Parents today have so many commitments compared to those of years ago. Most households have two working parents who are being pulled in every direction to do more and more, leaving little time to think about what’s for dinner.
Even where one parent stays home it seems that parent is busier than ever keeping up with the activities of the family.
In years past our mothers were often home while dad went off to work so mom would focus on keeping the house running and geting meals on the table.
Perhaps there were fewer modern conveniences, like microwave ovens, but there weren’t as many expectations either. That’s not just my perception but reflects comments by those who were moms a generation ago.
Little Time for Meal Planning
When my kids were growing up and I worked full-time, as did my husband, I often had to get one child to baseball and one to music and dance lessons and girl scouts. Oh yeah, I was the team mom, the scout leader and the room mom for both kids. It never got easier as they hit high school and the practices increased, the teams multiplied, the after school clubs grew and I served on the PTA board for several years! Let’s not forget that my husband was the team coach and van driver to all the events lugging stage sets to band competition.
In addition to all the kids’ activities, I had my job, house, dog, and professional duties to continue. (And pay a little attention to my husband!) I am tired right now thinking of all we did. I know moms and dads today are in the same boat we were. Naturally we wouldn’t have changed anything as the family enjoyed all the activities together, but it made getting a healthy dinner ready tough.
What seemed to always get left for last was planning and preparing meals the way I wanted to. I came to learn how to make the most of my time in order to be sure to have healthy meals ready to go so that they would fit into our busy schedule and we could avoid the drive thru window. Here are some of my tips for making healthy meals a priority.
Meals For the Family
There are shortcuts and organizational tips that will help families get home cooked meals throughout the week, despite the many activities that are on our calendars. Getting more organized and planning ahead will become routine with practice.
Picking up convenience foods is not the healthy options we all want for our kids, so we need to find ways to be ready to serve nutritious meals every day.
- On the day that the grocery store sale flyer comes out, read it through with a grocery list and see which items are on sale. Use the sale items to plan the week’s menus. Always have an idea of what you will serve in the upcoming week. Never start the day without a clue about what will be for dinner.
- On the back of the shopping list write the days of the week. Sunday-grilled chicken, sweet potatoes and broccoli. Monday-Pasta primavera, garlic rolls, spinach salad, etc. Select week day meals with fewer ingredients and save the more complex meals for days when you have more prep time.
- Keep a spare shopping list on the refrigerator. Every time you run low or out of something, it gets added to the list so you always have fresh fruits, healthy snacks and lunch box items in the pantry.
- Keep the pantry stocked with staples. When you prepare dinner from your stocked pantry you will always have things you need to build the meal around such as spices, beans, frozen vegetables, pasta, quinoa, rice, and other necessary items.
- On the weekend or a day off, cook ahead and freeze basics for the meal such as grilling chicken or beef to use in burritos, salads, sandwiches or stir fry in the week ahead. If you make a casserole or soup, double the recipe and portion into the freezer for future meals when time is of the essence.
- Involve the kids in the menu planning process. Older kids can be responsible for one night a week and plan that meal before you do your grocery shopping.
- Keep an eye on essential items such as milk, bread and cereal. Don’t allow them to be used up and a convenience item substituted. Most of the time, when you have to make last minute substitutions for foods that aren’t available, a less nutritious item is served.
- Keep your freezer well stocked with protein foods, bread, frozen fruits and vegetables and other pre-cooked items. Larger families may benefit with a separate freezer for food storage.
- Keep healthy snacks on hand for quick trips, after school munching, and kids’ activities to avoid drive thru runs to satisfy hungry kids. Pre-wash fruits and veggies, cut them up and portion into baggies that will be ready to grab and go.
- Keep a calendar for family activities in a convenient location so everyone knows where they have to be and when so that short order meals (and a fast food option) are not necessary. Meal times shouldn’t come as a surprise. Everyone will know Susie goes to soccer at 5:30 and Jimmy goes to football at 5:00 so it will be important to have a nutritious meal right after school and healthy snacks available when you all return home.
Plan – and Prep – Ahead
You can do much of your food preparation ahead of time or when you bring home the groceries to make the week day meal easier to get to the table.
Not only does planning the week’s menu in advance take one thing off your mind, it provides the opportunity to perform some of your tasks in advance, rather than in the rush of the evening. You can chop onions, salad fixin’s, kids’ snacks, and items you purchased in bulk on the day you buy them so the week will go a little smoother.
Invite the kids to help wash apples and bag up trail mix, they will enjoy the time spent with you.
These are a few of the things I like to do to de-stress my week. I feel very productive when I get these tasks out of the way at one time.
I would love to hear what time savers you use in the kitchen to get your families’ meals on the table all week long!