How To Meal Plan With A Busy Schedule

How often do you find yourself coming up with last minute dinner ideas or feeling like you have nothing to cook for the week? This happens to a lot of busy people and it can be frustrating.

The main problem is that we don’t plan our meals in advance. We end up running around, stressed out, trying to figure out what’s for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. That’s all about to change though with these 12 tips on how to meal plan with a busy schedule.

how to meal plan when life gets busy

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Benefits Of Meal Planning

  1. Time savings – Meal prepping and planning can save you time in the long-run by eliminating the need to decide what to make each evening. Do the work upfront and save time later.
  2. Money savings – Pre-planning meals can help you budget for ingredients better and reduce food waste. You can create charts and lists on where to find the best prices- saving you money.
  3. Healthier eating – By planning out your meals, you can ensure that your meals are healthy and nutritionally sound. Last minute decisions usually end up with unhealthy choices.
  4. Variety – Meal planning helps you try new recipes and explore different cuisines. It’s always good to keep your staples, but planning ahead will help create room to try new things.
  5. Less stress – No more last minute scrambling trying to figure out what to eat or worse, resorting to takeout. Everyone in your family will be much happier with less stress about meals.
  6. Increased accountability – Having a plan can help keep you on track with meeting your nutrition goals. Feel better and have more energy by planning ahead and eating smart.
how to meal plan with a busy schedule

How To Meal Plan With A Busy Schedule

Meal planning is a great way to stay organized, save money, and make sure you’re eating healthy with your busy schedule. From making grocery lists and prepping ahead of time to batch cooking and using leftovers, there are plenty of strategies for meal planning so that it works for your lifestyle. Here are some tips on how to meal plan with a busy schedule.

1. Set Aside Time To Plan Meals

Meal planning will never be a one-and-done item on your to-do list. There is no magic plan where you can just snap your fingers and it’s done forever. You eat every day, so you’ll have to think about it every day. Even with a busy schedule, you have to set aside time to plan your meals and stick with it.

This can really be done any day of the week, but it’s best if you do it on a regular basis so that meal planning becomes part of your routine. Most people will need to plan weekly, but you could do the brunt of the work by planning an entire month in advance and then work down from there. 

2. Start By Planning An Entire Month

When you’re planning out your meals for an entire month, it’s important to think about the different types of meals that you’ll want to have. You might want to plan a weekly dinner rotation with some leftovers or snacks thrown in there as well. But don’t forget about breakfast and lunch too! Planning out all of your meals for a month at one time can seem overwhelming, but you’ll be surprised by how much easier it makes things.  

Planning an entire month in advance is the best way for how to meal plan with a busy schedule. You won’t have to worry about what’s for dinner that night or the next day. You could even create your own calendar and write down what you’ll be eating each day. This will help keep you organized and on track. I go over the step-by-step process in my post Meal Planning (Part One) – The Process.

meal plan calendar

3. Perfect Each Category One At A Time

When you’re planning out your meals for the week, it’s best to start with one category of food at a time. For example, you might want to start by planning all of your dinner ideas for the week. This way you can make sure they all work well together and see where you might have leftovers for lunch.

You also want to focus on one category at a time when you are trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. For example, don’t try to come up with all new recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, the kids, freezer meals, holiday meals, etc. This is information overload and will cause you to plummet. Instead, choose just one of those categories each week, or even each month, and really figure out what works for you.

4. Organize Your Recipes

If you have a lot of recipes that you like to cook, it’s best to organize them in some way so that it’s easier to find them. For example, you can create a recipe binder with dividers for all of your different meal categories and place recipes in there. Or you can create bookmarks and folders on your computer to organize online recipes. I do both of these methods!

Start by organizing just one category at a time – breakfast, lunch or dinner ideas – then move on to another category when you’re finished finding recipes online or pulling them from your cookbooks. I also have one giant list of meal ideas in a spreadsheet, which helps when I start planning each month.

5. The Freezer Is Your Friend

If you’re still struggling to come up with enough recipes or meals when meal planning once a month, then it might help if you make extra of some of your favorite dishes and freeze them. This way, you’ll have a meal to heat up in the microwave or oven that’s already made and doesn’t require any extra work on your part.

You can use large freezer bigs for certain types of meals. I also suggest buying some good containers if you plan to prep meals for the freezer or the fridge. I love glass containers, as I think they work the best at storing and reheating.

freezer meals

6. Use Visuals

If you’re someone who likes to see things visually, then it might help if you make visuals for your weekly meal plan. This could be something as simple as a list on the fridge with what’s for dinner, or a collage with pictures that include different healthy foods the kids can eat for snacks.

You can also get creative and make a food collage or even a Pinterest board with all of your favorite recipes. The more visuals you have, the easier it will be to follow along and see what to cook.

7. The 10-Minute Prep

If you’re short on time, then it might help to do a ten-minute meal prep each day. This means taking just ten minutes out of your day to prepare some of your meals for the evening or next day. Jessica Merchant talks about this method in her cookbook, Everyday Dinners, which I highly recommend for great recipes and tips! This is such a good strategy for how to meal plan with a busy schedule.

You can cook rice in advance, chop vegetables, make a salad or even cook a protein like chicken or turkey. This will help you save time later on in the day when you’re short on time and don’t want to cook anything from scratch.

8. Make Food You Like

One of the biggest mistakes that people make is to plan meals or recipes they don’t like. This is a recipe for disaster and will leave you eating fast food or takeout because it’s easier than making something that you don’t want to eat! Make sure that all of your meals are things that you like to eat. This way, there will be no complaining and everyone in the family is happy with what’s for dinner 🙂

recipes for meal planning

9. Keep Track Of Meals That Work

One of the best ways to make meal planning easier is by keeping track of meals that have worked well for you in the past. This could be a list of recipes that you liked, or even just a general category like “quick and easy meals.”

If you have a few go-to recipes that always work, then make sure to add them to your monthly meal plan. This will help you save time later on when you’re looking for something quick and easy to cook.

10. Cook Once – Eat Twice

If you’re looking for an easy way to save time when meal planning, then cook once- eat twice. This means cooking a double batch of one of your favorite recipes and eating it twice during the week, or saving it as a freezer meal.

This can be especially helpful if you have a busy schedule and don’t have time to cook all week. Simply make enough for leftovers or double your recipe so that you’ll have plenty of leftover food to eat later on in the week, or even for lunches.

recipe ideas

11. Keep The Pantry Stocked

If meal planning is easier when your pantry is stocked, then make sure to keep it stocked well in advance. You can even organize your pantry by meal category and/or grocery list so that you know exactly what ingredients you need for each recipe or dinner during the week.

Also make sure to keep ingredients on hand that can be used to make quick, no directions needed, recipes. This always comes in handy when unexpected circumstances arise.

12. Be Realistic

If you’re struggling with meal planning because of unrealistic expectations, then maybe try a different approach. Make sure to start with simple recipes that have a short list of ingredients and a small number of steps. This will help make your life a little bit easier and you won’t feel so overwhelmed when looking at your weekly meal plan.

Remember to be realistic with your plans, but also be realistic in knowing that meal planning will take time. It will take time to find out what works, and it will also be a process each week and each month. Accept it and get good at it!

meal prep tools

My Favorite Meal Prep Tools

Whether you’re just getting started prepping meals or have been on this journey for a while, having the right meal prep gadgets can make all the difference when it comes to making time-saving prep work easier and more enjoyable. These are a few of my favorite meal-prep tools that make planning, prepping, and enjoying nutritious meals simpler than ever before.

Weekly Shopping List

Weekly grocery shopping can be a chore, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right planning and preparation, stocking up your fridge and pantry with delicious foods for the week can be an easy and enjoyable task. I’ve got a few tips to make grocery shopping simple and more budget-friendly.

  • Decide how you will make a list of what you need for the week ahead. I use a Weekly Planner on my fridge, so that each family member can easily write things needed where it’s visible. I also use a Grocery Planner app to organize all items at each store I frequent.
  • Compare prices between different stores to look for the best deals. This will take a little upfront work, but I highly recommend making a spreadsheet to keep this organized and save money.
  • Buy in bulk when it makes sense to save money on staples like rice, flour, and beans. If the expiration date is far away- stock up!
  • Look for seasonal produce when you can as they usually cost less than grocery store alternatives. And buy produce that’s on sale. If you planned to have asparagus as your vegetable for dinner, but broccoli is on sale, switch it up!
  • Try out new recipes or meal prep ideas that make use of what’s already available in your pantry or fridge. Always use up ingredients, so you aren’t wasting food.
meal plan with a busy schedule

Meal planning doesn’t have to be hard, especially if you use some of the tips that I’ve shared in this post. Just take it one step at a time and don’t try to do everything all at once. Start by setting aside some time each week to plan your meals, and then work on perfecting each meal category before moving onto the next one.

The more organized you can be when meal planning, the easier it will get each week and before long you’ll have your plan down to a science without any problems at all! Good luck and enjoy this new skill – I promise, once you start doing it consistently then there’s no going back. You won’t want to!

Related posts:

Themed Dinner Nights

45 of the Best Instant Pot Dump Recipes

Time Saving Tips For Busy Moms

Meal Planning For Picky Eaters

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