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I wouldn’t have time to grow my freelance business if it weren’t for my super simple meal plan. Here’s how I get this important task done quickly.
Meal planning is crucial to my success as a freelancing mom. If I had to stop and think about what to cook for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack every single day, there would be no room left in my mind for other things.
Besides taking brain power to actually think through what’s in my cupboards and what I can create, I’d also have to deal with the questions.
When you combine a bunch of kids who are curious about what they’ll be eating next, and a lack of planning, that’s just asking for a whole lot of questions!
Mommy, what’s for breakfast today?
Mom, I’m hungry, can I eat some yogurt for a snack?
If you’re a parent, you know how it goes. The never-ending questions.
I simplified meal planning several years ago, by creating an annual meal plan. We’re still using this plan seven years later, and it works well.
Want to see our current 2019-2020 school year meal plan? You can check it out here.
You can download your own copy of my annual meal plan template at the bottom of this post.
To create your own super simple meal plan, here are some tips:
- Assign a theme to each day of the week for dinner
- Pick 4-5 simple meals for each theme
- Rotate through these meals each month
- Don’t forget to plan for lunch and breakfast (and snacks if needed!) these meals often take more last minute decisions, so eliminate that problem by planning
- Let your kids help plan meals
- Create a master shopping list for your meal plan
Simplify Even More
As I’ve been scaling my business and spending more time writing, I’ve had less time to spend in the kitchen.
Even though my meal plan was simple to begin with, there were still plenty of steps to take to actually get each meal on the table.
And I didn’t always have that time on a daily basis.
So, I started thinking about ways to build even more efficiency into my day. And I changed a few of my go-to recipes, simplifying as a I went.
Here are six key changes I made in how I meal plan to accommodate my business:
1. Include More Simple & Quick Recipes in My Rotations
The kids and I went through our meal rotations for dinner, and made some changes. If a meal took more than 45 minutes or so of active time, it got replaced.
So now each category is full of meals that are fairly simple to get on the table.
I also made sure we had a super quick, or super hands-off, meal in each category. That way I always have a backup if I run out of time. Right now, those meals are:
- Crockpot Sunday (our noon meal is more like our dinner…): Shredded pork over bread/buns
- Asian Night: Ramen noodle stir fry with frozen veggies
- Taco Tuesday: Chicken quesadillas
- American Night: Hamburger gravy over toast
- Italian Night: Spaghetti and Meatballs (I keep frozen meatballs on hand)
- Around the World: Croque-Monsieur (French grilled cheese)
- Breakfast for Dinner: Scrambled eggs with greens and toast
I also have two meals in each category that gets meals on the table in 30 minutes.
In fact, the majority of my meals are really simple this year.
2. Talk About the Meal Plans at Our Morning Meeting
Some of my hands-off meals still take thought. I have to make sure meat is defrosted. Peeling vegetables might need added to the kids’ to-do lists.
So now as part of our morning meetings, we talk through all the meals and snacks for the day. It only added a couple of minutes to our routine, but this practice has helped immensely.
Even though they’ve been planned all along, it really is important to bring the day’s meals to mind each day.
Focusing on this every morning helps me make sure I get all the ducks in a row so we actually eat on time. If it’s a crazy day for me work wise, and I need the kids to step up to help more with cooking, we talk about it.
I assign them each the tasks they’ll handle, and let them know about what time it’ll need done. They’re more involved, and our meals get to the table on time.
3. Buy More Prepared Food
I honestly didn’t see this as a path that I’d go down, but when your plate is full, you do what you need to. I’ve started purchasing more prepared foods instead of trying to make everything from scratch like I used to.
We still prefer the homemade food, and I try to make as much as possible (or have the kids make it), but some days it doesn’t work. Especially with a baby in the house!
And, as an added bonus, our budget has improved significantly since I started freelancing. So, there’s a little extra wiggle room for some prepared items. Things like:
- Sliced bread-it’s insane how much bread we go through, an entire loaf for a meal of sandwiches! (I used to bake all of our bread and buns and all that…)
- Veggies that are prepped a bit more, like baby carrots and celery hearts
- Frozen meatballs and chicken nuggets
These things save time. And that time adds up to help make the overwhelm not feel as overwhelming.
They also make things easier for the kids to divide and conquer. That way I’m not relying solely on my teen to do the bulk of the cooking.
My younger kids can safely cut the baby carrots in half for soup. They can follow a simple recipe that uses Bisquick and I don’t have to worry that they’re mixing up baking soda and baking powder. Or stand over their shoulders supervising so much.
As they get older, their cooking abilities will improve. But for now, these shortcuts are helping so much!
4. Get Creative with the Meal Plan
Another change I’ve made is to be a bit more creative. If we want fresh bread to go with our soup, I can mix up a batch of rolls and have them baked in just over an hour. Most of that time is waiting, so it’s not as labor intensive as the bread I typically make.
We also have wraps instead of sandwiches frequently. Tortillas are always in the fridge. Sliced bread may not be around.
On pancake for breakfast day, I might whip up a big Dutch Blitz pancake instead of sitting and flipping a bazillion batches of regular ones.
So by switching things up, we can have the meals the kids helped pick last summer, but with less effort. Win-win!
5. Do More Bulk Cooking
If I’m frying up a pound of hamburger, I’ve begun defrosting and frying five pounds. Since we sold all our cows to hit the road on deputation, I use The Savory Butcher to purchase meat in bulk.
I typically just cook it with garlic and onions. That way it’s flexible enough to use in a variety of meals.
Once it cools, I measure it out into quart sized bags, trying to get about a pound in each bag.
Then I freeze the bags. Now when I want to make hamburger gravy, I don’t have to take time to defrost meat. Or wait for it to brown.
I just dump the contents of the bag into the pot and let it defrost as I quickly mix up a creamy gravy.
This speeds me up considerably! And honestly, browning five pounds of hamburger doesn’t take that much longer than frying one.
We can batch cook many things. The kids and I enjoy making large batches of cookies. Then we can freeze some to pull out another day.
We’ve frozen some meals, but honestly, I’ve found having cooked meat around is the biggest time saver for me. So I try and keep shredded chicken and cooked hamburger in the freezer. These can be used for:
- Rice bowls
And plenty of other meals. So it really jump starts cooking.
I also freeze muffins, waffles, and pancakes. These freeze well when they’re only there for a short period of time, and they help mornings go smoothly.
6. Pick Overlapping Meals
Many of our meals this year purposefully overlap. For instance, our Monday Asian night comes before Taco Tuesday. I often cook a huge batch of rice on Monday night, and repurpose the leftovers into Spanish rice on Tuesdays.
Since we have a Breakfast for Dinner category this year, it’s the perfect day to serve up our breakfast leftovers. Then I don’t even have to cook some Saturday nights! I just pull the leftovers out and let the family heat up what they want.
By purposefully integrating leftovers and extras into your meal plan, you can save even more time.
And then you can put some of that time to work for your business!
How Do You Meal Plan?
Have you made changes to your meal plan as well since you started working from home? It’s definitely not something you should try winging anymore! Free up your brain with a great meal plan today!
This post originally published on March 14, 2017. It’s been refreshed and updated.
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