Meal Planning for the Busy Mom

It isn't a secret that I really do not enjoy cooking. It's partly because I am not that great at it - I don't have the imagination or the palate of a cook. You know, someone who can open the fridge and come up with a complete meal with what they are looking at in front of them. And I am not one to taste something and immediately be able to point out that it needs a pinch of this or that to make it better. Furthermore, I hate the mess. I feel like I am constantly cleaning the kitchen. Cooking just adds to the cycle. I am the type of person who has to start with a clean kitchen before messing it up to make a meal only to clean it up once again. And just so much work!

The boys get to write messages
on the bottom portion of the
chalkboard. Ethan wrote today's
...but then Hudson added
his message :)
Lately, however, I have really been getting back into the habit of meal planning. I have found that when I am totally organized - browsing Pinterest for recipes, using weekly planning templates, writing out grocery lists and getting creative on my cutesy menu chalkboard - the whole cooking thing is a little less anxiety-inducing. I actually enjoy it more when I feel like I have it all planned out. And although my husband laughs and shakes his head at my list-making and hour-long planning process, I don't hear him complaining about the end result. I will admit though, sometimes I just don't have it in me by the time he gets home so I'll hand over the recipe and say, it's your turn tonight. Usually he happily obliges - he enjoys cooking after all.

I thought it would be helpful to share what works for me - a busy stay-at-home mom of 4 hungry boys and 1 hungry husband. With a little bit of planning, I have been able to try new recipes and feed my family healthy meals for around $500/month. It may sound like a lot, but if you break it down, that actually includes all the food for breakfast, lunch, snacks and the pre-planned dinners for 6 people for 30 days. That's roughly 540 meals in a month (3 meals a day for 6 people = 18 meals x 30 days = 540) which comes out to just over $1/meal. (Although Nolan doesn't "eat" food yet, what we spend at the grocery includes his formula so I just lumped him in the equation).

I do save money in many different ways - coupons, shopping sale items, buying in bulk when possible, making things homemade instead of buying prepackaged, etc. But that is an entirely different blog post so for now, I'll just stick to sharing my meal planning process.

Here is the method to my madness:
  1. I gather all my materials. I spent a lot of time putting together a meal-planning binder which has been extremely helpful in keeping this process organized. In it I keep several copies of my weekly meal plan template and grocery list template, our favorite go-to recipes, and already completed meal plans for using again in the future.
  2. On a blank sheet of paper I begin to sift through recipes and write down some that make the cut that week. My favorite sources are the 100 Days of Real Food website (ah-mazing site...but you'll need a lot of time to read through all she has to offer), Pinterest, the Hungry Girl cookbook, my crock-pot cookbook and the Tastebook I made for Ricky a few years ago that is personalized with family favorites we each grew up with. I usually only plan out dinners - unless there is a special occasion or I'm in a rut or something - then I will plan out breakfast and lunch as well. I try to choose a variety that includes chicken, pork, beef and meatless options. I typically go to the grocery once every 2 weeks, so most of the time I complete two weeks worth of meal plans. I choose about 10 dinner recipes, leaving a few days open for leftovers, "you choose" nights and the occasional going out to eat or ordering in.

  3. Next, I take a look at my calendar. It sounds weird but if I don't take into consideration what I have going on that week, I usually end up getting off track. For instance, I'll be sure to choose easy to make recipes on nights the boys have soccer practice. Or crock-pot meals on days that I am doing a lot of running around and won't be at home to prepare a meal at dinner time. Then I take my list of chosen recipes and assign them to a day throughout the week.

  4. Finally, I start at the beginning of the meal plan and write out any and all grocery items needed. I love this grocery list template (I found it here) because it is broken down into the sections you shop at the store. It makes it much easier to check off the items as you go when, for instance, you can go down the freezer aisle and see everything you need in once spot on your list. After I have everything written down that I need for the recipes, I add in other staples, household items, snacks, and extras we might need to stock up on.

I keep the written out meal plan in the binder on the counter to refer to as needed, but I write out the menu for the week on our kitchen chalk board. I love the little nook where it hangs and the boys love checking the "menu" each night (and complaining or cheering depending on what we are having).

So there you have it! I have fine-tuned this process over the past year, working out the kinks and doing things that are most convenient for our family. Sometimes I skip a week (or two) if I'm really busy or just don't feel like doing it. I'd love to hear some of your tips and I'm happy to answer any questions if you have them!

*** I'll be posting some of my favorite recipes in the near future.
*** If you want to download my meal-planning template, click here!


  1. . I try to choose a variety that includes chicken, pork, beef and meatless options. I typically go to the grocery once every 2 weeks, so most of the time I complete two weeks worth of meal plans. I choose about 10 dinner recipes, leaving a few days open for leftovers, "you choose" nights and the occasional going out to eat or ordering in.

  2. I just finished the detox... and OMG!! it was DEFINITELY hard... BUT there is a big difference!! even for my boyfriend! he doesnt have to suck in his stomach to button his pants on the 2nd day already! (kep in mind he wasnt a believer at all) I want to advise... DONT GO TO THE GYM if youre detoxing within these 3days.... its... TOUGH... and i almost fainted a few times... if you are STILL wanting to go... go light... I wasnt able to do the 3 day bath... WISH I HAD!! But Im sure it was worth it! Next time!! And i do agree... the cayenne pepper... OMG!! i couldnt really stand it...3rd day i COMPLETELY omitted it... and YES... please invest in a blender that BLENDS WELL!! i had to suffer with chunkies! not fun >.< Thanks Taryn! I will definitely but the fruits in the freezer and do this detox often!