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The Ultimate Guide to Stress-Free Meal Planning for Busy Moms

Updated: Aug 18, 2023


Why did no one tell us that as an adult we will have to decide what to make for dinner literally every night. Until the end of time?


Life is undeniably hectic. Whether you're a mom, a working mom, or just a busy individual, we're all caught up in the whirlwind. But what if I told you that meal planning could save you from unnecessary stress, anxiety, and save you so much time? What if you could ditch the dinner drama and instead cultivate a habit of sitting down and planning out healthy meals for the week


Weekly meal planning not only frees up your time and saves you money but also empowers you to make better food choices. As Dale Carnegie famously said, "An hour of planning saves you ten hours of doing." Just imagine what you could accomplish in ten whole hours! Meal planning grants me a sense of control in a chaotic world, preparing me for even the most hectic weeks ahead. It's a simple yet transformative act that saves me time, energy, and my sanity. Afterall, when mama is happy, everyone is happy? Am I right?


In this post, I will guide you through my signature 5-step meal planning process—an effective method to save you time, boost your energy, and help you make healthier food choices throughout the week. Let’s dive in!
















Five Steps to Weekly Meal Planning


Want to plan out healthy and easy meals for the week? Here’s my 5-step process to help you get started. This is the exact process I use every single week to plan out all of my meals for the week. I’ll go into detail about each, but here’s the quick and dirty up front:


  1. Sync your calendar with your partner

  2. Pick which meal you’ll start with first (i.e. dinners only to begin)

  3. Know where your recipes are coming from

  4. Slot in dinners each night & start creating grocery list

  5. Remember to plan for leftovers & takeout when needed


That’s my 5-step process to planning out healthy and family-friendly meals each and every week. You can of course tweak this process to make it work for you where you are in your stage of life right now.


One major caveat to this process is to consider your stage of life right now and modify accordingly. If you’re a brand new mom barely sleeping at night, maybe now isn’t the time to dive into this. If you are an empty nester still adjusting to no kids at home, honor that. If you are working 2 jobs and can barely stay afloat with your schedule, maybe you just start with planning out dinners (versus breakfast, lunch, dinners, and snacks!) Consider your stage of life and honor that!


Let’s unpack each step a bit further and get to the good stuff. I love real, actionable tips and advice, and that’s exactly what you’re going to get in this post.


If you’re loving this advice so far, sign up for my newsletter so that you don’t miss a thing! (p.s. I usually only send 1 email per week because who has time to read 798234 emails from me?)


Start with a Calendar Sync


What is a calendar sync? This is where you sit down with your husband, wife, partner, etc. and share what’s on your calendar for the upcoming week. Who has late meetings, who has dinner out with friends, who has dr appointments, which kid has karate or baseball practice. Basically this is your opportunity to get on the same page and see what the upcoming week ahead holds for you both.


The reason a calendar sync is the first step in my meal planning process is so you can see what nights are busy nights. Which nights are late nights at the ball field, which nights will you or your partner be out for dinner, etc. This helps you decide what nights may be best for takeout or leftovers, too!


Doing a calendar sync also helps prevent the “you didn’t tell me about xyz” as that one person is walking out the door. Communication is key in my house, so this calendar sync helps us out on so many levels. p.s. this is the yearly calendar I bought for 2023, and I'm loving it so far!



Start Small and Work Your Way Up


I usually recommend starting your meal planning journey with only one meal. Start small. Instead of attempting to plan breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks ALL at once from zero, why not just pick one to start with? Say you start with dinners. Plan ONLY dinners for the first few weeks until you feel really comfortable with the process. Then and only then can you add in another meal - say breakfasts.


The reason I recommend starting small and working your way up is so that you don’t get overwhelmed and feel defeated if you don’t do it perfectly. Master one thing first. Feel the WIN from that. Then layer on more on top of that.


Remember, your goal is progress not perfection. The goal isn’t to go from zero meal planning to perfectly and precisely planning out 3 meals/day for 7 days/week. Progress, my friend.



Know Where Your Recipes/Meal Ideas Will Come From


Imagine this: You’re ready to start meal planning. You’ve sat down with coffee and a calendar. You did your calendar sync. You’ve chosen to start with dinners first. Then…it’s time to actually pick out the meals. UGH. Where to start? What recipes do I choose? Where do I choose them from? Cookbooks vs. Pinterest?


Decide 1-2 places to be your GO TO for recipes. Love cookbooks? Grab 2-3 of your faves for this meal planning process. Love TikTok for recipes? Grab your phone and peep the toks you’ve saved. Love Pinterest? Pull out your phone or computer and get to browsing your fave pins. Make it easy on yourself. My personal favorites are Pinterest and a few select food blogs. I keep a Top 25 Recipes board on Pinterest to reference for my meal planning. It houses the top 25 tried and true recipes that are NOT new to me. I know I like them. I know they’re easy and healthy. I can rotate these easily.


*Side Note* In my monthly membership, I share 5 healthy and easy recipes with members every single week! (gasp!) Check out THRIVE, the membership here. Soooo that could definitely help you beef up your collection of easy and healthy recipes for meal planning! (pun intended)






















Start Plugging in Meals & Create Your Grocery List


Slot in tacos or fajitas in the Tuesday spot. Plug in easy chicken stir fry on Wednesday. Plan for leftovers on Thursday since your kid has karate that evening. Plug & play here. Once you have your week filled up (yes takeout and leftovers are totally allowed, too! More on that in a bit) you can start working on your grocery list.


I get a large, lined piece of paper and list out the ingredients needed for each meal I’ve planned for the week. Then, I add in my ‘weekly staples’ that I need to replenish every week. Helpful hint - we use our Amazon Alexa device as a running grocery list. So, if my husband uses the last of the almond milk, he just says, “Alexa, add almond milk to my grocery list.” GAME. CHANGER. When it’s time to top off your grocery list, you have a running list of what you’re out of already! WINNING!


Heading to the grocery store armed with a precise list is a total and complete game changer. You save time, you save money, and you are going to make healthier choices when shopping off a list vs. just your memory or a whim. Ever gone grocery shopping while you’re hungry? Same concept here. Make a plan ahead of time. Your future self will thank you!



Plan for Leftovers, Takeout, or “DIY Dinners”


Leftovers, takeout, and a term I use called “DIY dinners” are a STAPLE around our house on busy weeks. As much as I love meal planning, I don’t always have the time or energy to cook every single night. Every week we have leftovers at least once a week. Also, we have pizza night *almost* every Friday night. Knowing that I get a break from cooking throughout the week is a saving grace to me.


Don’t love leftovers? Why not try to zhuzh up your leftovers. If you made Tacos on Tuesday with ground turkey and veggies, why not repurpose and make omelets with the meat/veggies. Or you can make stuffed sweet potatoes with your leftover taco meat and veggies. Getting creative with repurposing the leftovers helps it not feel like the same meal over and over. If you make a large batch of chili in the crock pot, you can freeze half it and come back to those leftovers in a few weeks! You’re working smarter not harder here, sis!


The term ‘DIY Dinners’ is something I started saying when I just didn’t feel like cooking. DIY dinners are just easy things you can throw together yourself. Aka - you are on your own, hubby! So, for example, my husband may make a cheese omelet and peanut butter toast for dinner. I may make chicken nugget salad for dinner. The kids may have cheese quesadillas for dinner. The idea is that a ‘DIY dinner’ is suuuuper easy and can come together with things you usually already have in the house. These are amazing for the nights where your plans change, you aren’t feeling well, or you just literally cannot muster up the energy to cook what you had planned. No worries!


Let’s Put it All Together


Implementing a weekly meal planning routine can be a game-changer for busy moms like me. By taking the time to plan out your meals for the week ahead, you take back control over your dinner choices, reduce stress, and set yourself up for success in making healthier food choices.

Not only does meal planning save you time and money, but it also empowers you to prioritize your healthy habits. Yes, it does take a bit of time and effort upfront, but the benefits you reap are worth it. You'll feel more prepared, more organized, and less overwhelmed when it comes to mealtime. (yes!!)

Remember, Dale Carnegie's words: "an hour of planning saves you ten hours of doing." By dedicating a little time each week to meal planning, you unlock precious hours that can be spent on things that truly matter to you like running your business, spending time with your kids, or getting your nails done.

If you want to dive deeper into this topic, I’ve got a FREE resource that is the perfect next step for you - How to Plan a Week of Meals in Under 20 Minutes. This masterclass is a deeper dive into my 5-step signature process and also comes complete with a PDF workbook and checklist to make sure you are set up for success! The best part about this masterclass is that you can pop in your headphones and listen to this on the go! Listen while you drive the kids to school. Listen while you take an afternoon walk. Listen while you do the dishes. Listen as many times as you need! Snag the free class, How to Plan a Week of Meals in Under 20 Minutes here.


Remember, when you start out your meal planning journey, it may be a little messy at first. The goal is just to start small. Nail your process. Get comfortable with the meal planning, and then add on from there! Progress over perfect…EVERY DAY.


If this was helpful, let me know! Send me an email or a DM on Instagram. I’d absolutely LOVE to hear from you, my friend!


Happy Meal Planning!


XOXO,


Jessica







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