Meal Planning For Busy Families – Beginners Guide

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The Beginners Guide to Meal Planning For Busy Families

Beginner's Guide to Meal Planning

Once upon a time, I believed that when I became a mother, I would be naturally amazing at meal planning. Getting dinner on the table at precisely the time everyone happened to be hungry, managing delicious meals every day with no dirty dishes in sight. Oh, and my children would always eat when I served them, and would behave while I prepared our meal. Some fantasy, right?

The reality of motherhood was much harsher. Defined by chaos and anxiety, constant scrambling and ritual 4 o’clock anxiety while I tried to answer the question, “What’s for dinner?” The answer for our family has been a combination of lowered expectations, flexibility, and a weekly plan. Plan for the unplanned – that is my motto when it comes to meal planning. I hope my system works for you and your family as it has worked for mine.

Meal planning for a busy family can be overwhelming and daunting. But with a few steps in your weekly routine and the right amount of planning, meal planning can actually turn into an enjoyable activity!

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What is Weekly Meal Planning?

I do not plan every single meal for my family. I have seen many a graphic on Pinterest that outlines every meal and snack for the week, with accompanying grocery list. Perhaps in a perfect world, they work. But they haven’t worked for us. My husband works and irregular job and travels frequently, sometimes with little notice. And since I have two small kids, most plans end up being more like dreams.

So for me, weekly meal planning looks more like a rough outline. I plan 3-4 sit down dinners, leaving room for a an evening where we might get takeout or go to a restaurant. I make my breakfasts in large batches ahead of time, freezing them if at all possible. Lunches are quick and require little assembly. I prepare snacks for the week ahead of time, and, if at all possible, I leave them where my kids can access them without assistance.

How to get started with Weekly Meal Planning?

Before you do anything else, get out a pen and paper and make some lists!

  • Brainstorm a list of your families favorite things to eat. Bonus points for meals and snacks that EVERY member of your family enjoys.
  • Take an inventory of your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. What are the staples you usually have on hand? 
  • Look over the schedule you have for the week. If the kids have soccer on Tuesday, that might be a great day for a crock pot meal, whereas Sunday, a day we keep relatively free, is the perfect time to make a meal that might be more time consuming.

Lists made? Okay, then. Here is the method.

  1. On Monday, I make my big meal. Big Meal Mondays, I call them. This is how I set myself up for success in the rest of the week. In our house, this looks like a roast chicken, a beef pot roast, or a large batch of marinated and grilled chicken thighs. I make a veggie dish to go along side and prepare enough to ensure leftovers.
  2. Lunches the rest of the week are usually made with repurposed leftovers from Big Meal Monday. If time allows, I will start preparations for lunches along side Monday’s dinner. This can look like mason jar salads, pulled chicken sandwiches, pot roast hash. It can also look like reheated leftovers – you get the idea.
  3. I make breakfast once during the week. Some of our favorites are overnight oats, scrambled eggs, breakfast burritos, and protein pancakes.
  4. Snacks are the easiest! I cut up fruit, meats, and cheese and keep them in the fridge (preportioned if I’m feeling ambitious) for easy access.

Tips for Success

  • Plan for the unplanned – keep your freezer stocked with options that can be prepared in 20 minutes or less. There ain’t no shame in a frozen pizza once in a while.
  • If you can make extra of something to freeze, do it! Whenever I make soup or stew, I freeze single servings in small containers. If we make breakfast burritos, I never make less than two dozen. These freeze remarkably well and make a satisfying breakfast.

The Last Thing You Need to Know 

Your weekly meal plan will not look like anyone else’s and that is okay, my friend. Custom your weekly meal plan to your family’s tastes, schedule, and nutritional goals. And have grace with yourself!


Beginners Guide to meal planning for busy families. Save time, save money. Be efficient in your meal planning while creative healthy, affordable meals in your weekly meal plan.

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