Dinner is the last meal of the day and a time when families can get together and discuss their day – it’s important to make time to eat dinner together as a family. It is also a hectic time for busy moms who are just getting done with work or who have been busy with other activities all day. If you are a busy mom or you know a busy mom, here are some menu planning tips to help make dinner meals easy and even fun.
What’s For Dinner? Menu Planning Tips for Busy Moms
1. Schedule your meals a week in advance.
This is one of the most important planning tips for meals. Knowing what you are going to eat throughout the week means there is less of a chance that you will stop off at the closest fast food joint for a convenient, but unhealthy (and generally much more costly) meal. Decide on the last day of the previous week (let’s say Saturday for the sake of argument) what the menu will be for the following week. Create your shopping list from the list of ingredients to avoid buying what you don’t need at the grocery store.
I use a magnetic white board calendar on our fridge to keep track of all of our family’s appointments and scheduled events. Each week I add in our menu for the week based on each day’s schedule/events. There are some nights we need to be able to “grab and go” at dinner while other nights we can linger around the table together as a family. Planning our meals around our schedule has helped me to be less stressed at dinner time.
We often use a meal planning service like Eat at Home Cooks Weekly Meal Plans to save time and energy – they plan the meals, put together the shopping lists, and hand us the recipes. We just have to make a quick trip to the store to grab the ingredients and throw the meal together!
2. Look for bargains.
Clip coupons, read advertising circulars and the like to decide where the best grocery to shop is for your menu items. If one ingredient is a common denominator in many meals, consider buying in bulk to save money. Common staples like milk, eggs, bread and sugar can be bought in bulk as well. Some stores will have double or triple coupon days when you can save even more.
Personally, I like to do the bulk of my shopping at Aldi – I can save money without having to use coupons, which saves me time during the week. Since we eat the same meals on a fairly routine basis, I can stock up on all our pantry and freezer basics once every month or two, stopping to pick up any fresh products we need for meals once a week.
3. Search online.
After a while your family will get tired of eating the same chicken and rice for dinner every Thursday night. You can get into a menu rut sometimes. Use the Internet to search for new and exciting recipes. Learn to put a twist on old recipes for a new taste.
4. Have a leftover night.
After preparing meals for five or six days, there is bound to be some food left over. Designate one night to be leftover night and let everyone mix and match for dinner. It saves mom from having to throw away any food.
My mom used to call this "smorgasbord" night. She would pull all the leftovers out onto the counter, and we would fill our plates with a little of everything.
Sometimes you might need to double your original recipe when cooking dinner in order to guarantee leftovers later in the week, but cooking once and eating twice is a time-saving tool you'll want to implement!
5. Cook your meals in advance.
After deciding on a menu plan for the week, go ahead and fix as many meals as you can. Bulk cooking is a great way to save time in the kitchen.
Choose a day when the entire family can help like Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon. Each person can take one meal and fix it for the following week. Once everything has cooled, store it in sealed containers or casserole dishes to be frozen until the night it is needed. Freezer meals are a busy mom's best friend!
Having ONE cooking day will save you time in the clean-up effort as well - cook once, clean once!
6. Do prep work in advance.
All of the meals can’t be cooked at once. Some foods just taste better freshly prepared. For them, so as much prep work in advance as you can. Enlist your kids to help chop (give them the kitchen shears instead) vegetables, dice cooked meat, and mix together dry ingredients. The night of the meal, all that is needed is to add the wet ingredients and bake.
I am a big fan of buying in bulk and processing as much of our food in bulk. Ground beef is one of our "frequent ingredients" for our quick and easy meals (like Easy Dump & Crock Chili) - I buy it in 5-10 pound packages and brown it all at once, freezing it in meal-sized portions once it's cooked.
Meal time doesn’t have to be all on mom.
The entire family can get involved with the dinner prep so it is a relaxing and enjoyable meal for everyone. Over the last year or so, I've begun training my kids in the kitchen, teaching them basic kitchen and cooking skills so they can begin to help with the dinner preparation process.
My 9yo can now cook several meals in their entirety (including Beef Stew and Noodles) without my assistance, freeing me up to be able to help with homework, housework, or other parenting responsibilities instead of being tied to the kitchen during the pre-dinner hours.
Cleaning up from dinner is another area where the whole family can help. My oldest two (7 & 9) are responsible for after-dinner cleanup, including clearing the table, rinsing the dishes, putting away the leftovers, and emptying and loading the dishwasher.
Getting your whole family involved helps to make dinner time less stressful for busy moms.
original image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jay_defehr/8587483603
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