Easy 4-Week Meal Plan for Busy People Easy 4-Week Meal Plan for Busy People

When I went back to work after I had my son, I found it really hard to juggle all the things. I was a new mom caring for an infant, working full-time with an additional part-time job, doing all the normal housework, meal planning, cooking all the food, doing all the cleaning, managing our household finances, expressing milk for the baby to have at daycare, and so much more. From 4:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m., I was balls to the wall. Every second counted.

It. Was. Exhausting.

Needless to say, I didn’t make it long before I crashed. Literally. I crashed our car. Well, I didn’t really crash it. I scraped the rear passenger door on the corner of our building turning to get in the garage. It was raining and dark. We were returning from the emergency room where we learned that, in addition to the flu we were all battling, the new baby was also suffering from a double ear and upper respiratory infection. {Always fun for a new mom, not at all scary. Nu-uh.} Luckily no one was hurt and the damage, while requiring repair, wouldn’t prevent us from using the car for short, slow trips.

We eventually got the car fixed. And our landlady was an absolute angel about the hassle to get the damage to the building repaired. Everything was good as new. And moving forward some things changed. I hired a housekeeper to come weekly. [Expensive, but worth every single penny and I made a new friend.] And I enlisted my husband’s help with the baby.

I was still exhausted, but I wasn’t frenzied.

In the midst of the chaos, I tried to streamline our weekly menu employing several different methods. I made lists, bought a basket for each day of the week, used 3″x5″ cards, read all of Pinterest, and even paid $14 for an app that was supposed to do it all for me. Nothing stuck. It was all just too much work.

But from my desire to simplify things, I developed some patterns. Breakfast was always boiled eggs or oatmeal during the week and pancakes or crepes during the weekend. Lunch was usually comprised of leftovers or the same menu all week. And snacks were always either cheese, a granola bar, or something similar. Things got a little easier.

But dinner was still a problem.

There were a host of choices. So over a year later, when I began staying home with the (now 2) kids, my desire to fix this reoccurring issue turned into a need. So I finally did some brainstorming and simply wrote a list of all the meals that we like and that I like to cook. These included everything from Cobb salad to wings. When I got done with my list, I had several weeks’ worth of meals. This was progress!

Once I had generated my list, I mapped out all my meals on my weekdays leaving weekends open for leftovers or traveling. I tried to keep a pattern of meatless on Monday, involved (meaning a little more time consuming to make) on Tuesday, quick on Wednesday, involved again on Thursday, and tuna or shrimp on Friday. By the time I was done I had well over four weeks of meals. Viola! Meal plan complete. It was a nice feeling. But I wasn’t done yet.

To turn the menu into a grocery list would involve a little more work than simply making a list of meals. So I created a spreadsheet. And while that worked initially, it was too hard to work with. I ultimately settled on a Word® document with two pages for each week. The first page is a weekly menu with columns for breakfast, lunch, a snack, and dinner, and rows for each day of the week. Since we eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and snack during the week, I merged those cells. See .

easy meal plan menu
Easy Meal Plan Menu Screen Shot © 2016 becauseimlazy.com

Seeing as dinner is the big problem, I initially only filled out dinner (though breakfast is filled in above). And because my OCPD (it’s a real thing, look it up) mind wouldn’t stop there, and I wanted anyone who used the menu to be able to find the recipes, and because anyone using the menu wasn’t likely to have the same family composition as mine, I looked up the recipes on the internet (do you have any idea how hard it is to find “classic” recipes online anymore?) and hyperlinked them in the menu. Then I typed in every single ingredient required, right down to “salt and pepper, season to taste”. (For easy reference, I’ve added all these recipes to my “Meals” board on Pinterest if you are interested in following it. Here is the link https://www.pinterest.com/becauseimlazy/meals/.) (Seriously, my OCPD is here for you!)

When I got done searching, hyperlinking, and typing, I started on the second page. The second page is the corresponding grocery list organized by category (loosely arranged by the aisles of my grocery store). See here.

easy meal plan grocery list
Easy Meal Plan Grocery List Screen Shot © 2016 becauseimlazy.com

Once I had input all the ingredients, I copied them into the corresponding category. Now I can find all my ingredients in the grocery store quickly without having to double back a dozen times. While this is a little different than my initial draft of this menu and meal plan (this is more streamlined and the grocery list is better organized), this method has cut my grocery store runs by at least 30 minutes. I can put the kids down for a nap with my husband home, drive to the store, do all my shopping, load the car, drive home, unload the car, and put away the groceries all before the kids wake up. In fact, I usually have time to spare. Who doesn’t love that?

What about foods I already have on-hand?

We kind of skipped a step above in my zeal to share that this saves me at least 30 minutes in my grocery store. I generated this process a couple weeks ago and printed out the resulting menus and grocery lists (the complete menu is eight weeks, but the grocery lists aren’t done yet). Each week since then, my husband picks out the menu. I then add to the menu and grocery list the ingredients for our other meals, like breakfast, lunch, snack, and vegetables or grains to go with the dinner, and also check all our other household needs like diapers and toilet paper (which are on every week of our grocery list so we don’t forget to check our stocks). Then I go through the grocery list line-by-line and cross out whatever I have on-hand.

Now we’re only buying what we need. We are wasting less food. Our cabinets aren’t overflowing. And, if we stick strictly to the list, we spend about $100 to $120 on groceries each week for a hearty family of four – and that includes diapers and baby food. Without cutting coupons, using discount markets, or buying in bulk. I finally found a meal planning process that works for us. And we aren’t eating the same thing for dinner each week. It is a relief. 

Compared to the seat-of-my-pants-on-fire method I was using to plan our meals before (some months we spent nearly $1,000 on food), this method should help us cut grocery spending by as much as $400 per month. I can get on board with that.

But the process is so involved.

You could say that, yes. But once you go through it once, generate your list, and create your menu and grocery list, IT. IS. DONE. And you don’t have to do it again. You can just keep reusing the same 4-, 6-, 8-, or whatever-week menu you come up with. Or create one for each season. Or create one for each quarter. Or don’t. You can use mine. Download it by clicking here: Easy 4-Week Meal Plan. I won’t even ask you to subscribe yet.

Is this menu nutritionally complete? No. No it is not. But it’s done, and for me that’s sooooo much better than perfect. And if I see that a vegetable or a side of couscous would round out the evening’s dinner nicely, then it’s as easy as writing it on the menu and adding it to the grocery list.

Am I a nutritionist? Nope. I can barely spell it. In fact, you might want to double check for me. But I put the meals in here that we like to eat and I like to cook.

Is it (insert dietary restriction/preference/allergen, etc. here). No. By the grace of our creator, my family is blessed and doesn’t have any dietary restrictions. Except my son. He can apparently only eat off the floor.

Well, I hope you find this helpful. If it’s not helpful, I hope you find it interesting. If it’s not interesting, I hope you looked up OCPD and learned something new. In any event, if you’ve made it this far, that’s pretty fantastic because this is an absurdly long post.

Please share your thoughts by commenting below! What methods do you use to meal plan? Were you frenzied as a new mom returning to work? How else did you find ways to find more time in the day?

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