Are you constantly dreading having to make dinner, especially because it feels like there is never enough time? Here are some excellent ideas for your weekly meal plans that will save you time, money, and effort when cooking for your family.
Last year I wrote a comprehensive post on how I meal plan every week. It is perfect for the beginner who wants to learn how to plan her weekly meals easily and quickly.
This post is the companion to that one because it goes further into detail on some of the tips and tricks I use in my weekly meal plans
Now that I am a working mother I have found I simply don’t have as much time to spend cooking dinners every night from scratch. It is much easier if at least some portion of the dinner is started before I get home. So now I have learned to incorporate my crock pot, purposeful leftover, early preparation, and freezer meals into my repertoire.
Weekly Meal Plans
Preparation Is Everything!
When I was a stay at home mother, I would usually make dinner from start to finish about thirty minutes before it was ready to serve. Occasionally I needed a bit longer, but for the most part I could get things done in half of an hour. But now I am coming home at the time I usually served dinner, which is 5:00 pm, and the kids are hungry! So I only have about 15-20 minutes with which to prepare a wholesome meal my family will enjoy.
For me, the key to getting it all done in less time is to change my process. Instead of waiting until I get home to start dinner, I will make as much as possible ahead of time!
For example, if I am planning on serving Thai steak tacos, I can prepare all of the vegetables in the morning and keep them in Tupperware until it is time to eat. I can also have the steak already sliced into thin pieces. Then all I have to do when I get home is cook the rice and the steak. As a matter of fact, I have been thinking of investing in a rice cooker because it would be even more ideal if I didn’t have to wait the 20 minutes it takes to cook the rice!
When I am utilizing my slow cooker, I often make the recipe (like chicken tortilla soup) inside of the inner dish the night beforehand and then take it out in the morning, set it in the outer container, then set it and forget it!
Saving those precious moments really helps when I get home and the kids are clamoring for dinner!
One Dish Two Ways
Homemakers have always been big fans of leftovers, and I am no exception. I love it when I can make one dish and serve it for dinner, and then take part of it and either freeze it for later, or reuse it a day or two later for a completely different meal! You have no idea how much time this saves.
In my eCookbook I have a four week meal plan and in every week there is one dish that is served two ways. For example, the meat on the Frito Chili Pie can be doubled and then served later as Sloppy Joes! Or it can be frozen to be used later in the month! Either way the time it takes to prepare and cook it is the same whether it is one batch or two!
The Freezer Is Your Friend
I am fairly new to freezer cooking because I never really needed to freeze meals for later- I preferred to cook my meals fresh. But now that I am working I have found my freezer to be my best friend! What I learned is I have to plan on using the meals I freeze within a few weeks or I forget they exist and then they sit forever in the ice box until it spoils. Therefore I try to cook a double batch of something each week, and then I add an already frozen meal to my meal plan. That way I can rotate what is in my freezer and nothing goes bad.
Tried And True Is Good For You
Even though I love to try new things, my kids aren’t nearly as experimental as I am. They tend to want to eat the same five meals every week.
At first it bothered me because I wanted to challenge myself and my taste buds. Now I am embracing their lack of adventure because it makes my meal planning so much easier! I mentioned before my eCookbook with twenty of my family’s favorite meals. In it I have all of the standards my kids love and a four week meal plan, so I don’t even have to think about it any more! All I do is print off the week’s meal plan and then make my grocery list!
When All Else Fails: Use The Pantry
You might be the most organized type A on the planet, and there are still going to be times your meal plan just doesn’t work out. Maybe you are sick of the meals you have planned. Or maybe you couldn’t get to the grocery store.
No matter what the reason, there will be times when you need to cook using ingredients you have on hand at all times.
I have at least three dishes that I can make right out of my pantry and fridge/freezer. One of them is my favorite Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. I always have the ingredients I need on hand, and my family loves this dish! Win-win!
Now you just need to come up with a few pantry meals of your own and make sure you are always stocked with those ingredients.
For more weekly meal plans, check out these resources:
- Easy Weeknight Meals For Moms On The Go: So you can crush the dinnertime chaos!
- 20 Easy & Delicious Weeknight Meals: My eCookbook with a four week meal plan.
- Meal Planning 101: Meal planning for beginners.