Diana Price - Dietitian Nutritionist
Time Saving Strategies for Family Meal Prep
September is National Family Meals Month. It’s also the perfect time to get back into a routine that includes meals together as a family!
Eating meals together as a family regularly has some surprising effects. Check out the amazing highlights below ⬇️
📚 Better grades
✨ Better self-esteem
🍎 Healthier eating habits
💪 Less likely to be overweight
💖 Greater family engagement
Here are five meal prep strategies that will save you time and energy to ensure your family can reap the positive benefits of family meals. If you live alone, or with a roommate or partner, don't worry. These strategies will make your life easier too!
If you or someone in your household has any food limitations, whether it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, allergies, food sensitivities, or an elimination diet, these strategies will be a lifesaver. Meal prep is also a great way to manage your meals for weight loss too.
Every family is different. Schedules - work, school and extracurricular, etc. – need to be considered. If your family is not used to eating together or you are all extremely busy, start small and build. Starting with one meal together per week is perfectly okay.
Here are a few more guidelines to get you started with meals together.
Put meals on the calendar and include a time. Consider a weekend breakfast, brunch, or lunch if weekday dinners are impossible.
Emphasize the importance of being together instead of creating elaborate meals.
Keep a sense of humor while at the table.
Eliminate distractions, like TV, telephone, and cell phones. Distractions are linked to overeating!
Try to limit the conversations to positive or neutral topics. Create an environment that leads to healthy communication.
Teach young children good etiquette and table manners. Be a good role model for returning college students and young adults if they have lost their way with dorm life and roommates. 😉
It is hard for any of us to make good decisions when we’re tired or frazzled – even a dietitian!
Have a plan! And be sure to have a Plan B or two in your back pocket to help keep meals running smoothly no matter how the day unfolds.
Using a meal plan as a guide can be REALLY helpful. It doesn’t mean that you have to make every meal on the plan. That can be overwhelming too! A meal plan can help you and your family get started with preparing healthy meals the whole family can enjoy.
Each week, plan three dinners and a few snacks. Continue until you have a collection of at least 10 dinner meals you can put into rotation - this can take up to 4-6 weeks. Having some regular meals that you can depend on to be quick and delicious, without needing too much brain power, is a lifesaver!
For inspiration with family meals, try recipes from my Simple Eats Plan. This meal plan is family-friendly yet 75% plant-based. You can search for additional recipes, but you can’t get off track with your health goals. All the recipes are dietitian approved and tested.
Batch tasks and cook
You may already batch tasks at work or around the house, but what about in the kitchen? If you’re cooking, get after it! Most of us don’t love cooking every single day! I know I don’t, so I try to avoid it with strategic meal planning and prep.
Batch cooking, simply, means cooking a large amount so you can enjoy it throughout the week or freeze it for later. Having a well-stocked freezer is a lifesaver. Double your favorite freezer-friendly recipes for quick and easy meals. Freezer-friendly meals include Bolognese sauce, chili, broth-based soups, meatballs, taco meat.
When my kids were young, I tried to make a meal I could freeze every week! Here are some of my favorites.
Bolognese Sauce over pasta and/or spiral veggies
Chili … Game Day, Chicken White Bean Turkey, or Pumpkin Chili for a seasonal treat
Tuscan Vegetable Stew serve with cheese and crackers
More batch hacks:
🔪 If you are cooking several dinners this week with similar ingredients, onions, bell peppers, carrots, celery, why not chop enough veggies for all the dinners? You will be thankful for less chopping when the time comes to cook the second or third recipe! Another great option is to buy already chopping veggies.
🍱 Leverage dinner into lunch by increasing your recipes to ensure you have enough the next day. Dinners such as soups, stews, and roasted proteins make excellent lunch box regulars when paired with non-prep items such as fruits, vegetables, cheese, and crackers. Dinners such as soups, stews, and roasted proteins make excellent lunch box regulars when paired with non-prep items such as fruits, vegetables, cheese, and crackers.
👩🍳 If you are turning the oven on, use more than one rack. Try roasting a variety of veggies at the same time for use later in the week for meals, bowls, scrambles, salads, wraps, and more. Here’s my favorite printable guide by My Frugal Home.
🥤 Pack smoothie ingredients into bags or cups and freeze. Breakfast is now as simple as dumping the ingredients into the blender with your favorite milk or juice for blending.
🥕 Pack a crudité or mixed veggie into baggies with a single-serve hummus for a quick snack. I love baby carrots, cucumbers, sweet peppers, snap peas, celery, cherry tomatoes, radishes, olives. Lightly steamed veggies like green beans, asparagus, cauliflower, and broccoli can also be added.
No matter what your family dynamic is, everyone can help at some level with meals. Kids love to participate in food prep. Give kids some responsibility. Whether it's cutting up ingredients, packing portions of their lunch, or stirring muffin batter.
Kids love to eat foods they’ve had a role in creating! Kids are also more likely to try new foods - even fruits and vegetables - if they’ve had input at the grocery store and helped to prepare them.
Adjust your expectations
When your circumstances change, so does your patience. This is completely normal! If meal prepping is new to you, remember to be gentle with yourself. If you have more activities than normal, it is reasonable to look for ways to simplify and delegate. You do not have to do everything yourself or create complicated meals. You can have a happy and healthy family, even with a few shortcuts.
🍳 Breakfast for dinner
🍗 Rotisserie chicken … microwave new potatoes and a veggie
🧊 One of those freezer-friendly meals you made last week or over the weekend
Meals together as a family have amazing benefits. With a little advanced planning and preparation, meals can be stress-free and plenty of fun!
Change always comes with a bit of stress! Be patient with yourself and your family as you establish new routines. Consider what steps you need to take to ensure that you’re eating the meals that help you to thrive. Plan ahead and don’t forget to make that plan B!
I hope these tips help make things easier for you while you keep your family happy and healthy during busy days!