Meal Planning Ideas for the Burnt-Out Parent


All it takes is one preggo brain, three littles scurrying around at your feet, and a deployed spouse (or any one of those things) to make meal planning an incredulous activity (err, chore). Most parents I know hate meal planning with a passion. It’s funny because we’re smart and resourceful people, but when the time comes to sit down and meal plan, our mind goes blank.

Right now, I have a very picky toddler and my husband is deployed. I’m also still working on shedding baby weight, so my goal in eating is high nutrition and low carbs.

Picky toddler + low carb + tight budget … you do the math. But I don’t think I’m the only one in this boat, so I thought I’d share my ideas with you, and I’d love to hear yours, too!

Leftover Massacre

Chicken Sausage Skillet – chop everything up, throw it all together in a skillet and bam! Pick out the veggies your picky eater won’t eat and you eat the rest!

·         Chicken Sausage

·         Any Veggies of your choice/in your fridge

·         Potatoes (white or sweet or both)

Leftover Massacre Take 2

Do you have a meat, cheese, and vegetable in your fridge? The answer is probably yes. Throw it between 2 slices of bread, heat it up over some butter on a skillet, and you have a panini my friends!

·         Sliced bread

·         Meat of any kind – sandwich meat, chicken, steak, anything will work!

·         Sliced cheese of any kind

·         Cooked veggies – sautéed spinach or peppers would taste best!

Breakfast for Dinner

Yogurt Parfaits – take your plain unsweetened yogurt and load it up! Let the kids decorate and enjoy for breakfast, lunch or dinner (no shame in eating this high protein and nutritious meal for dinner)!

·         Plain, unsweetened yogurt

·         Healthy granola (lowest sugar you can find) or plain nuts

·         Any fruit you can find in your fridge

·         Toppings: Flax seed, chia seed, protein powder, honey

Mexican Night

Tacos, Nachos, and Taco Salad – throw it on a shell or on a chip for the kids and on a bed of lettuce for you!

·         Seasoned meat: chicken, beef, or ground turkey

·         Taco shells or chips

·         Toppings: Lettuce, tomato, salsa, avocado, corn, black beans

Italian in the House

Marinara saue over a bed of dreamy pasta for the kids and spaghetti squash for you! I prefer a homemade meat sauce, but maybe you don’t have time for that.

·         Homemade or store-bought marinara sauce

·         Ground beef/turkey 

·         Pasta

·         Spaghetti Squash

·         Mozzarella cheese *essential ingredient

Classic American

Roasted chicken, potatoes, and veggies. You can either cheat and buy a rotisserie at the store or throw a whole chicken in the oven. Throw some potatoes and veggies on a cookie sheet and bam! You got yourself a homecooked meal.

·         Whole chicken + seasonings (you can keep it simple with salt and pepper)

·         White/sweet potatoes

·         Whatever veggies are in your fridge

At-Home Picnic

Throw a blanket on the ground and serve up some sandwiches (bunless for you)! When did sandwiches stop becoming an acceptable dinner entree?  Have some carrots, celery sticks, and dressing on hand for snacking!

Rice Bowl

Meat, rice (quinoa), veggie all in a bowl. That’s one happy place. Customize it to your tastes and preferences.

Adults Only

In the mood for a real, grown-up dinner? This is the night you serve up a frozen pizza, etc. for the kids and you cook for you! Literally, throw all of these ingredients into a skillet and bam, you’ve got yourself a grown-up dinner! Throw a dash of white wine in the skillet (and your cup) if you have any on hand!

·         Zoodles (I get the pre-cut ones at the store)

·         Frozen shrimp

·         Butter

·         Garlic

·         Lemon Juice

Other Deployment Cooking Tips

·         It takes a little practice but aim for one serving of leftovers, no more, no less. More means you’ll be eating the same thing all week. Less means no lunch for the next day.

·         Make a list and don’t over buy. It takes some adjusting when buying for one less person with a big stomach. Try to minimize your spontaneous purchases with a strict list. It’ll help your budget and give you more eating out wiggle room!

·         Research all the local restaurants that offer kids eat free nights. This is a fun way to stretch your budget and have one less day of cooking.

·         Go to the defac (Army dining facility) one night! Tell the kids that this is what mommy/daddy is doing and we’re going to “eat how mommy/daddy eats” today! It’s a fun activity to encourage some bonding and understanding for the kids.

·         Potluck with friends. Once a week, invite a set group of friends over or meet at a park. Everyone brings a dish to share!

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Corinne Ables
Corinne is eager to share her challenges with finding purpose outside of a title or role alongside her journey as an Army wife and new mom. Her last five years as an Army wife have brought five moves – including one OCONUS, a sweet son, Joshua, and many turns in her career. Most recently, she has found fulfillment as a freelance marketing consultant at Teahouse Creatives. Corinne has a heart for people and a tendency to overthink most situations. Tetris, trying new recipes, long walks, and traveling are a few of her favorite things!