Monday, October 19, 2015

Simple Tips for Easier Meal Planning for Busy Moms & Families

I used to dread the nightly question... What's for dinner? and because of that one simple question meal/menu planning has turned into something I am not sure how I ever lived without. Now, don't get me wrong. It does take a little time to get it just right for your family and budget, but it is totally worth the small time investment. Not only does it save me time but it also saves us money plus dinner time is now a lot less stressful in our home. 

Just think... a few minutes writing out a menu and shopping list doesn't even compare to the amount of time I used to spend trying to search my cupboards for something to make each night, only to realize that I was missing the one main ingredient I needed for the meal and have to figure how to substitute it or start my dinner search all over again. It was time to end this battle and start making things simple. 

Menu/ Meal planning can seem overwhelming and exhausting especially if you are new to it but don't let fear scare you off! It can be a lot easier than you think! I was that mom once too, a busy momma of 3 who wanted to eat healthy and teach her little ones to eat healthy too but I did not want the nightly battles over dinner and I did not want to make multiple meals for the pickier eaters in my family. 

So after a few months of toddler power struggles and whining from my hubby who used to be my pickiest eater I figured out a few simple tips that work for me (and my family). Not only do these tricks make my life easier and end the power struggles at dinner time anyway but they are some of the tips I share with my challengers. As a health and fitness coach I often teach those in my challenge groups to meal plan and prep so they can be successful in reaching their goals. So, I promise these tips will work for you and your family too! 

If you are thinking about trying it, here are a few strategies I have found that make my meal planning more successful:I stick to these simple tips to make it my meal planning/prepping easy. When I meal plan/prepare my families meals for the week I look for recipes with these three key factors:
  1. Buy in Season and on Sale Foods- I try to buy in season produce and veggies whenever possible. This helps keep me in budget and it helps support local farmers. I also check the local ads to see what is on sale that I can buy and save on. (I also will stock up on sale priced items for future meals). 
  2. Prep/Cook Time - I love recipes that do not take tons of time to prep or cook (unless they are crock pot meals). This gives me time to be with my family and not in the kitchen. Simple, yummy recipes are my fave!
  3. How Many Meals - Take a look at your week ahead. It is crazy busy or slower. Do you need to make crock pot meals or casseroles that can be made, frozen and then reheated? Doing this will lower your stress level :)
  4. Grab a Pen & Paper - I actually use a dry erase board but you get the idea. Write down your menu. I like to write the days of the week on the left side and then the meals I plan to make on the right with the ingredients listed. I base these meals off my schedule. (see above tip)  
  5. Overlap Ingredients/Use on hand items- Select meals that have like ingredients to help you minimize how much you have to buy and if you have left over fruits/veggies, or extra sauces, even seasonings and spices, Pick meals that you can use up these goodies or freeze them for future meals.  When I make a meal plan I list out every ingredient then I check off what I have on hand so I avoid over buying. For example if you make spaghetti one night make extra sauce to make a casserole or pizza another night. 
  6. Kid/ Hubby Approved - As I mentioned before end the power struggles. Life is busy and stressful enough so I strive to make meals that my entire family will eat. How do I do that you ask? Well, it is actually pretty easy. 
  • First Make a list of your family's favorite meal that work with your life style and your budget. (Be sure to consider breakfast for dinner and crock pot meals) Kids don't like change so seeing the normal meals they are used to will help them transition into healthier options, add new meals into their routine, plus eat better, -Aim for 7-14 main meals.
  • Look at the recipe to see what items can be switch out to make the meal cleaner, healthier and easier. For example can you substitute lean ground turkey breast in lou of ground beef or lean turkey sausage instead of pork sausage. Try using rotisserie chicken instead to shorten your cooking time.
  • **Bonus Tip - Have your little ones help you prepare dinner, often times kids will eat better if they helped prepared it. 

I hope these tips give you a little more confidence to try meal planning for yourself and family. If you are still needing a little inspiration, you are in luck! I will be sharing some of my weekly meal plans and am here to help answer any questions you might have!