Do you long for a simplified & stress free easy meal prep and planning system to reduce the dinner chaos in your home? For many mothers, the hours between 4pm and 6pm in most households can be the epicenter of chaos, tears and mess. Toys lay strewn around the house that now looks more like a crime scene than a peaceful home. Pieces of Lego and hot wheels placed dangerously close to the floor by the stove. School lunch boxes lay by the sink containing half eaten sandwiches, toddlers cling to your leg. Siblings squabble as you mentally try and run through how much is actually left on your do-list. Everyone is hungry, you are exhausted. And you’ve not idea what to make for dinner.
You desperately search for some crackers at the back of the cupboard to help calm the hungry tantrums that you can feel about to irrupt. They ask for more, desperate for a quiet second to get something edible on the table you give in to requests. Then everyone is too full to eat whatever you’ve managed to botch together and half of it ends up on the floor. So you send the kids to the sofa to watch Netflix with some chocolate, as you slump off to tidy said chaos and text your partner to bring home some wine.
If this sounds familiar – I got you mama! What you need is an easy meal prep and planning system, enabling you to rock your kitchen like a damn CEO….
If you have the mad rush down to a fine art and serve up meals every day with grace and ease then good for you mama *virtual high five*. However I’m guessing that there may be the odd day here and there that still descends into madness? I love to cook, but I’ve often found myself in the depths of overwhelm at 5pm when things haven’t gone to plan. Having an easy meal prep and planning system has simplified my motherhood.
Creating the perfect & simple and easy meal prep and planning system to rock your kitchen like a boss!…
After a few too many afternoons of the previously mentioned chaos, enough was enough. I’d always turned my nose up at meal prep but it was time to get real. I developed an easy meal prep and planning system to lessen the overwhelm and chaos in my kitchen, and here is how you can do it too. Things are about to get easier my friend, hooray!
Step 1 – Inventory your fridge, freezer and cupboards for a simplified meal planning routine.
This is the part where you need to step up and step into the role of CEO of your own kitchen! You’re the boss now, so it’s time to get organised. Pick a day (for me this is a Sunday night / Monday morning) to go through your fridge and freezer and pantry. This is an essential step for easy meal prep and planning. Make a note on the things that you have that you can base meals around. Such as mince, chicken, cous cous etc. Make a side note of what needs using up. Use this as an opportunity to re-organise your food if you are doing this for the first time into a simplified system that works for you.
Take notes of any storage you may need or items that are low or you are out of. Think about your storage space, does it work? Are there unused items just hanging around you can donate? Is it easy to find things? I keep all the goods I use regularly in mason jars on a shelf, easy to see when things are low and quick to reach. I also generally store the majority of freezer food in zip lock bags for space and visibility. I like little clear box trays to section out areas of the fridge. If you need some inspiration check out the Home edit website for droll worthy home organisation inspiration ideas!
Step 2 – Get inspired before you meal prep!
Whether you love too cook or not (don’t worry if you don’t, I got you too!) it’s time to inspired by food. For easy meal planning and prep think about your meal routine, what works – what doesn’t. Grab a notebook and journal this out, what part of your food routine overwhelms you? what bugs you? What send you spiraling into panic at 5pm? For example:
- Is there a particular day or the week you are super pushed for time and feel overwhelmed at dinner time, why? Can this be changed to work more in a way that serves you?
- How do you feel about what YOU are eating? Are you eating balanced nutritious food that makes you feel good, or are you grabbing something in a hurry for lunch because you have no time, ending up feeling bloated and cranky at 4pm? What kind of things do you want to eat? What obstacles are standing in your way?
- How do you feel about what your children eat? Is serving nutrient dense food to them important to you? Do you end up giving into sugary demands to keep the peace? What do they love / hate to eat?
Remember ….. You are the CEO of your kitchen!
Once you have all this down on paper, look at things with fresh eyes and see where you can make changes to lessen the overwhelm. For example; if you always feel bad about the stodgy bread you end up eating for lunch because you’re run ragged with your newborn, or toddler/’s – could you prep some soup or salad at the weekend to grab on the go? Is there a particular day of the week that sends you running from school pick up, to swimming or football? Getting in late when everyone is tired and cranky? Could you put a chicken stew or pasta sauce in the slow cooker in the morning to lesson the stress later?
Once you’ve brainstormed your food stressors and ways you can lesson them, get inspired. Grab a notebook, recipe book or start a pinterst board to get inspiration on meals you desire to make, want to try, look easy and can be made or prepped in advance.
Step 3 – Plan your meals for the week ahead to lessen the stress!
Now looking at what you have in your fridge, freezer and cupboards (your inventory list) – which ingredients do you have ready to make any of these meals? Try to base meals around what you actually have. If you have an abundance or courgette – could you make some scones with cheese and courgette for a healthy after school snack? Now write down your meal plan for everyone for the next week (just evening meals). Think about what to serve when to make your life easier, and what you can make more of one night to repurpose for the next night.
- Could you make a chilli to serve with rice one night and then with jacket potatoes two nights later?
- What leftovers can be made on a Monday from your Sunday roast?
- If you use some creme fraiche with chilli or tacos on a Tuesday, can you add this to a pasta sauce for Wednesday?
Make your food work for you, not the other way around.
One you are clear on your weekly meals write them somewhere you can access clearly – I find a wipeable fridge planner is the best method for this.
Step 4 – Get meal prepping!
Ok so now you are organised, inspired and know what dishes you are conjuring up for the week it’s time to really start making life easier for yourself. How can you make your week easier by prepping ahead? Here are some ideas;
- Can you make your chilli or ragu in the slow cooker on a Sunday night ready for a couple of meals, so its in the fridge ready to be heated on the nights you want to serve it up?
- Can you make a box of salad to keep in the fridge ready to be served up instantly (minus the dressing as this will make it soggy.)
- Any healthy snacks or side veggies your kids love – pepper, tomatoes, cucumber, cubes of cheese? Chop them in advance, ready for those moments your toddler is hangry and needs food that very second!
- Could you rustle up a simple tomato lentil soup for your lunch, and also to double up as an easy after school snack or meal with a simple cheese toastie?
- Make up a batch of brown rice for a quick and easily heated carb accompaniment.
- Pre prep any side veggies – ready to steam. Such as carrot sticks or broccoli florets.
- Make yourself a jar of trail mix for a quick healthy snack – just simply jar up your favourite nuts, seeds and dried fruit with a few dark choc chips thrown in for good measure!
- Any oven bakes – such as macaroni cheese, can be done ahead of time and left covered in the fridge.
- Fruit such as berries, pineapple and grapes can be chopped and stored for a quick healthy snack or dessert with ice cream or yogurt.
- Onions can be chopped and stored in a zip lock bag and cooked from frozen – hooray, no onion tears!
- Meat can be marinated and left in the fridge for a day or two, or frozen in a zip lock bag.
- Pancakes can be made in advance and popped into the toaster from froze when needed! (Yup, really)
Now the purpose of this is not to stress yourself out, so don’t go thinking you have to prep EVERYTHING. The key is having the week planned out, so you can reduce stress by having to think about what to cook everyday. If you know its chicken, rice and veggies that night – you can simply prep the chicken and veggies over breakfast to save time later that day when everyone is hungry. It’s great to have plenty ready to go in the fridge, but don’t let the idea of that overwhelm you if you don’t have much spare time. It’s about creating a system that works for you, in your motherhood.
What to do when you can’t cook!
If you really hate cooking, or just do not know where to start – simplify, simplify – simplify! Don’t over complicate things, There are some great books, shows, you tube videos and pinterest recipes out there for busy mum’s who can’t cook very well. My advice would be to relax and try and enjoy the process of learning, find a few key recipes that work for you and your family. Base your meals round some protein – add some flavourings, pick a carb and accompany with veggies.
Here are some simple ideas to get you started:
- Heat up a tin of plum tomatoes with some Italian seasoning and stock, add a handful or rice and in ten minutes you have a yummy hearty and quick soup / stew. Grate on some cheese and serve with crusty bread. There you have a healthy dinner in a hurry that basically makes itself!
- Make a quick and healthy pizza! Simply spread a little passata over a wholemeal wrap or pitta bread, sprinkle with oregano and add some cheese. Top with whatever extras (ham, peppers, mushrooms etc) you like or keep it simple, this only takes 5 minutes or so in the oven. Serve with salad, fries, fresh pepper/cucumber/carrot sticks or some corn on the cob.
- Pop in a tray bake! Add some sausages, chicken, salmon or your choice of protein to a large oven tray. Add some veggies such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, leek – whatever you like. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season. You can even add a dash of balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, citrus juice or mustard for a sticky kick. Bake for 30 minutes – however long your protein choice takes, then check its cooked through. Serve with salad, rice, cous cous, pasta or steamed greens. Simple.
- Rustle up a super simple pasta! Cook some spaghetti or penne then add a simple sauce. Butter, cream cheese and lemon juice is great for toddlers. Or a simple tomato sauce topped with cheese – this is great to keep in the fridge and can be served on pizzas, pastas or with meat or fish. Simply cook up a tin or two of Plum tomatoes with some minced garlic and Italian herbs and fresh oregano or basil. Simmer for 10 minutes and voila’! A simple and delicious tomato sauce.
- Jacket potatoes can be a life saver! Simple and easy to cook, just oil and season the skins first. Serve with anything you fancy – from tuna, cheese, beans or even chilli or meat sauce.
- Soup soup soup! So easy and nutritious, can simply bubble away for the afternoon whilst you get on with life. Start with frying some garlic and onions and don’t over-complicate things. Carrot, and lentil / Tomato / chicken noodle and minestrone are all super easy to throw in with some stock and herbs. serve with rolls, or wedges. Finish with a knob of butter or a drop of cream, whizz up if you need to. Keep it simple.
You can be the CEO of your kitchen, meal times don’t need to be a traumatic experience. It just takes a little planning and prep, once you gain control you can start a simplified easy meal planning and prep system to work for you. Good luck mama!
Thanks for stopping by at my corner of the internet, I’m Maz – you can read about me here – it’s my mission to lift the lid on motherhood and make your parenting journey easier. Stick around for recipes, hacks and tips and truths on lessening the overwhelm and simplifying motherhood and twin parenting.
If you enjoyed this blog pop me a message or comment – I’d love to hear from you! You’ll also love My Tips on letting go of motherhood overwhelm – which you can read about here. You can find me on my Instagram at @twinsandthings13.com so drop by there and we can virtually hang out! To never miss a blog join the twins and things community here, see ya soon mama x
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