Menu Planning for Busy Families

wooden cutting board with chopped peppers, carrots, celery, and red onion

wooden cutting board with chopped peppers, carrots, celery, and red onionNow that school is back in session and kids sports are underway, your evenings have probably gotten much busier. Instead of turning to takeout, delivery, or fast food, put a little time into meal planning so your family can eat smart. These are a few different strategies you can use to make it easier and quicker to cook more meals at home no matter how busy you are.

Meal Prep Tricks

In a previous post, we shared ideas for getting started with prepping meals and ingredients ahead of time. A few key points:

  • Only prep what you can use within 4 days (for food safety reasons).
  • Start small, by making a double batch to freeze or making a side salad for the week.
  • Make it easier to make half your plate fruits and veggies by prepping them ahead of time. You can toss them right into your meal or have a grab and go snack ready for hungry kids.
  • Bonus tip: When you find meat on sale, buy and cook it plain (no seasoning). You can use it in different meals and/or freeze for later.
counter with veggies with hand cutting peppers on round cutting board

Save time during with week with a little advance effort.

Speaking of freezing for later, freezer meal prep is another great way to save time during with week with a little advance effort. Freezing chopped veggies is relatively simple and are then ready to use in recipes. Peppers, tomatoes, onions and fresh herbs are all easy to freeze and don’t need to be blanched first. Check out our recent post about freezing fresh produce from the garden (or farmers market or grocery store).

You can also freeze entire meals ahead of time. This post has some recipes along with freezing and serving instructions. Soups and casseroles work well for freezer meals. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has general guidelines for freezing prepared foods and your local Extension Agent is also a good resource for freezing foods safely.

Make a Meal Plan

Meal planning is a lifesaver for busy families. You’ll know exactly what to buy at the store and what to cook during the week, saving you the stress of deciding each evening. We have some menu shortcuts for getting started figuring out what to cook – theme nights, fill in the blank meals, and saucy switch-ups. (Just read it and it will make sense!) You can pair some of the prep strategies above with these menu shortcuts and save even more time! If you are new to meal planning, we even have a sample menu with grocery list to get you started.

Set It and Forget It

Slow cookers are a great kitchen tool to save time in the kitchen. Toss in the ingredients, set it to cook (usually 4-8 hours), and dinner is ready with no fuss. You can use pre-prepped ingredients or freeze all your ingredients ahead of time to streamline even further. This is great if you start the slow cooker in the morning before you head to work. Here are some slow cooker recipe ideas.

We chatted about these tips for meal planning to save time for busy families on Facebook Live earlier today. If you have any other tips you’d like to share or questions to help you get started, feel free to ask in the comments below or in the video comments. And if you have any suggestions for future Facebook Live topics, we’d love to know what you’re interested in.

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