Back to school means back to busy schedules and routines. But, it’s also a great time of year to get organized with family meal planning to save time and money. When you think about what you’re going to make, you’re more likely to make healthier choices for your family.
Feeling intimidated? Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Keep a list of your family’s favorite, easy-to-make recipes. Have those ingredients on hand. Our list includes sandwiches and paninis, like this Ham Caprese Panini, quesadillas or tacos with all kinds of fillings. These simple go-to recipes are a great way to add veggies to the meal!
2. Set a day and time to meal plan each week. Don’t try to “find” the time to meal plan, “make” the time to do it! I like to do my plans on the weekend so I can shop the next day and minimize multiple trips to the grocery store.
3. Use your calendar to plan your meals. Do I have a day where we’ll be out all day? That’s a good night for a slow cooker meal. On other mornings, I will pull out a freezer meal I’ve prepared ahead of time to thaw in the refrigerator during the day. When dinnertime comes, it’s easy to just heat, add a side like a salad or roasted vegetable, and eat. On less busy nights, I might try out a new recipe.
4. Use your timesaving appliances like a slow cooker or food processor. These appliances are a cook’s best friend! Just a few minutes in the morning is all it takes to assemble dinner in the slow cooker , like this delicious Slow Cooker Veggie Lasagna. At the end of a long day, you’ll feel good knowing that dinner’s ready and you’re serving a healthy meal to your family.
5. Keep track of what is in your refrigerator and freezer. When you have an inventory of what’s in the freezer and refrigerator, you can use that as a guide to decide what to make. Did you get a special deal on chicken this week and want to stock up by freezing some? Great! Just keep a list of what goes in so you can take advantage of that deal before freezer burn sets in! You can also freeze fresh produce, like berries, to save money when they aren’t in season.
6. Involve your children. Not only is it helpful to have an extra pair of hands in the kitchen, letting your kids help make their lunches also will help them gain valuable life skills as they grow older. They will learn things like patience as they wait for something to cook, or for their turn helping out, and math skills as they measure out ingredients. Kids have fun when they can be creative putting together colorful lunches like a Tasty Turkey Wrap. Plus they’re more likely to try out new foods when it’s something they helped prepare!
7. Try to think ahead to the next meal. Pull those pots and pans out in the morning so you’re ready to go at dinnertime! You’ll appreciate those extra five or ten minutes when you’re in a rush to get dinner on the table. You can also prep your produce ahead of time by chopping or slicing them and saving in storage containers in the refrigerator until you’re ready to make your meal.
8. Plan a leftover night. Are you making rotisserie chicken one night? Shred the leftover chicken and add to a quick and easy meal like this Savory Stir Fry. Or, have an all-leftovers night where your family members choose from a fun menu.
9. Always use a list when you shop. Taking a list to the store helps you stay on track and avoid impulse buys—especially when the kids are shopping with you. Many stores have a store layout guide available that will help you plan your trip. There are also new apps available that let you create custom grocery lists on your smart phone! Try Food on the Table for a shopping list app and Fooducate for nutritional information on your favorite items.
10. Plan your meals around deals. You don’t need to been an “extreme couponer” to save money at the grocery store. Clip or print coupons when you see them, but also be sure to check the circular at your favorite grocery store. Using your favorite store’s smart phone app allows you to see the deals before you reach the store, and some of them add in some extra mobile coupons!
With a little practice, meal planning can become a habit that will last a lifetime and help you save money and time as well as eat healthier along the way.