We’ve all seen people stopping by the grocery store on their way home from work to purchase the items they’ll need for dinner. There’s nothing wrong with that—we’ve all done that at some point. But you have to admit; last minute shopping gives you even less time to prepare your meal, and less time with the kids. We can make mealtime a bit more relaxing by simply planning ahead.
After all, the few hours of family time you have between the end of your workday and bedtime are crammed. You have sporting events to watch, play practice, dance lessons, piano lessons, and art classes to taxi, and community meetings to attend. We haven’t even mentioned the yard work and house cleaning you hope to finish before you fall into bed. Finding time to prepare a meal among the chaos can be a real challenge. Making healthy meals you and your family will love can be even harder. So what do you do?
Plan to plan. Meal planning is easier said than done. You need to schedule it into your week before it will happen. Designate a time each day to look through the coming week. Take note of after-school events and evening activities on your schedule. Those events will determine the meals you prepare. Busier days might require a simple meal, or something that you could prepare ahead and keep in a slow cooker. The days that are more open might allow you time to get really creative.
Meal plan when you’re hungry. It’s hard to think of food when your stomach is full, so plan meals when you’re feeling a little hungry. That hunger will keep your mind open to several meal options and help you keep variety in your plans. Write down your meals for each day and a list of ingredients you’ll need to buy. Try to think of everything so you can get it all in one trip.
Shop when you’re full. Plan to shop after a meal, for example: Saturday after breakfast, or Thursday after dinner. Shopping on a full stomach helps you resist impulse items and loading up on unhealthy snacks. Get everything you’ll need for the week (or even two), so you aren’t running back and forth to the store. Fewer trips to the store will give you more time with your family.
Don’t forget school lunches. Planning out lunches or snacks at the beginning of the week makes it easier to know what to throw into their lunch sacks.
Use a meal planner to sort out options for the week. Preparing healthy meals every day is a challenge. It can be tough to provide healthy foods that you know your family will eat. Once you’ve determined meals that fit that bill, try to keep things interesting by avoiding repetition. Our free, printable meal-planning sheet can help you keep your meals interesting, nutritious, and diverse.
Take requests. If you feel like you’re stuck in a meal prep rut, ask your family for suggestions. Sometimes knowing you’re fixing someone’s favorite food is all it takes to keep you excited about dinner.
Create your food budget. If you haven’t already, take some time to assess your finances and decide what you should reasonably spend on food. If you’re really serious about it, you can keep all your receipts from grocery shopping to fast food and determine what you spend each month. Then you can decide if you need to cut back. Often the fastest way to cut down your food expenses is to eat fewer meals that are prepared outside your home. Of course, that makes meal planning even more important.
The best-laid plans are bound to fall apart, evenings will turn crazy, and your amazing kids and grandkids will keep you running from one event to the next. Knowing what’s for dinner can give you a sense of calm in the storm. Of course, even then, you will find days when you simply need to pull out sandwich fixings or grab takeout, but now those days will be an exception rather than the rule.