I don’t know about you, but meal planning is often the first thing to go at my house when summertime arrives. It’s easy to toss something on the grill and just add a salad, or go out for ice cream and call it dinner.
While this seat-of-your-pants lifestyle is glorious, it doesn’t jive as well with the busy back-to-school season on the horizon. So, a little preparation is in order.
When it comes to back-to-school, we want to provide our families with solid, sustaining nutrition and we don’t have all day to cook. We want to start everybody off with a good breakfast, easily pack lunches and snacks, have healthy after-school snacks at the ready, and also make dinner each night.
Maybe we should just head to the beach and stick our heads in the sand. Who’s with me?
The key to making this happen is shopping smart and batch cooking. We can do this.
Protein-packed options stave off hunger and offer more sustainable energy throughout the day than carbohydrate-heavy choices. My favorite make-ahead breakfast is egg casserole. You can find recipes for all different versions of this, but in general, it consists of a lot of eggs and milk filled with meats, veggies, seasonings, and cheeses of your choice. Once baked, your family can warm up a slice in the mornings.
No time to make a casserole? Simply having hard-boiled eggs on hand can give your family members what they need to start the day. Adding some grab-and-go fruit can make it all the more enjoyable and nutrient-rich.
The key is to buy large quantities of quality eggs and make breakfast prep part of your weekend routine.
With some advanced planning, packing lunch can be a breeze. No, really.
The key here is to involve the kids and put a solid system in place.
Define the elements of a healthy lunch and then have them ready to take from separate bins or baskets in the fridge and pantry. Check out YouTuber Jordan Page’s video, “Best Kid Snacks & Lunch system! Ideas, hacks, tips, & how we do it!” about her lunch-packing system that her children manage themselves. It’s brilliant.
How many times have your kids asked for a snack this summer? Have children always snacked this much?
When the school year begins, having snacks at the ready becomes even more important. Not only are there snacks at school, but there’s also the after-school snack (which really can be helpful for that transition time), and even snacks required for after-school activities. So many snacks.
You don’t want to be scrambling every time you need to come up with another snack. Have items pre-sliced, pre-packaged, and ready to go. Healthy options include fruit, nuts (if allowed and no allergies are present), cheese sticks or slices, cut veggies, yogurt (watch the sugar content), and hard-boiled eggs.
When shopping, find healthy options at big-box stores to make stocking up as easy as possible.
If the question, “What’s for dinner?” gives you anxiety, it’s time to embrace the strategy of batch cooking. With one big effort each week, you can ensure your family has delicious, nutritious meals all week long. The key is to initially prepare a lot of food.
It seems to me that if I’m making a dish that calls for diced onions, for example, I’m very likely going to make other meals that week that I’d also add diced onions to. I’m already chopping, so I chop enough for the week.
Similarly, let’s say we’re having chicken. How many ways can be prepare chicken throughout the week? Today’s grilled chicken can easily become tomorrow’s chicken parmesan, with the simple addition of sauce and cheese, and Wednesday’s chicken tacos with some seasonings, toppings, and taco shells. So, if I’m grilling chicken, I’ll do it once.
For additional time savings, you can put your slow cooker, pressure cooker, or instant pot to work to make things even easier.
If you’re a real overachiever, you’ll plan beyond just one week at a time and store ready-to-go meals and ingredients in your freezer.
Each week, pick a main ingredient (chicken, ground beef, etc.) and make a list of other ways that it can be used throughout the week. Then prep that ingredient and any others you’ll use at one time. You’ll be all set for an entire week of dinners. Boom.
Schedule Your Prep Time
Importantly, you need to carve out the time each week to do this prep work. If it isn’t on your calendar, it probably isn’t going to happen.
Perhaps Saturday morning, while everyone else is sleeping in, would be a great time to set yourself up in the kitchen and get to work. Maybe Sunday afternoon after activities have wrapped up and you’re watching football would be a good time to get it done.
Make an appointment with yourself, commit to it, and enjoy the feeling that you’re totally on top of things, because you are.