If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. As a working mom, I could not agree with that statement more. Since the birth of our daughter just over a year ago I have been meal planning my butt off and I can’t even begin to tell you how much it has helped! My stress level is at an all-time low, I’m eating healthier than ever before, and I’m spending less money (and time!) on food. Read on for my best tips at setting your family up for success and eating healthy meals during the school year.
1. First and foremost, to ensure that your family is eating healthy food, you must buy healthy food.
It’s kind of like the sentiment from Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” If you have healthy food, they will eat healthy food. Sure, it’s important to indulge once in a while, but if you have cookies, chips, ice cream, and doughnuts in your house at all times, chances are good your kids are going to go straight for those. Over time their taste buds will start to crave the sweetness of red grapes or the crunch of a crisp apple. Ice cream can be a treat; it doesn’t have to a daily staple. You may be surprised to find that they enjoy a bowl of freshly popped popcorn for bedtime snack even more than some of those sugary, artificial alternatives.
2. Prep meals on the weekends when you have more time.
Get your family’s input on meal ideas and then plan a week’s worth of meals and snacks. Make a list of everything you need and then grocery shop for the week. This may seem like a daunting task, but it’s such a huge time-saver that it’s totally worth it. To make my grocery store trips as quick and painless as possible, I organize my list by section or department. I start with bread/baked goods, then produce, then meat, cheese, etc. Again, it takes time to plan, but your trip to the store will be smooth and hassle free if you are organized. Then send the kids outside (or ask them to help you prep!), blast your favorite tunes, and spend a couple of hours in the kitchen prepping your meals. If you can only spare an hour, make enough food to get you through the first few days of the week. It’s all about what works for you. Also, peel your carrots, slice your strawberries, and dice your watermelon on the weekend so they are ready to go for the week. You and your kiddos are more likely to reach for a healthy snack if it’s already prepared and ready to be eaten.
3. Grocery shop with your kids.
To be honest, this might seem like more of a hassle than it’s worth, but if your kids have a say in what they eat, they are more likely to enjoy their food. You might not realize how much they love oranges or that they really prefer broccoli over asparagus. Or you might find that all they want is chicken nuggets … but at least it’s worth a shot!
4. Let your kids help cook dinner.
If they are old enough, ask them to help make dinner! Taking pride in the meal they have prepared will no doubt make them more likely to eat it. Cooking is also a great creative outlet for kids, not to mention a very necessary life skill.
5. Encourage your kids to make their lunches for school.
Of course you’ll have to supervise and make sure that the variety and portions are up to par, but again kids are more likely to eat their lunch if they get to pick out the food. And if you’ve got a fridge full of healthy, prepped food they should have no problem packing a nutritious lunch that is approved by you.
6. Make “two-for-one” meals.
You prep one ingredient and then use it for two different meals. Try to plan your meals for the week around this idea. For instance, I might cook a few pounds of ground turkey and use half for tacos one night and half for spaghetti sauce another night. Or I would roast chicken breast and make chicken noodle soup one night and chicken enchiladas another night. Prepping one ingredient for two meals will save you lots of precious time in the kitchen.
7. Use the crockpot!
This might seem pretty obvious, but there are tons of things that you might not have thought about cooking in the slow cooker. Aside from chili and pulled pork, you can also make things like chickpea curry, baked potatoes, and even lasagna. This gives you an excuse to peruse Pinterest for ideas and will save you tons of time during the week.
8. Don’t forget that the freezer is your friend!
If you have the time, make a double batch and freeze the second one for later. When I make enchiladas, I make two pans and freeze one for next month. When I make pork carnitas in the crockpot, I freeze half to make taquitos next week. I also like to make a big batch of pizza dough and then freeze it into individual crusts for homemade pizza night. The freezer is a great way to ensure that you use all your leftovers, and that you have a quick and easy option for nights when you don’t have the time or energy to cook.
We have been so conditioned to reach for convenience foods and rush through meals quickly that it can be hard to slow down and take the time to enjoy a family dinner. However, nutritious eating is a huge part of an active, healthy lifestyle and we have to remember that it starts at home. So when you are able, try to slow down and take the time to enjoy your food and your family.
Olivia Lockwood, the creative mind behind Midwest Foodie blog, was born and raised in Wisconsin. She is enjoys making moderately healthy comfort food and sharing her family’s favorite recipes with her readers.