Meal Planning Tips for Busy Moms (Free Weekly Meal Planner)

One thing that it seems like moms all over the world struggle with is meal planning. Turns out, our families want to eat dinner every night. Go figure! While using a weekly meal planner consistently is challenging for sure, just winging it usually leads to stress, too much dining out, and less healthy foods. The problem is, meal planning is kind of a pain in the rear end. And even when we create the perfect plan, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to stick to it (or that our family will like all the new meals we’re doing). 

**HEY! There’s a 4-Winner Instant Pot Giveaway happening at the bottom of this post! Don’t miss out on this awesome Mother’s Day giveaway blessing!**

I am often asked how I do meal planning for our large family and what my weekly meal planner looks like. Those questions seem to come in waves and lately I’ve been getting a ton of them: 

“You probably do massive freezer cooking sessions, right?” No.  

“I bet you have a whole month of meals planned, don’t you?” No. 

“Oh I know! You do that cool block schedule thing with Mexican Mondays, Italian Tuesdays, etc. and it makes your life so easy!” Yeah… no. 

“So, do you just wing it and live in chaos?” No. (Not usually. I mean, “chaos” is relative.) 

The best meal planning tips for busy moms with a free weekly menu planner! You’ll love this flexible meal planning template!

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with any of these things. I’ve certainly done them at various times and they have their benefits. But here are some things I discovered about myself. Maybe they’re true about you, too:

  • I don’t like spending a whole day cooking. It’s too stressful, too involved, and sucks up my WHOLE DAY! No, thank you. 
  • I don’t like setting myself up for failure. I hate building a detailed menu plan that falls apart when I don’t feel like Mexican that day (actually that may never have happened… I could live on Mexican food), or I forget to thaw the meat, or we ran out of cheese, or whatever. 
  • I need things to be super easy to implement and is sustainable. Meaning, I won’t get burned out and the meal plan works even when my brain is toast at the end of the day. 
  • I do, however, need to have some kind of a meal plan. Because children can’t eat popcorn for dinner every night (or so they tell me) and they blatantly refuse to forage with the chickens. 

So, how does this oh-so-busy, homeschooling mom of 6 do meal planning, then!?!?! How do I fill out that weekly meal planner each week? 

I’m so glad you asked!

In this post I’m going to go into the nitty-gritty details about how I do meal planning using my popular meal planning template, which you can download below.

My system uses this meal planning template, which is a part of my Proverbial Homemaker Planner, and 6 simple steps.

If I can do this, so can you. (Trust me.) 

1) Keep a Master List of Meals

The Master List is a trick I learned somewhere down the line. It’s simple but super effective. Basically, you build a list of meals ideas that already work for your family and add to it as you go. You could keep such a list on your phone, in a little notepad, or on the back of your meal planning sheet.

Start by listing off all the dinners that you already make that your family enjoys. (Most of them, anyway. With kids there’s always one who won’t like it, but that’s ok.) 

Divide your list into breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks. You may start the meal planning routine with just dinners, but eventually you’ll love this so much you’ll want to expand it to the other meals, so might as well get the brainstorming started now. 

At the bottom, leave space for some notes. We’ll talk more about that later. 

2) Make a Loose Plan Every Week in Your Weekly Meal Planner

I like to do my meal plan weekly on Saturdays. You choose the number of weeks and a planning day that works best for you. One week is just about right for us (I used to do longer stretches and they tend to fall apart faster), and with the Master List going, I don’t really feel the need to plan two or more weeks ahead anyway. But, you do what works for you!

Here’s what you’ll need to put together a weekly meal plan: 

  • Your Master List (mine is on a note on my pone that syncs with my laptop)
  • Your family calendar (also on my phone)
  • Your Mix n Match Menu Planner meal planning template (choir of angels sings)
  • Your grocery list (there’s one available with the planner, or you could keep it separate. I keep mine… you guessed it… on my phone!)

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Download the Free Weekly Meal Planner

Download this free weekly meal planner! It’s the same one I’ve used for years now in my home and it’s a game changer! I hope you love this simple system as much as I do. 

Download the Mix n' Match Menu Planner

If you have any issues receiving the file, check out this troubleshooting guide or feel free to email me!

Your download link will be emailed to you and you will be subscribed to Proverbial Homemaker if you aren’t already. Be sure to check your spam/promotions folder. We never sell your email address! Powered by ConvertKit

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Here’s how to fill our your weekly meal planner:  

  • Peruse your Master List really quick just to get an idea of the dinners you could use.
  • Check for events on the calendar that might impact your dinners for the week. 
  • Get up and look inside the pantry, fridge, and freezers. (Actually do it! Let’s not delude ourselves into believing we remember what’s in there.)
  • On your Mix n Match Menu Planner, write down as many dinners as you can think of that would use mostly items you already have (they don’t have to be in any particular order), taking note on your grocery list of which items you’ll still need to buy. 
  • See how many dinner spots are let of your Mix n Match Menu planner and fill them in from your Master List. You may also want to skim your store’s web site to see what is on sale, but if you skip that step, I won’t tell anyone. 
  • If you’re feeling adventurous and energetic that week, hit up Pinterest or my recipe posts to add one “to try” meal to your menu. 
  • Write down any additional grocery items you’ll need to get for those dinners.
  • Now, if you’re ready for it, go through the same process for breakfast and lunch.
  • Be sure to add some healthy snack ingredients to your grocery list, too. We all know that the kids never stop being hungry.  

Using this process, you end up with 7 dinners, 7 lunches, and 7 breakfasts that you can use anytime during the week in whatever order you choose. Woot!

In the morning each day, decide which meals you want to make and circle them, crossing off whatever meals you made the day before. That’s it! Easy peasy lemon squeezie.

The best meal planning tips for busy moms with a free weekly menu planner! You’ll love this flexible meal planning template!
In this meal plan I use arrows to remind myself to cook enough of the chicken and rice dinner to re-use the ingredients for fried rice and cobb salad. I also re-purposee the extra dinner sausage for breakfast another day (if we eat it all, we just omit it), and to save some of the burrito beans for taco soup before mashing them. I also note to make a double batch (x 2) of the Taco soup for freezing. That will give me at least one more meal in the freezer for a future week!

 

Some extra fancy tips for your weekly meal planner: 

  • Pick one meal OR ingredient each week to double, triple, or quadruple, and freeze the remaining food in portion sizes. It could be quadrupling the twice baked potatoes or doubling up the Instant Pot refried beans. (My busy mom hack for bulk cooking! Woot!) 
  • Draw an arrow from any meal whose leftover ingredients can be used for another meal (I might make a fried rice lunch a day or two after a chicken and rice dinner, for example.)
  • Put a star next to any menu items that were a hit with your family and add them to your Master List.
  • Put a dot next to a menu item that needs to take the bench for a few rounds because it’s getting old, also noting in your Master List.
  • Put your grocery list in the order of the layout of your store so you don’t have to run around or miss anything.
  • Keep last week’s grocery list and just add/delete from it the following weeks. Pretty soon you’ll have a core set of items you always buy, making for more efficient shopping. 
  • Laminate your Mix n’ Match Menu Planner and post it on the fridge or slip it into your homemaking planner! (I use a wet erase fine tip marker and a baby wipe to clean it.) 

4) Have a Backup Plan in Case it All Goes South

I hear you right now. “This is all well and good, Tauna. But what about those days or weeks where everything falls apart, or I forget to do meal planning, or I’m just plain tired!” 

The Backup List has your back! This is super easy.

  • Take a note card or small piece of paper. 
  • Write down as many meals as you can think of that you seem to ALWAYS have the ingredients on hand for. 
  • Now write your favorite take-out meals and, if possible, phone numbers. 
  • Write “forage with the chickens” or “forage in the wild” as an option because it will make you laugh. And we like to laugh about meal planning so that we don’t cry. Lol! Sob. 
  • Tape it onto the inside of your pantry or cupboard door.

When you realize things have gone south, your brain is fried, and you open the door in a panic, the Backup List will give you a hug and tell you everything is going to be fine.

“We’re having spaghetti for dinner, kids!” 

Menu planning backup plan

5) Note Wins and Tips in Your Master List

Remember that space on the bottom of your Master List I told you to reserve? I use that area to write down notes about several things:

  • That comment my husband made about the calzone he loved at the restaurant last week, so I can look up a recipe.
  • That comment my husband made about how chicken and rice is getting a little overdone… which means it’s probably WAY overdone, because my husband is easy to please.
  • Which things froze well and which didn’t.
  • Some meal ideas I want to remember for the future.
  • The name of a cookbook I want to buy and then never use. (You know you do it.) 
  • A note about a re-purposing trick that really worked well (such as using leftover meatloaf for taco soup).
  • And whatever else will help me build my menu plans!

6) Rinse and Repeat

That’s it, friends! It’s a pretty relaxed way of menu planning, right? With plenty of fail-safes and flexible tips to make it work for the busy mom. 

The only catch: You have to actually MAKE the plan and then USE it! I know… that’s no fun. 

One thing that has really helped me stay on it is our weekly Menu Planning thread in our Domestically Challenged, Divinely Equipped FB group. I don’t always post my plan there, but when I see it I am reminded to get it done!

And having this system in place means that over time you will get pretty fast with your meal planning. It takes me about 15 minutes nowadays, which I’m thankful for.  More time for snuggling on the couch with a good read-aloud, getting some projects done, or yelling out the back door at the kids to stop foraging with the chickens… because it was a joke, for crying out loud! Ahem. 

 

I hope these tips were helpful to you, friends! Enjoy your free Mix n’ Match Weekly Menu Planner and Grocery List. As always, feel free to let me know if you have any questions! 

~ Tauna


 

A Mother’s Day Giveaway to ROCK Your Meal Planning!

Enter to be one of FOUR winners to win an Instant Pot for Mother's Day at ProverbialHomemaker.com!

Mother’s Day is coming up and I’ve partnered together with a great group of bloggers to bless some moms BIG TIME this Mother’s Day! 

We are giving away FOUR Instant Pots! Instant Pots are quick, convenient, and help to make meal preparation so much easier; every mom or homemaker should have one.  So if you are wanting to win one for yourself (or for a mother that you know would love one), use the Rafflecopter below to enter. These will be for a 6qt Instant Pot brand (model may vary). 

Now I know that the Rafflecopter has quite a few entries, but each of these bloggers generously chipped in their own money to bring you this giveaway, so I hope you will take the time to do all of the entries.  And hey, the more entries you do, the better your odds are of winning!

(Giveaway ends May 10th at 11:59pm EDT.  The winner will have 48 hours to respond to email to claim prize.  By entering this giveaway you will be added to the email lists of some of the participating bloggers (see the Terms & Conditions on the Rafflecopter form for the complete list).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This Post Has 48 Comments

  1. Always on the lookout for ways to make mealtime easier!

  2. Great tips, thank you

  3. This sounds like a much more organized version of what I do. Great tips and will make meal planning much easier.

  4. This is a great giveaway! My life is so crazy right now lol

  5. I started to do a Menu Plan similar to this on my own a little bit last year… but with 6 kids, 7 and under – um, well you know… ;-p
    I need to try again now that the baby is almost 4 months. And thank you for a chance at the giveaway!

  6. I used a meal planning system very similar to this years ago, but got distracted by all kids of fancy meal planning that I thought I should do. Its great to be reminded of this and reassured that it’s ok to use something that just works, even when it’s nothing fancy.

    1. So true! Things that work are so much more useful than things that look fancy but don’t work. 🙂 I’m glad it was helpful!

  7. What a great giveaway.

  8. If I won one of these it would make cooking a lot easier. I would love to have one of these. Thank you for the chance.

  9. You make me laugh! Thanks for that! I have started doing some of these things but I did it by day. I like the loose meal plan. I always get discouraged when we get off the plan but like you said we aren’t always in the mood or things are over done! I’m so excited to implement some of these great ideas!! Thank you!

    1. You’re welcome! I’m so glad to make you laugh and be helpful too! 😀

  10. thanks for the meal planner…i look forward to getting organized…

  11. So grateful for your encouraging posts and great resources!

  12. I would love to be able to use this to help out with quick good meals for my family. Between working full time, schooling, violin lessons, and soccer, meals become drive thru based. I missing being in my kitchen and making meals. This will help me.

  13. Having a backup plan is vital. I try using a Master Plan as much as possible but it always seems like there are days when the thought of making that meal seem more daunting than others. It’s always nice to have something easy laying around just in case. 🙂

  14. What a wonderful give-away!!

  15. (My comment through the entry didnt work)

    Meal planning is so important! And it makes life so much less stressful! It helps from grocery shopping, your budget and all the way to worrying and stressing about what’s for dinner.

    For us it is extra helpful, as we are without a kitchen. We lost our home and everything to toxic mold and are temporarily living in a basement while we try and fundraise to rebuild our home. I have relied on the instant pot and a toaster oven to prepare the meals for our family now for 2.5 years. Sadly our instant pot broke. So we are trying to save up for a new one.

    Meal planning has helped us so much to keep things simple and stress free. And I need to do it more. I never realized how much not having an instant pot is just down right devastating in some ways now that I have had one and I am without! So, yes every mom should own one! It has made everything so much easier!

    And as a busy homeschooling mother of a special needs child who has to fill up her day with so much, schooling, cooking, trying to build a house out of nothing, and caring for the many needs of our family, having one thing planned out that I dont need to stress about on the daily is a huge help!

  16. This is such a great post. Hopefully I can implement something’s into my chaotic life!

  17. i am a very poor meal planner

  18. I have been waiting for someone to buy me an Instant Pot. It’s not happening so, maybe I can win one.

  19. Ah, a kindred spirit. When I finally allowed myself some flexibility in meal planning, it was a breath of fresh air. Each week I do write out an ideal list of what’s for dinner to post on the fridge in an attempt to avoid the relentless, “What’s for dinner tonight? from each and every kid. But I apparently I stray from it enough that the question now is, “Are we really having _________ for dinner tonight?” Oh well! 🙂

  20. Thankyou for a bit of motivation and inspiration. I have used your planner in the past, and it worked better than any other I have tried. I love the in built flexibility. I am great at using the meal plan the first 2-3 weeks, but then it all fizzles out. The plan b list might just be the solution I need. Especially the instructions to go forage with the chickens hehehe

  21. I need to start meal planning. Its the best way to stay organized between work and family life.

  22. These are great ideas!

  23. I believe an Instant Pot would really help us eat healthy and save money.

    Tracy

  24. I really need to plan out quick meals. The instant pot is perfect for quick easy meals. Thanks for this giveaway.

  25. Okay, Tauna, I have to admit this one. My “No-Fail Back-Up Meal” (we’ve even eaten this for breakfast), is a salad (whatever veggies we have on hand get chopped and thrown in) with a can of tuna, some dressing of olive oil and vinegar (you name, it acv/rice/champagne/red wine/balsamic whatever’s to hand) and some herbs/spices. It may not be a ‘traditional American breakfast’, but it’s healthy and I started with our kiddo on veggies when very young so we all eat them. Another, when we have them, is scrambled eggs – you can add nearly anything (not root beer, long story) to eggs. Another is Crisper Soup (whatever’s in the fridge crisper goes into homemade bone broth kept in the freezer at all times), or even better, Crisper Soup made ahead and quickly heated from the freezer – there is nothing like going to that freezer, opening the door and ‘saving dinner’ with a quickly thawed/heated entrée I already made, froze, and forgot about! 😉 I’m all for meal planning but some of the options are so intense (i.e. once-a-month shopping day and then a cooking day too? -Well, some days I have the attention span of a gnat.)
    Tauna, thanks for reminding, and reinforcing, that meal planning should be, and is, doable. Your doing a wonderful job – well done, good and faithful servant!

  26. Love the idea of being prepared with meal planning.

  27. Thanks for all the organizational meal planning tips. The Instant Pot is gorgeous. Great choice for a giveaway.

  28. Meal planning makes life so much easier. With 3 kids, husband and work, meal planning is MUST.

  29. I’ve been trying to get a meal planning system down for years. Just about the time I think I’ve got it down, my household composition changes or individual tastes change. It seems like I’m constantly hunting for the perfect way to plan meals. Not until I ran across your method did I really think I might could do it. I think my problem was always being to strict about following the plan instead of going with the flow. Thanks!

  30. I should do meal planning thanks

  31. Thanks for the great ideas! Having meals taken care of helps so much to make the day move along more smoothly.

  32. J’en ai besoin merci

  33. Thank you for this giveway. I really do hope I’m chosen for this. I’ve never used a pressure cooker, but I’m willing to learn.

  34. thank you for the ideas and inspiration

  35. I need meal planning in my life! We are on the run constantly…

  36. I don’t have time to make meals many of the days of the week, because we get home late or have to be somewhere. An Instant Pot would definitely help with this! Thanks for the giveaway!

  37. I actually put in the work to do some freezer meals, 10 to be exact, or 5 doubled recipes. It worked great!!

  38. Would love to win the instapot! I do a semblance of this on our whiteboard calendar. Our plan b dinner is either breakfast or grilled cheese 🙂

  39. Meal Planning saves our family a lot on our grocery budget!! I would love to win the instant pot for my friend. She is a widow and it would make dinners much easier for her family! Our large family has been very happy with our 8 quart and she has mentioned how she would love to have one. With just one teenage child still living at home the 6 quart would be perfect for her.

  40. I love buying used glassware for freezing casseroles in . When I cook, I often make too much, on purpose. Then I divide it and freeze half. Having freezer/oven safe dishes for this is a large help. 🙂

  41. Thank tou for all your great tips and ideas.

  42. I need this advice! Thank you for the giveaway opportunity too!

  43. I’m horrible at meal planning. Thank you for the easy-to-use meal schedule planner. Will definitely be trying it.

  44. I hear instant pot has so many great benefits and i love o make some amazing recipes in one. I hear you can make wine to beans super fast so many great things .

  45. This is so great! I’ve needed to meal plan but it always overwhelms me more than winging it. Thank you so much for the tips!

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