Preparing quick, healthy meals for dinner is an ongoing challenge for many families. Fortunately, there is a solution, and it comes in three parts: meal planning, shopping, and preparing.
This is the first of a three-part series that breaks this easier-said-than-done formula down into doable action steps. Blocking out a little time each week will improve your and your family’s health—and quality of time together—while reducing stress and saving money.
Make a Plan
There’s a lot to consider when deciding what to make for dinner: likes, dislikes, budget, what’s already on hand, how to make it healthy and fast… just to name a few.
To get started, take note of where you’re at now. How often do you currently cook dinner? If you cook once or twice a week, start there. If you make the leap from once a week to five nights in a row, you could be setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. Start by making a plan for the two dinners you normally attempt, and build from there.
Planning a weekly menu that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables is the best way to plan for healthy meals. If you have a bunch of critics (alternately known as picky eaters), get them in on the plan: have each family member suggest a meal that they would like to see on that week’s menu. Nothing wrong with veggie Bolognese* every week!
Writing down and displaying the weekly menu in the kitchen or dining area is also helpful in getting your family’s “buy-in” to the meal planning process. It lets them know that this is a family event, not just one more task of mommy’s, and it can nudge others into participating in it.
Meal Planning Hacks
Take advantage of the idea of cook once, eat twice and get up to three or even four meals without much more effort. For example, Monday’s roasted chicken can be shredded for Tuesday’s tacos or enchiladas, or even Wednesday’s soup or chicken and vegetable potpie. Roasted vegetables from one night can be transformed into a vegetable lasagna the next.
Meals often can be recycled or reinvented into stir-fries, Mexican (bowls, enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos), frittatas, pizzas, and soups. I had one client tell me she puts her extra salad items into her soup!
Don’t discount the value of leftovers. Besides their lunch value (think chicken salad sandwich!), designate one weekday night as “leftover night”—a smorgasbord of leftovers turns family dinner into a picnicky feast.
Smartphone apps make meal planning even easier. Apps like Pepperplate and Plan to Eat allow you to store your family’s favorite recipes, view previous weeks’ plans, and make future planning a snap.
On to Step Two…
Planning your meals will also make food shopping an easier and less expensive mission, too. When you’re armed with the list of what you know what you will need for the week, it makes impulse purchases less likely, including the ingredients for that fancy new dinner you extemporaneously tricked yourself into believing you’ll make this week. (Not today, koji.)
For more on the time-saving, money-saving, and sanity-saving step two of the weeknight dinner solution, stay tuned!