Household Management

The Busy Mom’s Guide to Menu Planning

Simple tips and tricks to make menu planning less stressful and more efficient!
Mom Improvement Presents: The Busy Mom’s Guide to Menu Planning

Is Menu Planning a Chore For You?

I have a love-hate relationship with menu planning and grocery shopping. Sometimes I am excited to try new recipes I have found, or we have special events planned and I get to do some special cooking. Other times, it feels like I’m trudging out the same tired old recipes, the stress of trying to reduce our grocery budget is exhausting, and I just can’t imagine dragging myself and the kids to the grocery store!

If you share any of those feelings, I’m sure you can relate! These are the best tips I have found to help bring mindfulness and stress reduction into my grocery and cooking habits.

Make Menu Planning less stressful and more straightforward!
What’s on the Menu?

Tip 1: Make a List of “Backup” Meals

This was yet another tip from the amazingess that was the Budget Boot Camp. But it’s really, really helpful. You just make a short list of meals that you pretty much always have the supplies/energy to make. The quickest, easiest dinners at your fingertips. My family uses something off this list about once a week; my husband comes home late from work, I’ve been too tired and busy with the kids to bother cooking, we’re in a time crunch before bedtime and we need to get a meal on the table. We take a deep breath, and we consult our Backup List. To give you some inspiration for yours, here is ours:

  • Hot Dogs
  • Chicken breasts, a vegetable and a starch (bread, potato, rice, etc.)
  • Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
  • Spaghetti and Meatballs
  • Chicken Parmesan
  • Macaroni and Cheese (from a box)
  • Homemade Pizza
  • Soup and bread, salad or sandwiches
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches and fruit
  • Eggs and Toast
  • Breakfast for Dinner

(Obviously I need to make sure that I stock up on the ingredients for these meals when we are running low, so I have this list on the fridge so I can reference it when I’m preparing to go grocery shopping)

When Menu Planning, try doing an ingredient search to find new recipes and use up what's in your cupboard!
Quinoa

Tip 2: Search for Ingredients for New Ideas

Right now, in my cupboard, I have not one but two bags of quinoa. Presumably, I bought it for a recipe I never made, then forgot I had it and bought another bag the next time I decided to make a dish involving quinoa. I make unfortunate mistakes like this on a relatively frequent basis. The first and easiest solution to this problem is to keep a good inventory of your pantry and cupboards somewhere that you can reference when you’re making your grocery list. I still need to do this! Let me know if you have a good system already in place, I would love some tips!

There’s an easy way to solve this problem of too much quinoa, however, and that is to search a recipe website for quinoa. A bunch of interesting recipes will pop up involving quinoa and I can pick something new to add to my menu planning that will use up my extra ingredients! You can do this with anything in your cupboard, and sometimes some really unexpected things will come up! I have a terrific recipe for a dessert made with garbanzo beans that I never would have found if I hadn’t had an extra can of garbanzo beans in my cupboard and decided I needed to use them up! You can use any recipe website you like, really, and don’t be afraid to go looking for new recipe sources. Let me know if you’d like me to write more about that, too!

PepperPlate has made my menu planning SO much easier!
PepperPlate App

Tip 3: PepperPlate (or something like it)

One of the best investments of time I have ever made was to manually upload my recipe collection to an app called “PepperPlate“. It’s really easy to use and it has a built-in menu planning Calendar. You can also add ingredients from your recipes right to the built-in shopping list in the app. It’s been a really big time-saver, because all of a sudden, all my recipes are in one place. Building a menu is only a couple of scrolls and clicks!

Plus, if I happen to be out and about, and decide to pick something up for dinner, I have the recipe and ingredients list right on my phone, so I know I won’t accidentally forget something. It took a long time to set it up initially, but it has been completely worth it. It helps me rotate through a much larger selection of recipes. This helps prevent us from getting bored with eating the same foods over and over again. It also helps me avoid some of the pitfalls of menu planning: over-planning and over-buying (hence, overspending).

There are probably a few different apps like this one, so pick the one you like the best and take the time to get all your recipes in one place. You won’t regret it! Plus, then you can store your cookbooks wherever you want (and they don’t have to take up space in your kitchen if you don’t have the room!).

If Menu Planning has you overbuying your groceries, try planning fewer meals for the week!
Try not to overbuy your groceries!

Tip 4: You can be a little under-prepared

You don’t need to plan a meal for dinner for every night of the week. Especially if you are well-stocked with items from your backup menu. Things happen- we get invited to eat dinner with our in-laws, maybe a conflict comes up or the kids don’t want what we planned to eat and we need to improvise a little. I usually plan about five meals (for dinner) in a week. Those extra two nights can be taken care of in lots of different ways, including eating leftovers, as well. It saves money on our grocery budget, it allows for flexibility and improvisation and it keeps me from buying too much food.

Remember your backup list- it’s important to stick to it, especially if you are like us and you have a very slim budget for eating out or ordering in. It takes a little bit of extra willpower sometimes, but sticking to a strict grocery budget is a major contributor to our monthly financial discipline and planning, so we make it a priority, my husband and I talk about it a lot, and we strategize how to keep everything running smoothly.

What do you do to make your menu planning easier and less stressful? Leave a comment and let me know!

Road to Minimalism: Creating the Perfect Stay-at-Home-Mom Wardrobe

Practicing Mindfulness and Minimalism to create the perfect Stay-at-Home-Mom Wardrobe!
Mom Improvement Presents: Road to Minimalism: Creating the Perfect Stay-at-Home-Mom Wardrobe

The Road to Minimalism

Every once in a while, I’m going to write about de-cluttering.  I’m calling it “The Road to Minimalism”.  This is because I hope to achieve a minimal amount of belongings by the end of my journey.  I don’t think I’ll ever be someone who could count all my possessions on one hand or anything like that.  I would never try to convince you to live like that, either!  But my personal feelings about ownership have been shifting lately.  Maybe you share some of my feelings?

My new motto, inspired by my journey towards mindfulness and minimalism!
Have nothing in your home that you don’t know to be useful or believe to be beautiful!

Mindfulness and Messes

A great source of stress (for anyone) is clutter.  When stuff is everywhere, we tend to feel a little claustrophobic, no?  Plus, I realized that I would rather have a few nice things than a bunch of crappy, cheap things I don’t really like or use!

I decided to start with my wardrobe because it seemed like a practical, essential place to start.  If I had a small amount of nice clothes, that went together, that I also liked to wear… well, that would be perfect!

Creating the Perfect Stay-at-Home-Mom Wardrobe

I am not fashionable.  Not one bit.  My shopping habits can be described as “erratic”, “random”, and “quirky”.  I tend to just choose single pieces that I like, and assume they will incorporate in with the rest of my wardrobe.  SPOILER ALERT: More often than not, they do not!  And especially after a friend of mine started selling LuLaRoe, my wardrobe became full of things that couldn’t possibly be paired together, because they were unique or crazy prints.

So, time to purge… and wait quite some time before I start replacing.

My Main Methods and Philosophies

There are a lot of articles out there already about how to create a “capsule” wardrobe.  I think this method is a little different than the usual ones.  How?  It’ll be slower.  I’ll be honest, I don’t have the money to buy a bunch of new clothes, so if you’re in that boat, too, try my plan!  The goal is to figure out what we already have.  And figure out how to put those things together in as many different combinations as possible.  So here is the basic plan for creating our perfect Stay-at-Home-Mom Wardrobe:

  1. Go through your wardrobe once each season.
  2. Pick things you know you’re never going to wear again.
  3. Sell them on ebay if they are in good condition
  4. Or donate them*
  5. If you can fit it into your budget, GYPO (see below) can help us figure out as many combinations for outfits as possible
  6. Keep track of what you wear and how often.
  7. At the end of this season, purge yet again, removing the items that just didn’t get used.
  8. Depending on the balance in my paypal account after my ebay sales, I may be able to invest in some new pieces… but that remains to be seen!
Creating the perfect Stay-at-Home-Mom Wardrobe with minimalism and mindfulness!
A well-ordered closet!

Getting Started: Stay-at-Home-Mom Wardrobe Style

To make outfit planning easier, create a “hanger system” in your closet.  I moved all the summer clothes, dresses, and everything else to the back of my closet (I have a walk-in).  If you don’t have enough room to do this, put everything you don’t need away somewhere.  Then put everything you want to incorporate into your seasonal wardrobe on hangers.  We want to see it all together.

Start Removing!

You know what you don’t need anymore.  Get it outta there and decide what to do with it!

*My neighborhood participates in this awesome local recycling program called “Simple Recycling”.  We can leave out bags of clothes and other household things and they get collected right along with our recycling every other week!  It’s a great way to get things out of the house.  If you need suggestions on where to give your stuff, this is a great article.

Creating the perfect Stay-at-Home-Mom Wardrobe... with a LOT of help from an expert!
Photo Credit: Get Your Pretty On

Get Your Pretty On: *Affiliate Link*

If you used my link to sign up for a style challenge, I would make a small commission- not paid by you, paid by the affiliate.  Feel free to refer to my Privacy Policy, Disclaimer, and Terms and Conditions if you need any more information!

Even with all my clothes laid out in front of me, I am not good at putting together outfits.  I need help.  So, I turned to “Get Your Pretty On”.

It’s a pretty awesome “Style Challenge”, created by this adorable woman named Allison.  I loved getting an email every night telling me what I was going to wear the next day- and I didn’t even buy anything, I adapted every outfit suggestion with stuff I already had in my closet, so it was a major savings.  Plus, I put a lot of my clothes together in a way that I never have before!

This is what you get when you sign up:

  • A capsule wardrobe shopping list (you’re free to shop where you want and spend as much or as little as you want; I spent nothing!).
  • Links to shop for recommended items online or in store.
  • A daily outfit idea- created from pieces on the shopping list- sent to your inbox, so you know exactly what to wear every day.
  • Plus, a beautiful, printable outfit guide so you can see all the outfits in one place!

If you are interested…

This is the GYPO website so you can check it out.

And here’s my affiliate link if you decide to buy: The Stay-at-Home-Mom Capsule Wardrobe is $29.  I know that’s a little steep, but it came with so many wonderful outfit suggestions based on just a few pieces, and I already had most of them (or things similar enough) in my closet.

If you don’t think this is the right idea for you, I know that next month, Allison is releasing something called “The Big Book of Outfit Formulas”, and I think it’s only going to be $29.  For a big book full of outfit ideas.  Yes, please!  I can’t wait to get it.  I think it will be the perfect way to look for inspiration in the pile of “blah” that I feel like I have going on right now.

Also, GYPO does a capsule wardrobe for each season of the year, as well as a yearly subscription that comes with access to all the seasons.  If you’re in the market for something like that, I definitely recommend it!  She sends awesome weekly emails with outfit inspirations, and she has a fantastic eye for how clothes go together.

Putting together outfits is just not one of my skill sets, so I am so glad I decided to get some help.  I genuinely feel like I am using my current wardrobe so much more effectively, and it’s way, way easier to get dressed in the morning.

Look for Other Resources

Don’t worry if you don’t want to spend for a program like that!  Pinterest is chock full of wardrobe boards and outfit pins (you can check out mine here).  Or, call a friend who dresses well!  People love to share their knowledge.  Maybe she can come over sometime after the kiddos are asleep and help you go through what you have.  Sometimes a fresh eye can help you see things differently!

Creating the Perfect Stay-at-Home-Mom Wardrobe using Minimalism and Mindfulness, plus some well-organized hangers!
A hanger system helps me track what I’m wearing how often!

Use Your Hangers to Help You Keep Track

If I wear something multiple times, it is getting moved to the very front of my closet.  Things I’m not wearing are getting rotated to the back.  You could also take a selfie of your outfit to help you remember what you’re wearing.  Figure out a way to keep track of your most “popular” items- these are the things that are getting heavy rotation!  For sure you will want to keep these clothes and maybe find other ones like them in different colors/cuts.

It’s really up to you how you want to keep track of this.  Using a Pinterest Board, a Polyvore account, or just a list on paper.  Just try to track 2 things- what you’re wearing a lot of (like blouses, t-shirts or black pants), and what you would like to look for in the future to help you make more outifts.  For me right now, I am jonesing for a good pair of brown riding boots!

Start Price Shopping

I’m not going to do any buying until the end of the season, because I want to really get the most out of what I already have before I add more (remember the minimalism thing?).  I’m going to start making clothes-shopping decisions at least a week-long process.  This will just help me make sure that I really want that item.  If I’m still thinking about it a whole week later, then I’ll start looking for it.

I want to keep an eye out for things that will last me a long time, too.  If I find something at a higher price tag that’s going to give me a few years of good wear (like a good, high-quality pair of winter boots), then I’m definitely going to factor that into my clothes-buying budget.  I won’t know how much I’m going to be able to spend until I’ve sold all my ebay listings.  I’ll let you know when I figure it out!

Great New Year’s Project

If you’re looking for a New Year’s Resolution, this could be a great one!  A cleaned-out closet, a carefully-planned Stay-at-Home-Mom Wardrobe… Happy New Year to YOU!