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How to Get Dinner on the Table Fast with Meal Planning


Meal planning can be a helpful way for busy moms to save time and money, as well as ensure their family is eating healthy (ish) meals. The way I meal plan helps me get dinner on the table faster each night and doesn’t feel like a chore. Let me tell you how I do it so you can make family meals less stressful too.

A dinner table after the meal has ended with dirty dishes.

I don’t love the chores that come with mom life. I’ve never loved to clean and I go through phases where I don’t like to cook. But I’ve always looked for ways to make these types of tasks more enjoyable experiences (like doing laundry for instance).

Does that mean that sometimes it can end up being less efficient? Sure. But I don’t hate it and that is really what matters most to me.

Organizing our family dinners, doing a little prep work ahead of time and adding in ways to make it more fun, makes it feel less like a chore and I sometimes actually look forward to it.

Difference Between Meal Planning and Meal Prepping

There is a slight difference between meal planning and meal prepping. Meal planning is when you plan out what you will make and make even how you will make each meal.

Meal prepping is the actual work you do to prepare the meal or parts of the meal ahead of time.

But they totally go hand in hand and when used together can make getting dinner on the table quicker and less chaotic!

Benefits of Meal Planning

When it comes to meal planning, there are a lot of benefits that come along with it. Planning ahead can save time and money while also ensuring the family is eating a variety of ingredients.

I love that it can save valuable time each night when it’s time to cook!

It can also help avoid food waste (by buying and then ignoring a recipe’s worth of ingredients – we all do it).

And as you get into the habit, I think you may find that you can also find some joy in the process. I don’t hate cooking but I hate feeling like I’m stuck in the kitchen. And with a little planning, you can change that.

By finding kitchen shortcuts, I know that I can feed my family well but still find time for the things I want to do too.

My biggest pain point is how long it takes to get dinner on the table each night so my meal planning focuses on choosing simple recipes and getting things ready ahead of time so I can feed my family fast.

And any time I save I can take for myself, even if it’s just 15 minutes.

How to Get Dinner on the Table Faster with Planning

Moms often find themselves short on time when it comes to making dinner. And it can be exhausting trying to come up with what to make each night.

Meal planning can help take the guesswork and stress out of dinnertime by getting everything ready and prepped ahead of time.

A notepad and pen used for meal planning on a table next to breakfast items.

Plan Your Weekly Menu

When it comes to menu planning, I like to figure out what I’ll make for the week ahead on a weekend day.

I don’t worry about breakfast and lunch because my kids don’t love to eat in the morning and I usually just make myself a salad or eat leftovers.

If you want to include those meals in your menu plan, that is fine! But for me, I mainly focus on planning family dinners.

This usually happens on Saturday mornings as I’m enjoying my coffee. Since I like to use a grocery delivery service (Amazon Fresh is my fave), I know I sometimes need to give myself a little extra time to find a delivery time that works.

Write it Down

I use my meal planning notepad or the printed sheet from my “dinner ideas worksheets” and keep it on my cookbook stand where I can easily follow it each night.

I also keep the meal planning sheets for a while. When I don’t have a lot of time to plan, I can just redo the meals we had a few weeks ago. While I like mixing things up and being creative, sometimes you just need to get dinner on the table. (These magnetic clips keep them out of the way on the side of my fridge).

Consider Your Schedule For the Week

To start you should consider your schedule for the week and how much time you have to cook each day. If you only have 30 minutes to cook, you’ll want to plan accordingly.

I will try to think of if there are any days that make making dinner extra difficult. For example, the day I went out on a Gondola in Long Beach with some blogger friends, I made sure to make a crockpot meal so I didn’t have to rush back.

Choose Family Favorites

Think about what you and your family like to eat. There’s no point in making a meal that no one will eat. Chances are you’ve probably made these recipes before and you will be able to put these together pretty quickly.

I have a binder of family favorite recipes that my mom gave to me that include the things she used to make for us. And over the years, I’ve added the things my own family likes.

It makes it super easy to grab and sometimes I don’t have to pull recipes from any other sources.

Some of our faves are: Manwich Enchilada Casserole, Teriyaki Ground Turkey Stir Fry and Walking Tacos.

Keep Budget in Mind

Consider your budget when building these meals. Make sure you are only buying the ingredients you need and that you can use them throughout the week.

While my meal planning isn’t necessarily designed to be money-saving, I’m certainly not going to serve Filet Mignon every night.

As I decide what to make I will always see if I have anything on hand already. And when I’m feeling really creative, sometimes I’ll try to create a recipe from what I have on hand. (Pantry recipes can be delish!)

If saving money is more of a concern for you, you would want to start by browsing the store circulars to see what is currently on sale. I wish I was better at that.

Utilize Leftovers

You know there are those types of recipes that always make too much (like chili). Adding a day of leftovers to your meal plan is a great way to get a night off from cooking!

Sometimes I’ll realize near the end of the week that we have a lot of leftovers. But I know that if I can get into the habit of putting it on my meal plan ahead of time, we’d waste less food!

I don’t always love leftovers so I imagine my family will revolt if I suggest we eat something for a second night. Guess what? That has never happened.

Dinner Out

There are nights when we have appointments which means making dinner just won’t work. Sure I could make something really early or in the crockpot, but I give myself a break.

I set slightly unrealistic expectations for myself to cook homemade dinner 5 nights a week. My family doesn’t care about this but I do.

At first, adding “dinner out” to the plan made me feel a little bit like a failure, but I have moved very far past that and embrace these nights!

In fact, we often do a local kabob restaurant that has family meals. We can get 2 nights of meals out of one order. That just makes sense.

Dinner Helpers

Dinner Helpers are those things like Blue Apron or Savory Spice Spice ‘n Easy recipe mixes that can help you speed up the dinner process.

I love the Spice ‘n Easy mixes. They are affordable, easy to make and easy to keep on hand. Read more about them in my post about their Jerk Turkey Sloppy Joe’s.

Dinner services like Blue Apron can also be considered as a dinner helper but those are more expensive and require a much bigger commitment.

And you can always grab a Hamburger Helper from the store shelves. Don’t let your mom guilt take over. Semi-homemade is still homemade!

Make a Grocery List

Fresh produce on a kitchen counter in reusable grocery bags.

After I’ve decided what meals to make it is time to make sure I have everything I need to make them.

I shop my cupboards first to see what I already have, then I make my grocery list. I will usually just go through each recipe I plan to make, starting with Monday’s meal, and write down what I need.

These are my favorite magnetic notepads for running grocery lists!

If I am going to the physical grocery store, I make sure to re-write this list into a more efficient shopping list. I group things together by where they are in my local store (you can sometimes find a map of your store online if you aren’t sure where things are).

Much like how I tackle decluttering my home, I try to cut down on walking all over the store if I don’t have to. Writing the list a second time does add a few minutes.

But I find that if I don’t do it this way, I end up running all over the store and actually forgetting a few items on the list ensuring that I’ll need a second trip to the store.

I much prefer to shop online since I think it’s much faster and I buy fewer impulse items. It does cost a little bit more but I consider this “outsourcing” and it’s one of the ways I can take a little bit of pressure off myself.

How to Prep the Meals

Woman cutting a lemon on a cutting board next to kale.

I stick to the day of prep method below. I would love to give batch cooking a try but I have very little counter and freezer space making it seem like not a great fit.

I also don’t want to add any more time to my prep day that cooking full meals would require.

Whichever method you decide, it shouldn’t stress you out. Remember you are doing this to take the pressure off of you!

One Day for Prep

I usually pick a weekend day (Sundays work best for me) when I can feel less rushed and stressed. I’m not trying to take all the cooking for the week off my plate. But I do like to cut down on prep that has to be done. 

Prepping ahead of time means I can work longer each week day before stopping to cook or feel less pressure to rush home and get started after dropping my son off at one of his classes.

If I can get everything chopped and organized before Monday hits, I know I’m going to have a great, less stressful week at mealtime.

This is where I turn it into a little bit of “me time”. Since I know that it will take me an hour or so to get everything prepped, I make it more enjoyable. I turn on a playlist and pour myself a glass of wine (or that Rose water from Trader Joe’s if it’s early-ish).

I get out my favorite knives, grab my meal prep containers (I use a mix of reusable bags and glass containers) and just try to enjoy this time!

I keep this strictly to chopping everything I need and bag them together with the other meal ingredients.

You can take this day even further by pre-cooking side dishes or even cooking the whole thing and freezing it. Do what feels best for you.

Batch Cooking

One of the best ways to save time during the week is to batch cook. This means cooking larger portions of food so that you either have leftovers for future meals or can use a portion of what you cooked in a different recipe.

For example, if you’re making chili on Monday night, make a double batch and put half of it in the freezer for a future meal. That’s why these are sometimes called “freezer meals“.

Or, cook a whole chicken on Sunday and use the leftovers for salads and sandwiches throughout the week. (I do this a few times a year).

I am not well-versed in this area of cooking. I never remember what is in my freezer to grab (and then there is remembering to thaw it, I suck at this).

This also takes a lot more planning to try to come up with recipes that suit this type of cooking.

I used to go to those batch-cooking dinner places (like Dream Dinners) when my kids were little and they were awesome. But it’s just not part of my process. 

You can also meet up with other mom friends and do a day of cooking where you each prepare multiple portions of a recipe and then share with each other. This sounds like fun, but I haven’t tried it yet.

Give Yourself a Break

Don’t forget, you can always feed your family cereal or a sandwich! Sometimes I get in my own way with the “rules” that I make up in my head. Sometimes those nights that don’t go as planned and end up a free for all are the ones the kids end up loving!

Cereal for dinner? That’s a memory right there.

By meal planning ahead, busy moms can make dinnertime a breeze. By being prepared with things like menu plans, and batch-cooked meals, delicious dinners can be on the table in no time.

So don’t stress, just plan ahead and be prepared!

You can shop all my favorite meal planning and prepping product on my Amazon storefront.

Here are a few cookbooks that you might enjoy. They are all designed to get dinner done fast and use easy to find ingredients: I Dream of Dinners (so you don’t have to) is in my Amazon cart right now, 52 Week Meal Planner, Cook Once Eat All Week.

These are my tips for how to get dinner on the table fast with meal planning. I hope you found them helpful! Do you have any meal prep tips that work well for you? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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