As fall gets busy – with back-to-school schedule shifts, homework, sports and social obligations — meal planning can send even competent home chefs into a tailspin. Before long, efforts at serving up healthy meals day after day may fall by the wayside.
The key to staying on track? The old Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared!
“The most common reason people don’t choose healthy foods is simply because they aren’t readily available,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Sayde Beeler. So, the better prepared you are, the less likely you are to fall prey to the nearest fast-food fix.
Here, Beeler offers 7 kid-friendly meal-prep tips so you can dish up home-cooked peace of mind anytime!
- Consider overnight oats. Oats serve as a blank canvas for superfood ingredients, and the overnight variety offer a nutritious grab-and-go breakfast. Just fill a mason jar with oats (regular or quick-cooking are best), milk (or water) and your favorite fruits, nuts and spices. Then let the mixture sit overnight in the fridge. When the sun comes up, all you have to do is pull the jar out of the fridge and grab a spoon. Voila: Breakfast is served.
- Pull out your crockpot. Slow cooker meals are virtually fool proof. Just toss your ingredients into the pot before leaving for work (or dropping the kids at school) and let the appliance do the work for you. You can even put your slow cooker to work at night for a gourmet breakfast in the morning (search online for easy French toast slow cooker recipes, for example). Bonus: Clean-up is a snap, especially if you use slow-cooker liners (available from most grocers).
- Cook in batches. Roast sheets of cut-up vegetables, chicken breasts and other main-dish ingredients on the weekend, cool, and store in the fridge. They can be eaten cold or reheated in seconds. The same rule applies to sides: Starches such as quinoa, brown rice and whole grain pasta keep well for several days (or they can be stashed in the freezer). Breakfast staples, too, can be prepped in advance. Hard boil a dozen eggs on Sunday, prepare a couple of easy-to-reheat quiches, or make a dozen healthy muffins.
- Repurpose main ingredients. Reusing main dish ingredients (think chicken, beef and ground turkey) can save time and money throughout the week. Buy a rotisserie chicken on sale and transform it into three separate meals: Tortilla soup, shredded-chicken sliders and chicken casserole. Or, brown ground turkey with chopped onions and spices and serve up spaghetti with meat sauce, Shepherd’s pie and Tuesday night tacos. The key to success, of course, is advance planning.
- Stock the fridge. Don’t wait until you or your kids are hungry to prep snacks. When you return from the grocery store, wash, peel, and chop fresh fruit and veggies. Prepare a salad with rinsed, canned black beans, chopped red peppers, chopped red onion and corn. Then stock your refrigerator with those easy-to-grab snacks, along with favorites like string cheese and hummus snack packs.
- Fill your freezer. In addition to cooked grains, such as rice and pasta, you can also stock protein and veggies in the freezer. Better yet, try “dump meals,” by filling gallon-size freezer bags with prepped and cooked recipes (chopped meats, spices and vegetables). Ziplocs layer well on freezer shelves, protecting food and taking up less space than bulky containers. Let the meal thaw overnight and then just reheat at dinnertime. You can even freeze school lunches by using sandwich cutters that seal the edges (nut butters and jelly are a favorite).
- Get the kids involved. Kids love to assemble trail mixes and snack packs. Just pull out a dozen snack bags along with their favorite cereals, dried fruits and nuts and create an assembly line. Older kids can even help with meal prep on the weekends. Not only does this approach save time and teach kids basic cooking techniques, it also encourages family bonding.
Keep in mind that meal prep doesn’t have to be drawn out and difficult. And there’s no pressure to get it all right on the first few tries. Instead, focus on creating a system that works for your family and get every member involved in the meal planning. The goal, of course, is to fill your plates with fresh, nutritious and delicious foods so you can all stay at the top of your game.
Want to make an appointment with a registered dietitian? Call 1-855-434-5483 or learn more about nutrition services available at Henry Ford Health.
Sayde Beeler, RDN, specializes in nutrition counseling and health coaching at Henry Ford Health’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.