Two households, both alike in the chaos of the dinnertime struggle. Yet one house has a plan to survive the night - it's a meal plan. And let me tell you, it is a sanity-saving device!

As a postpartum doula, I work with families experiencing all different things during the postpartum stage - feeding issues, sleep struggles, big transitions. But one thing that nearly all families I work with have in common is their struggle to cook a quick and nutritious meal while juggling all the other responsibilities of life with a new baby.

But did you know there is a way to eliminate most of that dinnertime stress? It's called meal-planning! Not sure it could work for you? Well, just look at the difference between our two households and then tell me which one you want to be.

Household One - No Meal Plan

This family has a toddler and is also adjusting to life with a new baby. Mom is still home on maternity leave but Dad has been back at work for a couple of weeks now. The freezer meals that Mom prepared before baby's arrival have run out and the casserole-wielding visitors have trickled to an end.

It's 3:00 pm and the toddler is up from his afternoon nap. He's super cranky and the baby has been cluster-feeding off and on all day. Mom's growling stomach reminds her that she's hungry. She's been living on Larabars all day and would actually like to eat a real meal for dinner.

So, what is for dinner?

Well, judging by what's in the refrigerator, not much.

Now it's time to round up the troops and head to the grocery store. After convincing the toddler to stop playing trains, put his socks and shoes on, stop playing trains again, buckle the baby in the carseat, put the toddler's shoes back on again (hey, at least he hadn't pulled his socks off yet), Mom realizes all she's wearing is a nursing tank and yesterday's leggings. So after getting some clothes on and rounding up the troops again, it is 4:00 pm and she's off to the grocery store.

Now the real fun begins.

By the time Mom pulls into the parking lot, baby is fussing in the car seat, so into the carrier she goes. Mom manages to convince the toddler to get into the grocery cart, but he's clearly not happy about it. Some kind of bribery will be in order as she maneuvers the aisles. And, wait a minute? What is she actually getting at the store anyway? So, with two kids in tow, both in various states of unhappiness, Mom hits the aisles cobbling together something that she can cook for dinner as well as some food that should at least get her through the next few days.

Or at least she thinks so. She's really just trying to survive this trip without much thought to healthy, easy to prepare meals for the rest of the week.

So, let's be honest - she will be back here, doing this all again, by the end of the week.

Thankfully, she does survive the grocery store. But now she has to go home and actually cook the dinner and it's 5:25 pm by the time she gets home. Guess that early bedtime she had been dreaming about is out the window.

Household Two - The Meal Plan

This family has similar dynamics - a toddler and a newborn. Mom is home and Dad is back at work. The meal train that a co-worker so thoughtfully set up for them ended a few weeks ago. But Mom's not stressed. Why? Because she meal plans.

On Sunday, Mom poured herself a nice, big cup of coffee and snuck away to a private part of the house, while Dad watched the kids for a little bit. As she drank her coffee, she looked over a Cooking Light magazine or her Pinterest boards and got some ideas for dinner. She was hoping to make a quick and easy crock-pot meal this week, so she also searched Pinterest for "easy crock pot soup" recipes.

She then put together her meal plan for the week - what she was going to cook on which nights, what nights her family would eat leftovers, as well as lunch and breakfast ideas and some notes on when she could prep snacks and ingredients at certain times of the day. From this plan, Mom made her grocery list and headed to the grocery store later that day.

So, now it's 3:00 pm on Tuesday. The toddler is up from his afternoon nap. He's super cranky and the baby has been cluster-feeding all day. Mom was hoping to run an errand this afternoon, but it's not important and she doesn't want to have to drag two cranky kids out of the house.

Instead, they all head to the back yard to get some fresh air and let the toddler run off some of his crazy energy. Mom sits in the back yard and feeds the baby, while the toddler collects leaves. Then she puts the baby in the carrier and plays a fun game of hide-and-seek with the toddler. Soon enough, no one is cranky and everyone is enjoying their afternoon.

Now it's 4:30 pm and they're starting to get hungry. Wait, what about dinner?! Not to worry, Mom has a meal plan.

Earlier that afternoon while the toddler napped and the baby dozed in the Rock-n-Play, Mom prepped all the ingredients for her easy, crock-pot soup. She pulled the crock-pot down, dumped everything in, set it on high, and she was done. And so now, as the family heads back inside, the soup is almost ready and Mom just needs to cut up some fruits and veggies for the toddler to eat on the side. Dinner should be ready to go by 5:00 pm. And that means early bedtime for everyone. Yes!

So, which household do you want to be? Household Two, right?!

You CAN be the meal-planning family. It just takes a little advance planning.

I work with my postpartum families all the time on this. You just need to set aside a little time each week to make your meal plan. Work out a time on the weekend where one parent can watch the kids while the other parent plans the meals for the week.

Have no idea where to even begin looking for those meals? Check out our Pinterest board, it's full of easy and healthy meal and snack ideas. Pinterest is a great place to find a variety of recipes or you could subscribe to several cooking magazines and have recipes delivered to your mailbox monthly.

And then write it down on a piece of paper or make a spreadsheet for your family or use a whiteboard. Anything. All you need is a place to write down what meals you will eat each night - something new on Monday, maybe some leftovers on Wednesday, let's make Friday pizza night. You get the picture.

With just a little bit of planning time at the beginning of the week, you will save yourself so much stress and hassle the rest of the week.

As a postpartum doula who also loves to cook, this is one of the services that I love to share with my families. Even if they'd never dreamed of meal planning before I started working with them, by the end of my time with them, they are all using meal planning tips to some degree. There are many other things I do too, but meal planning is definitely one of the best!