Cooking and shopping for busy, young families can be overwhelming. It used to be hard for me, but with time I have learned what has worked for us to simplify my life a lot. I want to share my ideas and tips to simplify meal prep and grocery shopping for you.
Meal Prep Ideas
Growing families use lots of food. We still just have little ones, but I have to keep working to keep their tummies filled.
One of the things that most helps me is cooking very simply. Cooking isn’t necessarily my favorite chore, so I like if the options don’t need to be overwhelming.
My husband is also not a picky eater so I know that makes it easier for me. He enjoys simple meals even without a lot of variation. If we need more variety, it is usually me who wants more. Children can be taught to enjoy simple meals, but if your husband would like more, you might have to work a bit harder.
Cook Without Recipes
Another thing that really helps me with cooking in these years with a bunch of little ones around needing my attention is to not use recipes. I know how to make our main meals without recipes, and it simplifies everything so much when my attention has to be in several places at once. Once in awhile we do something different with a recipe, but that is not the norm for me.
I encourage you to learn to cook without recipes as much as you can. It will save you time and mental energy. This article has more tips on cooking without recipes.
Prepare food in Batches
I do all my baking just once every one or two weeks. I stick the bread (already sliced) and cookies in the freezer, and just pull it out whenever we need. For someone who enjoys baking this might not be an issue, but for me I sure enjoy not needing to be baking so often.
I also cook rice and beans by the potful. We eat a lot of that! Then I keep it in the fridge and just reheat what we use each day. You can do this based on what foods you eat a lot of. It saves me so much meal prep time.
Repeat Favorite Simple Meals
At our place most breakfasts revolve around eggs, toast, fried plantains, and oatmeal. Occasionally I will do pancakes or something different. The noon meal is our biggest meal in the day. Most of the time it’s rice, beans, salad, and meat done in different ways. Supper is a simpler meal for us. Basically every week we eat of the following list one or two times.
Our Simple Meal Ideas
- Tortillas with mashed beans, cabbage, and toppings.
- Empanadas (mashed beans or some other filling in a tortilla dough pocket, deep fried.)
- Rice and egg patties.
- Egg sandwiches.
- Simple chicken soup.
- Cooked noodles fried with eggs.
Find what works for you.
Obviously each family is different, and living in Costa Rica will also make our menu unique. (For me, menu planning just doesn’t work. Instead, I keep my staple groceries on hand. More on that below.) Find what your family likes and eats that you can easily cook in the busy seasons of life with little ones. Someday when some of the intensity passes, I hope to add variety more frequently to my meal prep.
Grocery Shopping Tips
Here’s a little story about how I got to shopping. I basically didn’t do any shopping in my first five years of married life. It probably had to do with being a young bride in a new area, not enjoying shopping, a husband who was totally okay doing it for or with me, and a grumpy, old car!
As life got busier for my husband, I decided to grow up and start learning to drive the car, and then we sold the car and got a van which behaved much better. So now I often try to do the shopping myself. I leave my children with their grandma or aunt, and just take one at a time. At this stage the baby is obviously the one with the privilege of going along, and with a baby carrier I usually manage.
Have a set time to go shopping
Here in Costa Rica things might be a bit different then for some of you. Gardening is quite difficult, so we basically get a bit of corn, cilantro, and cucumbers in rainy season. We also live in a semi-urban area so we end up buying most of the rest of our food.
We buy meat as we need it, and try to get enough for a few weeks. Then there is a fruit and vegetable truck that comes by once a week where I can get fresh fruits and vegetables right to my front door.
For all the rest of my groceries I try to go once a month, though we are not that far from a store if the need arises to get anything in between time.
Have a Master Shopping List
One thing that really helps to be able to go shopping only once a month is a master grocery shopping list. It is a list of all the groceries you buy. I have a list in my phone of all the groceries and supplies I normally have on hand, along with how much I need each month.
Before I go shopping, I check over my basic grocery list and do an inventory of what I have on hand. I can adjust the number of how many packages or what quantity we use in a month if we end up having way too much or too little. That way I get pretty much everything that we need for a month, and I don’t remember some forgotten item as soon as I get back home.
Busy moms, take heart!
Cooking and shopping for your family can be a lot of work. I was no expert, but I have learned how to make it easier and more enjoyable for myself, and I am sure you can too. It will get easier with time.
Save it for later.
If you need some tips on housekeeping as a busy mom of little ones, read this article.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learn to cook simple meals without a recipe. Have staple ingredients on hand that you can always use for some common meals that your family likes. When possible, prepare food in batches so that you don’t have to spend so much time cooking.
A master grocery list is a list of all the basic ingredients, groceries, and supplies you keep in the house. It is an easy way to remember to check your inventory on everything, so that you can check it all out before you go shopping, so you don’t miss anything you may be needing in the next while.
What are your best meal prep ideas and shopping tips for busy moms of little ones?