I know that you’re all probably thinking, what does an “empty-nester” know about being a busy mom? Well, let me tell you, I do remember, and it’s hard!

I was blessed with being able to be a stay at home mom with my girls. I’m not judging, nor do not I want to get into a debate on working moms vs. stay at home moms. It was a choice we made as a family, I wanted to stay home, and fortunately we were able to make it on one income. But it was still hard. Being at home meant that I had the time to do more volunteering at my child’s school, be room parent, soccer mom, sew the homemade costume, be on the PTA board, drive on every field trip, host play dates, etc, etc, etc. All of those extra activities filled my days and there were plenty of days where I didn’t have enough hours to get it all done. And get dinner on the table? Are you kidding me?? I can’t do that, I have to drive across town to drop off for dance, then race back to pick up from soccer practice.

I miss those days! Seriously, like I’m almost in tears remembering all those crazy days with my three girls (now 33, 31, and 28). If I could do it all over again, I would, and I wouldn’t change a thing!! I’d love to be back in the chaos of costume making, cooking baking, and carpooling. Planning fund raisers, birthday parties, and soccer parties don’t sound so bad right now.

And those were just the elementary school days. It continued to get busier as the girls got older. Competitive sports, intense homework, and dance competitions filled our weeks months  years. Again, get dinner on the table? Are you kidding me? I can’t do that, we have to go prom dress shopping!

I’m getting teary eyes…..

The girls were growing up, but the busy-ness continued: SATs, college applications, more basketball tournaments, heart aches and breakups, my days were still full. PTA soon got replaced with college tours. Slumber parties became after prom parties (which by the way need a lot more supervision). They learned to drive, they got grounded. They fell in love, they got engaged. And get dinner on the table? Are you kidding me?? I can’t do that, I have a wedding to plan.

Wipe away the tears and fast forward. I have three grown daughters. My oldest two are married. I have 4 grandchildren (#5 is due in July). I still love my husband. I am truly blessed!

I felt I needed to share the above with you so that you’d understand, that I do understand how crazy life can be. And get dinner on the table? Are you kidding me?? Yes, I can, I do have the time for that!

Here are a few of my tips/ideas/suggestions to make your meal planning a bit easier and hopefully a little less stressful.

•Sit down on Monday morning and look at your week’s calendar. Are there meetings or events late afternoons/evenings? What nights is everyone home for dinner? What days do you have a little extra time to plan a dinner that takes a bit more time? Once you know what your week looks like, you can make your weekly menu and then your shopping list. I typically planned dinners for at least five nights (this allowed a leftover night, take out night, or going out night. You have to remember that I was raising our family before the use of iPads and fancy computers. Cookbooks were actual books. There was no Pinterest for inspiration. Just me and simple piece of paper. 

I’d often thumb through cookbooks, or dig through recipes files, but with a young family, we ate pretty basic. I knew what they liked, I knew what they’d eat, and let’s face it, when life is busy the last thing you want is for dinner time to be a struggle. My plan was to cook balanced meals, knowing that “most” everyone would eat everything (or at least take their required # of bites). 

I’d write up something that looked kind of like this every week. I’d always magnet it to the front of the refrigerator. We knew what to expect and I knew what to shop for. 

Menu Planning for Busy Moms

I’ve always had a lot of cookbooks,

Meal Ideas for Busy Moms

and a lot of recipe cards.

Menu Planning for Busy Moms

Menu Planning-5

Today’s inspiration would look more like this. We’d go to our Pinterest Board, or maybe Yummly or Stumbl Upon.

Menu Planning for Busy Moms 

I know that life is a little different these days (not busier, just different). More moms work outside the home and are reliant on the second income. If you’re unable to do your planning as I did every Monday morning for years, choose a day (Sat. or Sun.) that works best for you.

•I used to love to let my girls pick a night of the week to help decide “whats for dinner.” My only rule is that it had to include something from all the food groups (meat, starch, salad or veggie for example). And they couldn’t choose the same thing the following week. They loved when it was “their dinner” night.

•Make your menu, grocery shop, and do any prep that you can on the weekend.

•Incorporate the use of your slow-cooker and oven’s auto on/off more often.

•Plan multiple meals that include some of the same make ahead prep.

You have to figure out what works for you and your family. Here are a few ideas to make your meal planning a smidge bit easier.

1)  Bake a sheet pan full of whole chickens (3-4) or double breasts, skin on (6-8). See my Roast Chicken at Joy in Every Season.

For the breasts, I cut a few lemons and put them in the pan first (drizzled with olive oil), then placed the chicken on top. The pulled back the skin on the chicken breasts and shoved some herbs under the skin. I drizzled olive oil on top and added salt and pepper. They roasted at 350* for approx 45 minutes. Time will depend on size of chicken breasts.

For the whole chicken, I filled the cavity with a whole head of fresh garlic (not peeled), lots of sliced lemon, a half of red onion (quartered), and a few sprigs of thyme & rosemary. Drizzle the top with olive oil and sprinkle on some salt & pepper. My chicken was only about 3 1/2 lbs. I roasted it at 350* for about 45 minutes, then increased the oven to 450* for another 15 minutes. Again cooking time will vary depending on size of chicken. Juices should run clear when cut into.

When the chicken is cool enough to touch remove all the meat from the bones. I typically shred some and cube some. Place into zip lock freezer baggies.

Make a chicken meal the day you cook the chicken, and freeze the rest. The frozen chicken (thaw in ‘fridge overnight), can be used for enchiladas, soups, pasta dishes, quinoa bowls, chicken salad, and the list goes on.

2)  During the summer, when your garden is abundant and you have a lot of fresh basil, make pesto. Make a lot of it! I make it and freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen I place the pesto cubes in a zip-lock freezer bag. Pesto is great in pasta and our family also loves it on garlic bread. And how about adding some to your scrambled eggs? There are so many uses for pesto.

3)  Spaghetti sauce (the old standby). Make a huge pot (with or without meat, however your family prefers it). Enjoy it for dinner that night, then freeze the rest. Weeknight dinners will be easy when you have fresh sauce to top some quick cooking pasta. Another idea, is to use the use and make multiple pans of lasagna or ricotta stuffed pasta shells, then freeze those. Or how about Calzone? A quick salad, some garlic bread and dinner is made. Speaking of garlic bread, if you’re taking the time to make one loaf, why not make 3 or 4 and tightly wrap them in foil and freeze them for a busy weeknight meal.

I’ve realized I’m giving you lots of freezer tips, which really wasn’t my intent when I started this post. And funny thing is, I’m typically not a fan of freezer foods, but these work. And they work well. As long as they are well wrapped, I use lots of foil and zip-lock freezer bags, the food will be fine. These are all foods that I make and freeze successfully.

And one more freezer tip. Fruit! We love smoothies, and having frozen fruit ensures a thick smoothie and also eliminates ever throwing out fresh fruit if it’s getting too ripe. I’ve always frozen bananas and berries, but I’ve recently started freezing just about any fruit that we have too much of . Pineapple, melon, and even left over fruit salad go into freezer bags.

I hope you’ll find a few of my meal planning and freezer tips to be helpful. If one little tip is helpful in relieving some dinner time stress, then I’ve done my job. 

I truly believe that family dinners are important. They’re a time to share your day (the big events and the small) with your family. A time to communicate (put away your phones) and enjoy a few family moments chatting about your days. It truly is the small moments in life that your children are going to look back on and remember. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that my children that dinner time was an important family time. 

If you liked this post, please let me know and I’ll do a follow up with more ideas, recipes, and tips. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out my blog, Joy in Every Season.  I cook simple food for real families!!

Joy In Every Season

Renee is a wife (34 years and going strong), a mom (to three grown daughters and two son-in-laws), and Nana to four of the sweetest grand babies (# 5 is due in July). I am truly blessed! I am born and raised in Santa Cruz, CA and a fun little fact about me is that my husband and I went to kindergarten together. I love entertaining, whether it’s hosting a party, a large family BBQ, or simply a dinner for two. I also enjoy gardening, photography, my home, an occasional craft, and family & friends. Cooking and serving others in the comfort of my home truly brings me joy! After I retired from newborn photography, I decided that a food blog would combine many of my passions, thus "Joy in Every Season" was born! For a little more information on my, please check out the "about me" page at: www.joyineveryseason.com A favorite quote of mine is, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, I used everything you gave me.” Erma Bombeck