As a single mom, and for so many moms I know, the most stressful part of your day is dinner. And breakfast. And lunch.
Shopping, stocking, prepping, baking, warming, and cleaning (or not …) is weighed down with the pressure to make sure your kids are not getting [at least some marginal sum of] nutritional value and you are more or less enjoying some quality time together.
Luckily, there are many meal planning strategies streamline this process, save money, and make your week a whole helluva lot less stressful when it comes time to sit at the dinner table and being that perfect family of Instagram
Here are some of my favorite strategies for streamlining and outsourcing meal planning. As I’ve written many times, you cannot build an incredible life if you are doing everything yourself, all the time. No one has ever built a successful business without outsourcing, and you cannot build a successful home life without the same. So, let go of the guilt for not raising your own cucumbers, strawberries and eggs, baking, canning, roasting and whatever else from scratch. Let it go. Outsource these things, and use those hours and newly freed energy to actually enjoy mealtime, your kids, go for a jog, get laid, read a book or otherwise lead a sane life You’re welcome!
Here are my proven ninja strategies to make grocery shopping easier and less expensive. There are also several tips for using meal planning services and grocery delivery services to take the pressure off of you during your busy week. With these smart strategies, you can enjoy your kids more and worry about schlepping to the grocery store and slaving over the store. Cuz ain’t nobody got time for that!
Tips for stress-free grocery shopping
When you’re a single mom, it can be hard to find time to go to the grocery store alone. However, the first tip for making this process seamless is to shop by yourself. So, if your children are school age, make it a point to go every week while they are in class, or with their dad. If your children participate in sports, dance, or gymnastics, try to make a grocery run while they are at practice. You are not obliged to stalk your kids 24/7. Let another adult (coach, teacher, instructor) stalk them once in a while. That is what you pay for!
Kids can be very distracting in a grocery store, and marketers know this. Fact: this is why all the colorful cereal is on a lower shelf. So, beat those horrible food conglomerates at own game and try to take a short, focused shopping trip by yourself. This will save you time and money in the long run. The bonus? No tantrums in the bread aisle.
In addition to going to the store alone, bring a list. n fact, if you can take just a few minutes to jot down what you want to buy, it can save you lots of time in the store because you won’t have to backtrack.
If you shop in the same store all the time, organize your list by aisle. Start with the fresh produce and make your way throughout the store. It might seem like overkill, but time is money! If you don’t have to backtrack to buy an onion you forgot to grab, that’s time you’ve saved. Make a list of each aisle or each section of the grocery store, and write down what you need to buy in each area.
Tips for more affordable grocery shopping
The easiest way to save money while grocery shopping is to sign up for your grocery store’s rewards program. Most grocery stores have this option, and it usually only takes a minute to put your information in and get a rewards card. Sometimes the rewards cards can double as gas savings cards at some grocery stores, so do some research to find out if you can receive double the rewards. This varies by region and store.
In the past, I’ve argued against couponing, because the old-fashioned way of clipping actual stupid paper coupons was way, way more work than it netted in savings. HOWEVER, times have changed and technology is a beautiful thing. Now, you can often load digital coupons onto your card and they will deduct automatically when you check out. There are also printable coupons at Coupons.com, f you’re not interested in taking the extra step of couponing, your card will still give you savings every week as long as you scan it at the register.
Another tip to manage your grocery spending is to bring cash to the grocery store. Science has found that you’ll be much less likely to put cookies in your cart if you know you only have a $100 bill to spend. Carrying cash keeps you beholden to your budget.
Another step you can take after you’re finished shopping is uploading your receipt to a shopping rewards app like Ibotta. Ibotta gives you cash rewards for the shopping you’re already doing. You can even connect your grocery rewards card to the app to get the best combination of deals. I love Ibotta, because it is EASY, and you don’t have to do any extra work to save money. Also, don’t forget other common tips, like shopping for in-season produce and stocking up on basic ingredients like flour and sugar when they’re on sale.
Grocery delivery dervices
If you’re reading this and thinking of how much you loathe the grocery store, there are solutions for you. In fact, a grocery delivery service is a great way to save time. There are two ways you can do this: get curbside grocery pickup or use a service to have your groceries delivered directly to your door.
Some of the most common services that bring groceries right to your door are:
- Amazon Fresh – Save $25 on your first order plus free delivery (with code)
- Peapod – Save $20 on your first order plus free delivery
- Instacart – Free delivery on your first order
- Fresh Direct – $25 off your first order of $99 or more (with code)
- Safeway Delivery – $25 off your first order plus free delivery when you spend $100 or more (with code)
Keep in mind that the grocery delivery services mentioned above might not be offered in all areas. Some have different fees, delivery charges, and promotional periods. The benefit, though, is that you can go online and order your groceries and have them arrive at your front door. Some of these services include having the delivery person bring the bags inside. Additionally, some of them offer same day delivery if you order before a specific time of day (usually in the morning).
Some of the most popular curbside grocery pickup services include:
- Safeway Pick Up
Unlike the grocery delivery services mentioned above, these stores offer curbside pickup. The benefit is that you can still order online, drive to the store, and have them put the groceries right in your car — at the store’s curb. As a single mom, it doesn’t get much better than that; you don’t even have to take your kids out the car (or, leave them in the car like a normal person, but then worry someone will call CPS and arrest you. Grocery shopping is a very loaded activity).
The other benefit to using the curbside pickup services above is that they are typically more inexpensive that full grocery delivery to your door. For example, Kroger ClickList is free for your first three orders, then only $5 per order after that.
Either way, when you order your groceries online, you don’t have to worry about impulse buys or a Snickers bar accidentally falling into your shopping cart. Even though there may be delivery fees or pick-up fees, you will likely find savings because you have to be intentional with every item you put in your digital cart. Plus, the websites highlight discounts in one place, so it is easier to identify deals and stock up.
Tips for batching and meal planning
I know that batching and meal planning sounds like a giant pain in the ass. It is, and it isn’t. Once you get over the overwhelming idea of taking a little time to strategize, and then make giant heaps of food, you will come to appreciate how much time and money these strategies save you. If you’re skeptical, start with breakfast planning — the dozens of healthy muffins and breakfast sandwiches in my freezer have literally made my mornings so much smoother than I no longer hate my kids. It is that powerful.
In order to meal plan, you have to think of what you eat in terms of recipes, not individual ingredients. So, you’re not going to the grocery store and blindly putting chicken breasts in your cart without knowing how you’re going to use them. Instead, everything you buy has a specific purpose as a part of your meal plan.
One of the best ways to make meal planning easier is to batch your food in large quantities. Batching means that you make giant quantities of food, divvy them up into individual or family-sized portions, and then freeze them for later consumption. Some of the best recipes to batch are things like red beans and rice, homemade spaghetti sauce, and soups and chili. All of these meals are inexpensive and freeze well.
Keep an eye on your weekly fliers, and buy the ingredients for these meals whenever they’re on sale. Always make double or triple batches of these items. It makes dinner planning incredibly easy, and you can always eat leftover soup another night.
If the thought of looking up recipes and deciding what meals to have overwhelms you, not to worry. There are services to help you with this too. For example, a service called The Dinner Daily will help you plan meals around your grocery store’s weekly flyer for a small monthly fee. There is also a meal planning service called $5 Meal Plan, which promises to give you recipes without random, expensive ingredients.
Meal Delivery Services
If you decide you want a more comprehensive service to help with your meal planning, consider a meal delivery service.
The companies below all ship fresh, individually portioned ingredients to your house with detailed menus and instructions on how to make each recipe. Many of them offer meals for specialized diets, like paleo, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets. What I like best about meal delivery services is that they are usually pretty healthy, and they force me to cook recipes outside of my normal repertoire, which can get boring, fast. Plus, they tend to be really, really tasty — for both adults and kids. No complaints at my house. Except from the kids. But that is another issue.
Out of all the meal planning tips mentioned here, these services are the most expensive because they check all the boxes: meal planning, ingredient selection, recipes, and delivery to your door.
HOWEVER, time is money! You might be spending a little more here, but ultimately, investing the saved time into other parts of your life. Plus, usually, these companies offer different promotional offers where you can try them for a week for a lower price. See each link below for more details.
With Blue Apron, you can choose a 2-person or a family plan, which were perfect for my two kids and me when they were little, and now perfect for my boyfriend and me when my kids are with their dad. You’ll be cooking from scratch with ingredients they deliver. All meat they provide has no hormones added.
Hello Fresh provides ingredients straight from farms and has small, sustainable packaging that fits easily in your refrigerator.
The hallmark of Terra’s Kitchen is that all the ingredients arrive pre-chopped. So, if you don’t need to feel like you’re Anthony Bourdain, this one could be perfect for you.
- Home Chef
With Home Chef, you can mix and match your meal preferences, rather than only get a pre-set meal list each week.
- Green Chef
Green Chef has very comprehensive menus that fit all diets. Right now they have a paleo menu, a gluten-free menu, and a keto menu.
Sun Basket uses organic and sustainable ingredients in their food. They also offer several different options whether you have a family or want to eat Paleo or Gluten-Free.
This company prides themselves on honest sourcing of ingredients, several different options for those with food sensitivities or restrictions, and meals endorsed by dieticians.
Many moms might like this meal service because they have chef-inspired meals but don’t require a subscription. For people who just want to try out some of these meal plans, it can be hard to remember to cancel them if you don’t want to continue. With Chef’d, you don’t have to worry about that.
Daily Harvest provides smoothies, overnight oats, soups, sundaes, and chia parfaits all with exceptional ingredients.
Purple Carrot only provides plant-based recipes, so it’s just for the vegetarians out there.
This meal plan is specifically for smoothies. Get ingredients right to your door to make green smoothies on the spot.
Ultimately, finding a way to make fresh, quick meals for a growing family can be a challenge. Luckily, thanks to the wonders of technology, there are many different ways to make meal planning for single moms much easier.
Whether you plan your meals yourself or outsource the task, you’ll be well on your way to having more control of the meals in your home. Even if some of these options cost a subscription upfront, meal planning will save you money over time because it means less ordering pizza last-minute and more nutritious meals made from ingredients right in your home.
With enough organization and planning, you can absolutely find a way to make dinner time a little bit easier with some of the tips and tricks mentioned above. So, start with making a list and head to your nearest grocery store by yourself to do your shopping. Then, after a few weeks of that, if you find you need more help at dinner time, a grocery delivery service or a meal delivery service could also be a great option for you.
Holly Johnson is a financial expert, award-winning writer, and Indiana mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting and travel. Her personal finance articles have been published in the U. S. News, Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, and Life Hacker. Holly is founder of of the family finance resource, ClubThrifty.com, and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love. Learn more about Holly here.