Do you struggle to get healthy wholesome meals on the table daily? Sometimes I put in a great effort and the meal looks fantastic and then the next day comes and I’m thinking “I have to do all this again?!” Here are some tips to make your life easier, help stretch your grocery budget and save you time!
Let all things be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:40
1. Get organized.
The first and most important tip for busy moms is to have some kind of a recipe collection. Whether it be digital, paper binder or even a handwritten notebook. If you don’t like to use recipes then try to make some kind of a master list of your favourite dishes. Categorize and sort them according to your needs. Some categories you could include are:
- breads, crackers & muffins
- veggies & salads
- soups & beans
- miscellaneous (spice mixes etc)
- meal plans
Next, take your recipe collection and draw up a go-to list for quick and easy meals or staples. This would be your top five or so easy healthy meals that you could whip up on a busy day or in an emergency situation (think: unexpected visitors or some kind of household disaster!) This step alone could save you heaps of anxiety and hair-pulling! When you draw up your shopping list always make sure to include any ingredients for these meals. Keep this list with your recipe collection … or in your diary … or on the fridge … or some kind of spot in your kitchen where you won’t lose it and can refer to it often. Here are some examples of what could appear on your go-to list:
- soup & bread
- baked potatoes topped with homemade baked beans, a salad & garlic bread
- easy pasta dishes & salad
- pre-made (frozen) pizzas & salad
- stir fry veggies, tofu & rice
Save a spot in your recipe collection for your weekly and/or monthly meal plans.
2. Failing to plan is a plan to fail.
Before I started planning my meals in advance, I would spend about an hour each day trying to figure out what to make, with my stress levels rising as mealtime got closer and closer! Following a meal plan helps you to easily draw up a shopping list which will ensure you have all the ingredients you need for the week, tells you how much time to allocate towards the meal preparation, allows you the flexibility to change things up a bit without any disasters, lowers your stress levels immensely and gives you the opportunity to efficiently use up leftovers! It just makes sense! If you’re not meal-planning yet … you need to start!
OK, so how?
It may be best to start with a weekly schedule, then possibly progress to a bi-weekly schedule and then, once you’ve got the hang of it, a monthly schedule. There are so many templates for meal planning online, it can be a bit overwhelming. Currently I use a simple monthly calendar as my template and it works great.
Decide which meals you need to plan (ie. breakfast vs lunch vs supper). If you’re new to this, keep it simple. Begin by just planning one meal a day for the week or month. For us, breakfast is pretty much a staple of a grain or two that has been cooked up in a hotbox, some fruit, add-ins (like coconut, raisins or nuts for when the fruit runs out before the week is up), ground-up seeds, soya or rice milk, and bread with a spread. On a Sunday morning we vary it by having something special like scrambled tofu on toast with garlic mushrooms and potato hashers. Or even waffles, muffins, pancakes, omelettes etc. Because breakfast is a staple and we only eat two meals a day, I only need to draw up a monthly meal plan for lunch. Nice.
So let’s talk about a monthly meal planner, as a weekly one is pretty simple and straight forward. When planning meals for a whole month, begin by taking into consideration busy days (shopping/errand days, appointments, birthdays etc). Pencil them onto your meal planner FIRST. Next, take your master list or recipe collection and start selecting recipes and putting them on the planner. You could do this randomly OR to help you with this step, it may be a good idea to setup a ‘schedule’. For example:
- Sundays: rice & legume
- Mondays: soup
- Tuesdays: pasta
- Wednesdays: something easy/leftovers (shopping/errands day)
- Thursdays: wishlist/new recipe
- Fridays: pizza
- Sabbaths: something special/easy to heat up & dessert
You can make this meal plan as simple or as detailed as you require. I always say ‘Keep it Simple’, but when I started making healthy wholesome meals, if I didn’t put in specifics about including a veggie or salads, it never appeared on the plate. Now that I’m in the routine of ensuring we always eat our veggies and salads, I don’t always feel the need to include it on my menu plan.
This is important: plan for a week of leftovers once a month or have a weekly leftover day to use up leftovers in the freezer and give you a much needed break! Also, as soon as the meal is over and we’re cleaning up, I freeze all the leftovers. This stops us from snacking (think: husband midnight snack!) and stops the food from going off in the refrigerator. Leftover sauces and gravies can be used on baked potatoes, veggies or legumes.
Don’t feel guilty if you have to repeat the same meal twice (or more!!) in one month. As you begin, your recipe collection and meal ideas will grow. The idea is just to start, keep it simple for now and gradually build.
Be flexible when using your meal planner. It’s OK to swop today’s meal with one from next week if it’s more convenient or you’ve run out of time etc. That’s the beauty of the meal plan – it allows flexibility.
Add a weekly shopping list or possibly even a monthly (prepping) shopping list to your meal planner. You could either prepare the weekly shopping list separately, or as you are adding the recipes to your monthly planner, make a side note of specific ingredients you know you will need to purchase for that recipe.
Keep your monthly meal plans for next month (or even next year for seasonal foods!), so that you don’t have to do all this work twice. By the following year you will be an expert at meal planning and can simply refine this meal plan with all the great new meals you have discovered over the last year!
3. Cook once, eat twice.
This is so simple and yet saves so much time. Double up your recipe, put it into two casserole dishes, eat the one and freeze the other for a meal on another day. You can do this with pasta dishes, soups, stews, patties, pies, lentil roasts, breads, just about anything!
4. Consider having a prep day.
Having a prep day where you can cook in bulk helps a lot. For example, baking 4 loaves of bread for the week instead of one loaf each day helps save on electricity and time – and here’s another timesaver: use a wet dough that doesn’t require kneading!
Besides bread, you could prep rolls, french loaves (for garlic bread yum!), pizza bases or even pizza dough, muffins, waffles, etc and then pop it all into the freezer.
Buy your veggies in bulk (especially if they are on special!), chop them up and lay them on a baking tray in the freezer so that they freeze individually overnight. The next day place them in large freezer bags ready to be used as needed. This saves a ton of time when it comes to preparing a healthy meal from scratch each day. If you are unsure google the specific veggie to be stored in the freezer. Some veggies require blanching first.
Pressure cook your legumes in bulk and package them in 2 cup portions in freezer bags. Label them with the name and date and freeze.
Stock up on add-ins like patties, ‘meat’balls, falafels, sausage/tofu rolls, pies, quiches, baked beans. Sauces like pasta sauce or pizza sauce. Soups.
You could even take this a step further and prep full dishes like pasta dishes, stews, casseroles.
Ever heard of once a month cooking (OAMC)? Try googling it for many ideas from moms who do all their cooking/meal prep’s over one weekend for the month ahead and freeze it. One could even do something similar on a weekly or biweekly basis.
5. Keep it simple.
Lastly, keep the meals SIMPLE. I used to prepare these fancy plant-based meals for my family every day as I thought this is what was expected of a good mother… and it left me … exhausted! Stick to simple plain foods. Keep the fancy dishes for Sabbath.
Your plate should be:
- 1/4 grains/starch
- 1/4 protein
- 1/2 veggies/salads
So really, rice (or maybe potatoes) with a suitable legume (beans/lentils/tofu), one green veggie, one orange veggie and some salad is an easy simple healthy ‘staple’. Find your staples! Stock up on them and add them to your go-to list! They are a great way to get a meal on the table FAST.
6. Start a photo album.
Are you a visual person? Once you have created a beautifully healthy wholesome meal take a photo of it with your phone! Create a photo album of your meal successes. This is a great way to get you motivated to plan and make more healthy wholesome meals. When you’re at a loss for meal ideas take a quick peek at your album of all the great meals you’ve put together in the past and be inspired!
We’d love to hear your tips and tricks for getting healthy food on the table daily!
Do you plan your meals weekly or monthly? Feel free to link to any meal planners that you use in the comments below. Do you have any favourite go-to meals? What are the staples in your home? Share with us below!