Getting a healthy dinner on the table every day can be a challenge. Between working overtime, kids’ soccer practices, cleaning the house, and everything else you do, dinner can sometimes take a back burner. This might leave you feeling guilty about the fact that your kids have eaten macaroni and cheese for the past three days. You want to serve well-balanced meals but there just doesn’t seem to be time.
Fortunately, there is a better way. Follow these five great tips and see how much easier things can be by next month.
1. Plan Your Menu – I know this one seems like common knowledge but a lot of families just have a general idea of what they are going to eat that week and not a specific menu. Having a menu, however, takes all of the guesswork out of dinner time and makes it less overwhelming.
Sit down once a week or twice a month and write down your menu. Stick it to the fridge. Take into account what you have going on each evening so that you can plan your meals with a longer prep or cook time on the days you have more time. Choose something very simple on the days you are super busy.
Think about your morning schedule too. If you plan a crockpot meal, be sure that you have time in the morning to get the meal prepped and into the crockpot.
Bonus! Plan the menu with your spouse and kids so everyone is sure to get some of their favorite meals in the weekly lineup.
2. Plan Your Shopping List – Planning a menu will not work unless you write out your shopping list. You can’t follow your menu if you have a hodgepodge of ingredients in your fridge or you have everything you need but one specific ingredient.
Write down your shopping list and don’t try to remember it. Even with the greatest memory, it can be hard to pick up all of the ingredients you need from memory. Take a few minutes and write it down.
Bonus! If you write your list aisle by aisle, you won’t have to zig-zag all over the store to get what you need. This will make it more likely that you leave the store with everything you need, plus some extra time to spend as you wish.
3. Pre–packaged is a Possibility – Yes, pre-packaged food is more expensive for the most part, but if you can afford it, then why not? Some of the easiest ones are pre-made mashed potatoes, bagged salad, sliced fruit, and chopped veggies.
And note that some things are more affordable to buy than they are to make from scratch. Try fried-chicken from your local grocery store deli, for example, or pick up a frozen lasagna.
This thinking also works for kids’ lunches and snacks. Individual bags of chips, cookies, and so on can be expensive, but they do save time. It is all about you. What do you need to save more of, time or money?
Bonus! If making dinner means warming up a frozen lasagna and putting out a bagged salad, this is something that kids can get involved in.
4. Prep-time is a must – Now that your kitchen is stocked full of all of the ingredients you need for the upcoming week, take the time – once or twice a week – to prep ingredients for the upcoming week.
The most important thing to remember is to defrost your frozen items! There is not much worse than opening the fridge to cook dinner and realizing it is still frozen. It can throw a wrench in your evening when you have to turn to cereal or order pizza.
Bonus! Get the whole family in on the meal-prepping for some quality family time.
5. Pick a few constants – Doing the same thing for the most part month after month can also take some of the stress out of meal planning.
For example, you could turn every Tuesday into Taco Tuesday. This even leaves some wiggle room to try out different types of tacos from time to time if the mood strikes you.
How about making every Friday pizza night? You can switch this up too. Some weeks you can make homemade pizza, some weeks you can order pizza. On a really busy Friday, you can pop a frozen pizza in the oven.
If you always work late on Wednesdays, for example, make Wednesday a crockpot night or choose a meal the kids can make before you get home.
Bonus! Whatever you do, having some staples helps cement in a family tradition.
So, take a few moments this week to sit down and start planning. Make your list, get to the store, and start your meal prep. Don’t forget to enjoy the sense of calm and extra time that comes your way when you have taken care of your eating needs days and weeks in advance!