Please don't ask me to say "meal planning mistakes moms make" 5 times fast. I can't do it. I won't do it.
Instead, let me help you have success with meal planning for your family by avoiding some major pitfalls.
In this article, we'll review the biggest mistakes moms make meal planning. We'll also tackle how to avoid them, so that you can skip those bumps in the meal planning road.
The most critical part of meal planning is well, planning. The execution and actually preparing the meals is also important, but really getting the planning set in place is what will help you create the success you want.
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Meal Planning Mistake #1: Setting unrealistic expectations
There are two likely outcomes when you go from regularly getting takeout to planning every meal from scratch. One, it doesn't happen- all the groceries get purchased and half of them spoil in the fridge. Or two- you do cook everything, or at least most of it. That week. But you're so burned out that it feels impossible to keep going.
The Fix: Avoid Meal Planning Burnout
Instead, ease in. Add just one dinner a week to whatever you're cooking now. If you are trying to cut back on takeout more than that, plan a meal that gives you leftovers so you can have it twice. You can also lean on convenience freezer foods to replace some takeout nights. In case you need to hear it, planning on frozen pizza is still a plan.
Meal Planning Mistake #2: Planning (too many) new meals
The first time you cook any dish, it takes longer to make. There is a learning curve with anything new, even if you have all the necessary skills down pat. Double checking you have all of the ingredients and the right amounts, constantly checking the steps, or scrolling back to the steps because your device reloaded the blog page all take time. Plus, it flat out takes more brain power than making a dish you're already familiar with.
The Fix: Prepare What You Know
When first starting to meal plan- or getting back in the groove- cook what you already know how to make. I recommend only making one new-to-you recipe per week, or even less than that- say every other week.
Meal Planning Mistake #3: Not considering the calendar
One of the most common meal planning mistakes is planning it out in a vacuum. If your kids are older, you probably have some after school activities to juggle. That night with the double header baseball game? It is not the evening to need to come home and turn on the oven. Even a 20 minute meal can be too much on super busy weeknights.
The Fix: Check Your Schedule
The solution? Check your calendar when planning and plan for either leftovers or a dump and go crockpot meal (ahem, below) on those crazy nights.
Meal Planning Mistake #4: Not Personalizing It
Listen, I know how tempting it is to grab a done-for-you plan off Pinterest. And if you happen to find one that suits your family, then that's flipping fantastic. But no one knows your family better than you. You know what your picky eaters will eat, what allergens you need to avoid, how much time you have to cook, and what you already know how to make.
The Fix: Make It Yours
Build your own. Start with the meals you already make that your family likes. Odds are this includes tacos and pizza, and if so then variations on those two items are a great head start on your meal plan.
Write out everything that your family likes and you already know how to cook, either on paper or in a digital form like your phone, google docs, or an online app (I like the free version of Trello). Then pick a couple and make your grocery list from there.
Meal Planning Mistake #5: Only planning dinners
Many moms when planning meals will have the main dish for dinner covered. But if you're used to doing mostly one pot or sheet pan meals (which, I love!), it's easy to forget to plan sides for that chicken or beef dish.
And this may sound obvious, but your family eats more often than dinner. This is one of the meal planning mistakes I made when I first started staying home- while baby wasn't on solids yet, I didn't think to plan lunches for myself! Breakfasts, lunches, and- especially- snacks sometimes get forgotten about. Gotta have those after school snacks (bring them to pickup if they’re car friendly!)
The Fix: Plan (Simple) Breakfasts, Lunches, and Snacks Too
Now you can plan for lunches to be leftovers, especially packing for work where as adults we usually have access to a fridge and microwave. The key for breakfast, lunches, and snacks is not to over-complicate the planning. This goes back to the first mistake we talked about with expectations. Your family doesn't need seven different breakfasts and lunches in a week. Pick one to two things for each. For instance, pancakes and muffins for breakfast, and turkey sandwiches and pasta salad for lunch.
For sides, make sure to have a few canned or frozen vegetables in the pantry or freezer so you're not caught without. Also, baby carrots are pre-cut and delish roasted, so they're an easy go-to.
Meal Planning Mistake #6: Not having a backup plan
One mistake a lot of moms make meal planning is not having any backup meals. Parenting is often crazy, and sometimes even the best laid plans have to change. Band practice went late, traffic was atrocious, or one of your ingredients spoiled. Or one of another million things that happen in real life that might derail your dinner plan for the night.
The Fix: Keep A Quick Meal In The Freezer
Having frozen pizza, ravioli, or leftover chili in the freezer for those times can keep you out of the drive thru when things get hectic.
Meal Planning Mistake #7: Not planning for leftovers
Failing to plan to use leftovers- both traditional and re-purposing from another meal is one of the most common meal planning mistakes moms make.
Why? Well, a lot of people- kids and adults alike- don't particularly care for leftovers. Odds are pretty good that someone in your house groans about them.
But, planning for leftovers does 3 important things in your kitchen:
- Reduces food waste
- Reduces how often you have to cook (without getting takeout)
- Helps you stick to your meal plan
The Fix: Incorporate Leftovers Two Ways
Most of us, when we think of leftovers, think of them as reheating the exact same dish we had earlier in the week. And that's a great way to use them! I call it "encore night", some call it "yoyo" (you're on your own) or "fend for yourself" night where everyone has leftovers or makes themselves a PB&J or something. Sometimes just calling it something else can create a shift in how you (or your family) sees leftovers.
The second way to use leftovers is to repurpose them into a different meal with minimal effort. For example, that pulled pork you had sandwiches with? Reheat it with some cumin and chili powder to turn them into a carnitas tacos filling. That leftover pot roast? Turn it into easy crescent sandwiches. Leftover chicken or salmon? Throw it on a salad instead the second time around.
Meal Planning Mistake #8: Missing Ingredients
I think every mom has gotten to the grocery store at one point only to realize that their grocery list is at home. Or doesn't write down every-week items because usually picking them up each week happens as habit, then realizes when they get home that they somehow forgot milk.
Inevitably, items get forgotten, and then they're missing when you go to cook.
Life and mistakes happen, grocery pickup runs out of items, so sometimes you may still be missing an ingredient even with careful planning. But if you realize it right away, it's a lot easier to change your plans and adapt then than it is at 5 pm when you're actively trying to cook the meal.
The Fix: Make Your List Work For You
Forget the list at home a lot? Start making it on your phone, or take a photo of your written list as soon as you write it out.
Can't always remember to get milk or eggs because you need them every week so didn't write it down? Try my free custom printable list- you can type in your every week stuff instead of writing it out each time- then add what varies.
If possible, it's helpful early on to write out every ingredient you need for a recipe, not just what you need to buy. Then, go through your fridge and pantry before heading to the store, and cross out what you already have on hand.
Meal Planning Mistake #9: Not Recognizing Your Accomplishments
This might be the worst meal planning mistake to make of all, because it undermines your current and future self. Too many moms make a meal plan, actually make and serve most of it, and then beat themselves up about that day that just didn't work out.
As a recovering perfectionist, I know all too well that it's easy to focus on the one (or more) nights that got away from you instead of the ones that went great.
The Fix: Recognize What Went Well
Know that if you're doing a meal a week more than you were a month ago, you're nailing it! Celebrate that! The better you feel about your progress, the more likely you'll keep going, and then before you know it meal planning will feel like second nature.
Phew! That was a lot of meal planning mistakes to get through and you made it!
Awareness is so huge, and now that you know what traps to avoid- and what to do instead- you are closer to being an amazing meal planner. Congratulations, you took a big step towards your meal planning success today!
Ready to give it a go in your real life? Awesome! I'd love to help you out with my free, editable, printable meal planner and grocery list. And let me know in the comments what you're planning to make this week.