Posted: Apr 21, 2012 2:47 PM
Planning ahead can save you time and money when it comes to preparing family meals. Follow these meal planning tips for busy moms to create fabulous meals in a flash.

Plan a week's worth of meals

Having to go to the grocery store several times a week is a big waste of time. Make one trip every week or even every two weeks by planning ahead with a complete meal plan. Set aside some time and sit down with a calendar, your favorite cookbooks and a notepad. Flip through the cookbooks and flag the recipes you want to cook for the week. Mark each page with a colorful Post-it note or other identifier. Read the recipes and compile a grocery list in your notebook of everything you'll need. Try these grocery store apps to manage your grocery list. You can print out this convenient meal planning spreadsheet from to organize your meal ideas.

Select foods that are in season

Produce and other foods that are in season are cheaper and more nutrient-rich. They are also easier to find in the grocery store. So when you are creating your weekly meal plan, keep the season in mind; if you live, say, in Minnesota, you don't want to be searching for watermelon in the dead of winter.

Cut down your time in the grocery store by shopping at off-peak hours. Grocery markets are the busiest between 5 and 6 p.m. during the week and in the mornings on the weekend. Go early in the morning or late at night during the week to avoid the crowds and lines.

Choose simple recipes

When cooking for your family, you don't need to make recipes with tons of ingredients and steps. Instead, look for recipes with five ingredients or fewer. Even better: Find meals that can be made ahead of time or cooked in the crockpot.

Count on leftovers

Cook a little extra at dinner time to create leftover meals for lunch the following day or dinner later in the week. You can turn leftover chicken into chicken salad sandwiches, leftover ground beef into taco salad and leftover veggies into pita pockets for lunch.

Organize your kitchen

Save time in the kitchen by keeping it clean and organized. Organize your pantry, cabinets, drawers and refrigerator. Clear small appliances that you rarely use off your kitchen counter to create more work space.

Go meatless twice a week

Cut down on your family's red meat consumption by going meatless at least twice a week. Eliminating meat saves cooking time and money, plus it's great for your health. To get vegetables and fruit on the cheap, head to the farmers' market within an hour of closing time. They often mark down the produce significantly right before close.

Use your freezer space

If you've got the freezer space, use it to plan and cook ahead. Whenever you're making casseroles, pasta, sauces and other staples, double the batch. You can put the extra in your freezer for those last-minute meals when you're short on time. If you're feeling really motivated, try Once A Month Mom. This program helps you plan and freeze an entire month worth of family meals. You choose from their menu options (traditional, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.), then the website provides you with your month's worth of meal plans. You set aside one Saturday a month and spend about 8 to 12 hours cooking, prepping and freezing the meals. They provide you with everything you need -- the recipes, the grocery list and the instructions to make the most of your time in the kitchen.

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Topics: time savers