frozen organic vegetables
Friday – we usually make homemade pizza’s or occasionally go out or take in
Saturday – is usually a slow cooker or instant pot meal
Sunday – Italian family dinner of gravy (or is it sauce?) meatballs, sausage and pasta
2. Meal Prep
Spending time prepping your meals will save you a lot of time in the long run when you need it most. You can spend a bulk of time meal prepping on the weekends, the night before or morning of. I know some people who like to meal prep for the week, while others meal prep just enough for the next 2-3 days. You find a system that works for you.
Here are some ways you can meal prep:
- Wash and cut, chop or spiralize vegetables
- Roast vegetables
- Cook up grains, rice or beans. (FYI, dried beans once cooked and cooled, freeze well)
- Make dressings, marinades or sauces
Here are some of my favorite food storage containers that I use and recommend for my meal prep:
3. Grocery Shop
Weather you do on line shopping or take regular trips to the super market, find a system that works for you.
Optimize your Shopping List
There are certain items that you know you need to buy every week, like eggs, milk, bread, etc… Here’s where a master list comes in handy. Instead of writing a new list each week that have the same items on it, create a master list that has all your reoccurring items. This will save you time and you won’t forget important items.
I have multiple master lists for the different stores I go to.
For example at BJ’s I always buy Stonyfield smoothies, Horizon organic half and half and Applegate Bacon. These items are much cheaper than the supermarket so I get these items and a few others every week at BJ’s. These items are always on my BJ’s Master List.
I have another Master Shopping list for Decicco’s. At Decicco’s I buy all my deli items, breads and goat milk, They have the cheapest goat milk than any other supermarket in my area. These items are always on my master list so I never forget an item.
How-to Create a Master Shopping List
You can store your master list in your notes on your phone, an app or take a picture and store in a specified folder in your photos. You can also have them typed out on your desktop and print them out each week.
If you shop online, you’re list is always available to you. Once you create your first shopping list, that list is always available and can be modified as needed. In fact many on line grocery delivery stores give you the option to create different shopping lists. Take advantage of this. Initially they are time consuming, but they will save you lots of time in the long run.
Organize your shopping list by category/isle
If you like to go to the supermarket as opposed to on line shopping, organizing your shopping list is a game changer. I like to organize my shopping lists by isle or category. This makes food shopping super simple. It saves time and keeps you focused, especially if you’re shopping with kids in tow. Ever go to the supermarket with kids and no plan? I have and i’ve gotten all sorts of looks, nods, smiles and OMG’s. It’s most definitely not a good time and not something I do to often, if I can control it.
Having a detailed and organized food shopping list is a game changer. Print this Meal Planning Printable Pack Below.
How-to Create an organized shopping list
Similar to your master list, you can store it on your phone in notes, an app or in a specific folder in photos. I like to have a physical copy of my shopping list that I keep in a sheet protector. This way I can add/delete, edit and update as needed and keep it safe in my big ol mom bag.
Tips for Food Shopping
- Go when you have time and you’re not rushed. This way you can focus on getting everything you need instead of having to make multiple trips to the supermarket.
- Don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry.
- Shop the outer perimiter of the supermarket as this is where all the fresh, minimally processed foods are.
- Contact or email your supermarket to request items that you wish they carried and don’t or items that are less expensive at another local store. Deccio’s lowered their price of goal milk by almost $2 after I emailed them that another store carries it for cheaper. It doesn’t always work in your favor, but it’s worth a shot.
Kitchen tools to help you work smarter not harder
Here are some of my favorite kitchen tools that simplify weeknight meals.
Prep your food the night before, put everything in the crockpot and store it in your refrigerator overnight. The next morning turn it on and slow cook your food throughout the day. By dinner time you will have a healthy, hot meal ready to go.
The instant pot is a multi-functional cooker that is meant for busy moms to get weeknight dinners on the table. I have used it as a pressure cooker, to sauté, steam and slow cooker. It’s also a rice and yogurt maker. It makes things super fast and delicious. You can cook frozen foods in minutes. This is actually one of my favorite kitchen tools. Here’s the Instant Pot that I use.
An air fryer can fry, bake, roast and grill with little to no oil. It makes all your food crispy as if it were deep fried. I have been experimenting with healthy finger foods and I am always pleasantly surprised at how crispy and delicious everything comes out. If you do use oil, be sure you use an oil with a high smoke point such as avocado oil or grapeseed oil to avoid toxins seeping into your food. This is the air fryer that I have.
There you have it… The simple, not sophisticated, plan to cooking healthy, home cooked meals during the busy week.
How many nights a week do you cook for your family? Leave a comment below.
Hi there! I'm Danielle, mom blogger, visionary and dreamer.
I'm on a mission to help moms create a Simply Pure life of Joy + Balance + Optimal Health & Wellness for ourselves and our families.
My goal is to un-complicate life and provide moms with the tools and strategies to make informed decisions so you can live your best mom life. .
Read more about the girl behind the blog here
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