Desperate Mom Planning
Menu planning or meal planning is something I started doing out of sheer desperation. As a mom of many young siblings, I didn’t have time, energy or focus left at the end of the day to figure out “what’s for dinner?” Between pregnancy brain, new baby exhaustion and toddler fatigue, the witching hour of 4 o’clock was insane enough to make dinner plans almost impossible.
I started with a simple go-to list of dinner ideas. I jotted down 10 of our favorite meals, and made sure my freezer, fridge and pantry were always stocked with the items I needed for those meals. If I felt up to something more adventurous or had the time to try a new recipe, I planned for it, but for the most part, the days of being up to my knees in small children meant dinner had to be quick and easy.
When my ex and I were together, he often took care of breakfast for the kids, since I was usually nursing a baby, and unavailable. But when we separated, I needed a plan for that too. So I created another list of easy, quick, child-prep-friendly breakfast ideas: things my girls could get on their own, since I still had a nursing baby at the time.
31 Meal List
We added ideas as we tried new things, until we had a stock list of 31 different meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I created this worksheet to keep track and simply pulled meals from it to create a weekly or monthly menu and shopping list. For a while, I menu planned and shopped monthly, because one large trip with 4 children under 5 was a lot easier to do than many smaller, weekly trips, and because I had to storage to do so. Now my storage has changed, so we shop weekly or daily — also because my oldest is now old enough to babysit. (Can I say that’s a huge huge help?)
Here’s my go-to list for dinner ideas. We have no food allergies (though I suspect a lactose intolerance in my 2nd daughter) and no real issues with picky eaters.
- salsa chicken (chicken breasts covered in salsa, baked 30 min, served with rice)
- BBQ pork chops (pan fried in BBQ sauce)
- chicken wings (homemade honey garlic sauce, baked)
- beef stew
- chicken fahitas
We have variations on these themes, of course, but at least one of them is on our menu weekly. Almost everything can be prepped and cooked in 30 minutes to an hour, making dinner prep easy. Most of these ideas I’ve taught to my teenager, so now it’s not just me cooking — they are that easy to do.
Here is our basic lunch ideas:
- egg salad
- ham and cheese
- pb & j
- grilled cheese
- potato casserole (diced potatoes baked in a mushroom-cheese sauce)
- “snack” lunch (crackers and cheese, cold cuts, cut veggies and dip, hardboiled or deviled eggs)
- hamburgers or chicken burgers
- popcorn chicken (made ahead and frozen) or chicken nuggets
- mac and cheese
- homemade mini pizzas
Lunch is usually something portable, so that my kids can take it with them wherever, as we break from school. We do school around our kitchen table, so no one wants to eat lunch there. We use a smaller table in the living room for soups or plated foods, but we love to be able to just grab-and-go.
Breakfast isn’t quite as varied as my other go-to lists. We usually have 6 main choices:
- hardboiled eggs
- pancakes (or waffles)
- sweet bread or muffin
I do a lot of baking or prep beforehand so it’s there waiting for our busy mornings. Eggs are boiled a dozen at a time, and the extras just left in the fridge (to be heated up later, or eaten cold). Pancakes and waffles can be frozen, and so can muffins, pastries or sweet breads like banana bread or cinnamon loaf. My oldest and I will spend a day baking up a bunch of different things, and just having them in the freezer to pull out when needed. It’s usually part of my evening prep to check the menu for breakfast the next day, and set up whatever is scheduled, whether boiling extra eggs or setting out the bowls and spoons for cereal.
What’s for dinner?
Menu planning doesn’t have be a long, drawn-out, complicated process. Start small, and make a list of your family’s favorite, easy-to-make meals, and keep your pantry stocked with those ingredients. Add to them as you try things out, think of something else, or experiment. Then make your weekly menu off of your list, taking all the stress out of figuring out “what’s for dinner?”
For my free printables that I use in my menu planning, just subscribe for access!