You hear it from moms in all stages of parenthood— planning and prepping meals for the family is one of the most time consuming and often, stressful parts of the weekly household flow. I’ve always loved to cook, and still do, and it’s a part of my job (I work as a TV host and represent Cuisinart on QVC, so I’m always recipe testing). But now with three little ones, I have far less time, which has required some creative thinking on how to streamline things. My own weekly meal planning sesh got me thinking: How do other moms work meal planning into their week? What strategies or fave go-to easy meals do they have that I’m not using? And most importantly, judging by the responses I get when I share my own tips and tricks on Instagram—it’s clear I’m not the only one who loves to learn from fellow mamas.
featured image via Lauren Anzevino Photography
So, here are a couple of takeaways from some members of our #NJMOM team with different-aged kids who have all kinds of work responsibilities and varied weekly routines—I know I’ve learned a new thing or two and I’m sure you will too.
Marisa (mom of a 4-year-old, 2-year-old and infant): To save time and money, I do all my meal planning over the weekend before I grocery shop (I love grocery delivery like Amazon Fresh or Shipt for the weeks I just can’t get to the store). I try to make it easier by loosely assigning a type of food to a day of the week but mixing up the recipes so we don’t get sick of the same thing. For example, Sundays are a challenging night for us because of my husband’s work and sleep schedule. So, I keep it easy with something like a soup or a simple crockpot dish I can set and forget while I wrangle the kiddos. Mondays are typically a chicken dish— we love easy sheet pan dinners with chicken and veggies. Tuesdays are Taco Tuesdays, and we mix up the fillings or even do taco salads, bowls, or another Mexican dish. Wednesdays are usually pasta of some kind. Thursdays are our wild card, sometimes it’s leftovers, depending on what we have from the week. And then Fridays are usually a treat like takeout sushi or pizza.
I take shortcuts like pre-chopped or steam-in-the-bag fresh veggies, sauté kits or frozen foods from Trader Joe’s. I could talk Trader Joe’s all day because I love how easy they make it for busy mamas to incorporate healthy foods into family meals, but two go-to’s that come to mind are their cauliflower gnocchi (I cook it in the air fryer) or I use a bag of their Mandarin Chicken with their veggie fried rice (sometimes I use stir-fry cauliflower rice for a little nutrition bump).
Shanida (mom of an 8-year-old and 5-year-old): Buying in bulk is a great tip, especially for picky eaters. When I know it’s something my kids like and eat regularly, I like to stock up to be prepared. I’ve also found that adding in packaged and pre-chopped items makes an easy recipe even that much easier. One of our go-to’s is fajitas, and they’re super simple when you have some time-saving shortcuts like sliced chicken tenders, packaged guacamole and pre-chopped peppers. And, I often go hunting: I love soy matcha tea latte in the morning and used to hit up Starbucks regularly until my hubby found the drink at an Asian supermarket. The half-gallon costs the same as a grande, saving me time and money.
Christine (mom of an infant): As a new mom, having healthy meals taken care of during the not-sleeping- through-the-night-stage saved me. We did chef-cooked delivery meals from Freshly, which were great, but I love to support local businesses however I can. So, finding local spots that do quality, nutritious takeout was huge. We are big fans of Eat Clean Bro, which has menu options catering to dietary restrictions, and Cavé, which is all paleo, in Avon.
Jamie (mom of an 8-year-old, 5-year-old and 3-year-old): When I grocery shop, I don’t always necessarily have a “weekly menu” in mind, but I do try to shop for well-rounded fresh and pantry staples that I know I can turn into healthy, simple meals during the week. For example— ground turkey, salmon filets, chicken breast, eggs, at least 3 types of fresh veggies, cherry tomatoes, and even more fruits (both fresh & frozen). I always have basic pantry staples on hand like canned beans, canned tomatoes, couscous, chicken stock, rice, pasta—and I’m big on buying family packs because, well, three growing boys.
Lately, I’ve started prepping weekly vegetables. While actual meal prepping and planning is out of my wheelhouse, I have been wanting to incorporate more greens into our family’s daily meals, and veggies seemed like the easiest thing to prep. I’ll buy two large bunches of swiss chard, then wash, rough chop and sauté with whole garlic cloves in a pan. Knowing I have a big container of already cooked greens in the fridge keeps me motivated to reach for a serving with every meal. Other times, I’ll make a big sheet pan of roasted bell peppers and eggplant, and then eat these with my breakfast toast in the mornings. I do enjoy following @carrietalkingmeals who is also a #NJMOM. She is a recipe developer and her family-friendly meals are a great inspiration. Plus, you can take advantage of her free meal planning resource which is just what you need if you’re feeling frazzled.
Taylor (mom of a 4-year-old): I make salsa shredded chicken in our crockpot at least once a week— it’s only two ingredients and can be used in almost every single Mexican dish (my family’s favorite). It’s perfect for nachos, chicken enchiladas, chicken tacos, etc. I freeze the chicken and defrost it whenever we’re short on time for dinner, or don’t know what to make. To make it, combine 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast with 2 cups of salsa in the crockpot, and cook it on high for 4 hours.