How to Plan Meals as a Single Parent and Keep Your Sanity

Below: How to meal plan for single parents. Planning out meals for your kids is different when you’re a single parent. Traditional meal plans won’t work.

I feed my kids dinner every night. Well except for Wednesday and every other weekend and the fourth Tuesday and Thursday and third Friday.

Single Parent Conundrum

Thanks to a crazy custody schedule, I’m constantly looking at the calendar to see when I will serve a full dinner, when we will just have leftovers, and when I have a night off. Problem is I often end up with too much food, not enough food, and very rarely is just right.

Let’s see I’ve tried:

  • Serving a whole meal each night just to end up with so many leftovers when the kids are gone I’m throwing food away.
  • Giving up and serving fast food the majority of the time.
  • Halfing all the recipes but then it’s not enough and kids are hungry later.
  • Serving one full-sized recipe and eating from it for 3-4 days until we are all sick of it.
  • Trying every single “meal plan” out there – which means for all the traditional, nuclear families.


The fact is, I still needed to meal plan. I just need one that understands single parents.

Related: 5 Healthy Tasty Meals for Single Parents and Small Families

Meal Planner for Single Parents

I’m convinced that traditional meal planners just don’t work for single parents.

We need one that incorporates whether we are feeding 1 (ourselves) or feeding 2+ (depending on how many kids you have).

When I sit down to meal plan, the most important indicator isn’t the day of the week, it’s the number of people I’m feeding.  I plan my meals around the custody schedule.

How to Use a Single Parent Meal Planner

planning Dinner Around a Custody Schedule

  • Fill out a meal planner with regular meals for when you have the kids at home for more than one day in a row. For example, if your kids eat dinner with you on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday only then make a “classic, family meal” on Sunday night that you usually can’t eat all of. Basic casseroles like the ones I’ve shared in my weekly newsletter are perfect for this.
  • This allows you to eat like a “nuclear” family those nights because you have another night to deal with the leftovers as a whole family. You can do what all families do the second night to mix it up – add a salad, throw the chicken in pasta or on bread for sandwiches, etc.
  • This means you don’t have to plan for the 2nd night in a row they home with you. You can have leftovers.
  • For the nights they eat dinner with you sporadically, like on Wednesday or Friday in the example above, this is where you have small meals. You know your kids – what can you make that there won’t be any leftovers from? In my house, that’s taco night. Also, these garlic sandwiches are always gone in one dinner setting.

Related: How to Plan so You’ll Stick With It

When It’s Just Dinner for One

Here are a few ways to use a meal planner when it’s just you dining at home.

  • If you love leftovers, then you can tweak the calendar to cook the classic family meals every other night your kids are home. Having it too often will leave you with too much food.
  • If you’re more like me, and can’t stand the food you’ve been serving to the kids, following the above guidelines should leave you without any leftovers. Your options may feel limited at first – casseroles are too much food, fast food all the time is unhealthy, salads all the time is too healthy.

But actually, you can eat whatever you want when you want now. Just be careful. As a result of this new found freedom of not having to put food on the table for anyone (but me), I found myself not bothering to cook even for myself. It took me a long time to force the habit back into my life. Find what works for you.

  • Once a week, make up a bunch of salads in a jar. You don’t have to use mason jars, instead, save your spaghetti jars and use those. This is perfect for you to grab on weekends when the kids aren’t home too.
  • Consider breakfast for dinner during the week. These mini-quiches are fast and can be frozen.
  • If you make and freeze your meals ahead of time, buy a small foil dish for one and put aside a small serving for one. Label it and freeze it. You can get these out at different times than you did the other meals you served the kids so you are mixing it up for yourself without having to cook twice.
  • While I love the convenience of freezer meals, I struggle with coming up with ideas. MyFreezeEasy fits seamlessly into Single Parent meal planning because you can modify the meal plans by the number of servings.
meal planning for kids
Plan out what’s for dinner without stress.

Related: How to Make Easy and Fresh Pineapple Salsa

Planning Out Your Month Ahead

Using the Single Parent Meal Planner example start listing out your go-to meals in 3 categories:

 single parent meal plan page2
  1. The classic, family meals discussed above that you don’t mind (maybe even like?) having leftovers. These can be casseroles, roast, whatever.
  2. The second column is for you to list out meals that your kids and you enjoy that don’t typically have any leftovers.
  3. Lastly, what meals can you make for one when the kids are gone? Which ones will you actually make and eat? Breakfast for dinner, smoothies, or foods the kids won’t normally eat. List them all out here.

You can get a copy of the Single Parent Meal Planner inside the Single Mom “Overwhelmed No More” Resource Vault.

Next, take the blank calendar page. This isn’t just any calendar page. Notice it has an extra box next to each place where you will write the date. This extra box is for you to check if your kids are with you that evening. Do you provide dinner for them that night or are they at the other parent’s?

Depending on the where you have checkmarks, you’ll fill in your meals from your first sheet.

single parent meal plan page2

Also included with the Single Parent Meal Planning workbook is a weekly schedule if you want to write out more details or the grocery list and a notes page.

You can get a copy of the Single Parent Meal Planner inside the Single Mom “Overwhelmed No More” Resource Vault.

Just a Few Extra Minutes Each Week

It takes a few extra minutes a week to bounce your meal planner against your custody schedule.

But considering you are ending the frustration of too much food, or not enough food, or frequent trips to McDonald’s, it can be worth it.

This guide can help you step it out.

Print out as many monthly and weekly calendar pages as you need until the system becomes second nature to you.

Related: Kid-Friendly Side Dishes for Your Family BBQ

You can get a copy of the Single Parent Meal Planner inside the Single Mom “Overwhelmed No More” Resource Vault.

How to Plan Meals as a Single Parent and Keep Your Sanity

One Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    love this, thank you! so glad i found this resource

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