Many parents find themselves so busy with work, school, extracurricular activities, errands, etc. that cooking weeknight meals may seem impossible. But in reality, eating at home can be faster, easier and more affordable that eating out—even on those busy school nights. With a little extra planning ahead of time, you can save yourself a lot of hassle on a busy evening. Try these tips for quick and easy meal planning:
1. Make Two: If you’re making one casserole, simply double the ingredients and make two meals from one. Eat one now and freeze the other to save for dinner another night. Boom.
2. Go Double Duty: Use extra ingredients to make two versions of the same meal. For example, leftover taco meat could become enchiladas, nachos or chili. Grilled chicken breast could be used for a salad, soup or a casserole.
3. Stock the Freezer: Fill your freezer with both pre-made and homemade items to have on hand for a busy week. For example, items such as frozen pizza or frozen chicken strips can be used for a salad or wrap.
4. Stock the Pantry: These must-have staples to keep on hand could be spaghetti noodles, rice, beans—You can turn these to make quick pasta, burritos or quesadillas when you’re in a bind.
5. Buy Pre-Made Ingredients: Pre-cut vegetables, cooked rotisserie chicken and ready-to-grill meats are perfect for a busy family as they save a lot of prep time and require less cleanup.
6. Use the Slow Cooker: Toss some things together in the morning and come home to a hot meal after a long day. Ingredients for slow cooker meals can be prepared in advance and stored in the freezer in zip-top bags. Just add to the slow cooker and turn it on during your busy morning.
7. Hold Theme Nights: You could do Pasta Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Stir Fry Fridays and so on. To make it even easier, repeat every week to streamline your grocery list, steady your grocery budget and simplify meal planning.
8. Have a Leftover Night: Designate one night a week to eat whatever is in the fridge—come what may. This will, of course, save you time and money and even perhaps add an element of fun.
9. Involve the Kids: Get the kids involved in meal planning, food prep, and most importantly, enjoy mealtime together. (Maybe they’ll be a tad less demanding if they begin to appreciate the work that goes into meal prep.)
10. Go Out: There’s zero shame in relenting. Add a “night out” to your meal plan to treat yourself and your family, be it once in a while or once a week depending on your budget and desire to reward yourself for a job well done, Mom and Dad!
Sarah Lyons is a guest contributing writer and a busy mom of six children—including a set of triplets—who uses meal planning every week to make sure there is time for dinner with her family.