After a busy day, the last thing I want to do is go home and try to make dinner for my picky eaters…but we've gotta eat, right? After struggling with too many fast food dinners and poorly planned meals that required a last minute trip to the store, I finally said no more! While tackling meal planning was a challenge initially, I feel like I've finally gotten the hang of it. I wanted to share a few things I learned along the way.
Here are three tips that have saved my sanity when it comes to dinner time. If you are looking for some ways to save time (or money), you've come to the right place. (Just so you know in advance, this post contains a few affiliate links. I would never share something that I don't use myself and whole-heartedly recommend.)
#1. Make a meal plan once a week (or create a 4-week rotation).
For the majority of the past year, I focused on one week at a time. it. I also get the advantage of being able to buy the whole month of nonperishables at once if a good sale is on. However, more recently I've started building a rotation of meals I know my kids will eat. The bonus has been that I've been able to set up a whole month of meals on our schedule without spending a ton of time doing it.
When it comes down to the day-to-day process of meal planning, I write our weekly plan on this cute little whiteboard I got from the Target Dollar Spot each Sunday. This helps me because I can take a quick peek in the morning and grab what I need from the freezer. My husband and I are on the same page, making it easy for him to start dinner if he gets home first. Writing out each week on Sunday let's me make any adjustments for busy days or special events…like parent conference week…so I can skip cooking and pick up pizza those days.
#2. Shop with a list & use Ibotta – Meal planning can save you $$!
Okay, this one serves a dual purpose in my house. First off, a list keeps me from buying random junk,
but I can also browse my Ibotta app before I go and get cash back (or Starbucks gift cards). So far this year, I've earned $160 cash back just by buying things I would've already bought and scanning my receipt. Sign up here (this is my affiliate link) and you'll automatically get $10 when you redeem your first rebate.
Secondly, I can plan my list using my meal plan so I know I have all the ingredients I need for the meals I have in my plan. Sometimes I even adjust my meals based on an ingredient that I know I will need to use up. For example, if I use half a tomato in a salad on Monday, you might find us making margarita pizza on Tuesday around here. Again, major money saver.
#3. Include 2-3 slow cooker meals each week.
This slow cooker has been my lifesaver over the last few years as we transitioned from one kiddo to two at home. It saves me at least an hour a week and a TON of whining (the kids, not me…most of the time). I can prepare any ingredients for the meals right when I get home from the store and pop it in the fridge or freezer in a gallon-sized bag. All I have to do is line my crockpot with a slow cooker liner (another awesome time saving tip for clean up), open the bag, and pour in dinner. By the time I get home with the kids, its hot and ready to eat, which is perfect because we are all typically exhausted and hungry.
Bonus Tip – Keep at least 1 backup plan on hand…accidents happen.
There are just days when everything goes exactly the opposite as you would have expected. For example, that time I forgot to plug my Crock Pot in and came home to an uncooked pot of what should've been potato soup. For awhile our backup plan was grabbing something on the way home, but we are trying really hard to be more careful about budgeting in our dinners out and McDonald's Hot Cakes because mom forgot to prep dinner does not fit in the budget.
Instead we always keep a few items in our pantry and freezer for a quick, last minute dinner for the girls. Easy Mac, chicken nuggets, and the individual sized serving cups of veggies are staples in my emergency plan. In about 7 minutes, I can have a hot, ready-to-eat meal on the table. It is definitely not what I want my kids eating every day…but in a pinch it saves a ton of headaches.
No matter what, don't give up!
While we've probably set the goal of eating better and spending less on fast food at least 10 times, I can honestly say these tips have made a huge difference in actually making it happen this time. Any week that I spend under budget on groceries or we don't eat out, I toss the extra money in our family vacation fund. Plus, with my Ibotta savings I actually get to enjoy some quick stops at Starbucks on those crazy mornings when there just isn't a moment to spare.
What tips or tricks have you discovered to make managing meal time easier as a busy teacher and mom? I'd love to use your suggestions to help make things even smoother around my crazy house!