Easy, affordable meal planning tips for single moms

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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.

Quick meal planning tips for single moms:

  • Focus on batch and freezer cooking
  • Experiment with meal delivery services
  • Is grocery shopping your own personal hell? Amazon Fresh is our recommended grocery delivery service. Save $25 on your first order of $100+ plus free delivery

If you are on government assistance, see if you qualify for 50% off Amazon Prime >>

Luckily, there are many meal planning strategies to 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.

Single mom meal plan with easy meals

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.

Single mom recipes

Single mom grocery list

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.

Why you can't afford to do your laundry — and how to outsource it for cheap

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. If 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.

Look for Amazon grocery coupons on this page.

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.

Use grocery grocery delivery and curbside services

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.

Is grocery shopping your own personal hell? Amazon Fresh is our recommended grocery delivery service. Save $25 on your first order of $100+ plus free delivery.

If you are on government assistance, see if you qualify for 50% off Amazon Prime >>

Either way, when you order your groceries online or use curbside pickup, 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.

Meal delivery services for one: reviews

If you decide you want a more comprehensive service to help with your meal planning, consider a meal kit 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 meal kits for one 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.

Amazon Fresh

Amazon Fresh is our number one recommended grocery delivery and meal planning service. But in addition to offering grocery delivery, Amazon Fresh also offers meal kits (called Amazon Meal Kits).

Meals are designed to be cooked in about 30 minutes, with most of the prep work (cleaning, chopping, etc.) done in advance. The meal kits come with two servings each, and there are currently 14 recipes available. Prices vary from recipe to recipe, but typically come in between $8 and $10 per serving.

Unlike other meal kit services, with Amazon Meal Kits you are not signing up for a subscription; instead, you simply add a meal kit to your Amazon Fresh order whenever you want one. This makes it great for when you want to try something new, but don't necessarily want another subscription.

Amazon Meal Kits are available in any market served by Amazon Fresh. The service is free for anyone with an Amazon Prime membership.

Check out Amazon Fresh coupons and deals >>

HelloFresh

HelloFresh provides ingredients straight from farms and has small, sustainable packaging that fits easily in your refrigerator. Prices start at $7.49 per serving, for four servings per meal. A- Better Business Bureau rating. Flexible meal planning to accommodate different tastes and diets — including meal kits for one.

Blue Apron

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. Are you cooking for just yourself? The leftovers make for a great lunch or dinner the next day, or can be frozen for later. You’ll be cooking from scratch with ingredients they deliver. All meat they provide has no hormones added.

Home Chef

With Home Chef, you can mix and match your meal preferences, rather than only get a pre-set meal list each week. Have dietary restrictions or just want to avoid certain foods? You can indicate that when signing up. The standard meal plan is designed for meals to be completed within 30 minutes, though the company also offers recipes designed to be cooked in 15 minutes or less. You can choose to receive boxes designed to feed between 2 and 6 people.

Green Chef

Green Chef has very comprehensive menus that fit all diets. Right now they have a paleo menu, a keto menu, a vegan menu, a vegetarian menu, and a “balanced” menu. You can select to receive meal kits for just one person, or for 2, 4, or 6 people.

Sun Basket

Sun Basket uses organic and sustainable ingredients in their food. They currently offer ten different meal plans designed to cater to individuals following different diets, including Paleo, vegetarian, pescatarian, gluten-free, carb-conscious, and diabetes-friendly options, among others. You can choose to receive meals for 2 or 4 people.

Daily Harvest

Daily Harvest provides smoothies, overnight oats, soups, sundaes, and chia parfaits all with exceptional ingredients. Meals are designed to be ready in minutes, and feature organic produce without dairy, gluten, or other fillers. Because meals are frozen, you can order either 9, 14, or 24 items at a time and use them as needed.

Purple Carrot

Purple Carrot only provides plant-based recipes, so it’s just for the vegetarians out there. You can choose to receive 2 or 4 servings of their dinner items, 4 servings for their breakfast items, and 2 servings for their lunch items.

Blix (formerly GreenBlender)

Blix offers meal plans specifically for smoothies. In order to sign up for their meals, you will need to purchase their kwiX smart blender, which also comes as a part of their starter bundle.

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.

The bottom line

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.

But the time-crunch struggle is real. So if you can afford Amazon Fresh meals all month long, why not give yourself permission to skip all the shopping and prepping? Get $25 off Amazon Fresh now.

You could use those extra hours to hang out with your kids, get ready for a date, take an online class, read a book – or just enjoy that glass of wine.

Learn about our $500 single-mom monthly grant

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.

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