5 Easy Back to School Meal Prep Tips
As most moms (and dads too!) can attest to, we tend to multi-task and juggle a lot of tasks every day. This goes for working parents and stay at home parents. The jobs we are responsible for are endless. Meal prep and planning can easily be left on the “back burner,” and doing so can wreak havoc at home. The most dreaded question for me used to be, “what are we having for dinner tonight?” Before my response, I would look up, desperately searching the ceiling for the magic answer. My usual response was. . . .”oh yeah. um. we’re having leftovers. You know. What we had for dinner last night.” Or another go to answer was, “tacos! It is TACO NIGHT!” I pretended like I had it all planned out. And if I was particularly desperate (aka there is seriously NOTHING in the fridge because I completely forgot to go to the store and obviously forgot to meal plan too), I would say, “it’s been a while since we have been out, so why don’t we just order a pizza?”
If you have ever felt panicked when asked “what’s for dinner” then these tips are for YOU!
The Freezer is Your Friend
1. Make up a batch of mashed potatoes, scoop them into a silicone muffin tin. Then freeze, pop out and toss them into a ziploc bag. Each potato muffin is 1 serving! Heat them up in the microwave or on the stove.
2. Buy onions in bulk. Chop, slice and dice. Put each into it’s own ziploc bag and freeze flat. Once frozen, break up the pieces and store.
You can do the same for bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, okra, peaches, sliced bananas, smoothie prep bags…….I could go on forever! Weelicious is one of my favorite resources for all things mom + food. It will give you some good tips for freezing foods as well.
Look Ahead and Grocery PickUp
My own downfall when it comes to dinner is not looking ahead. When I don’t look ahead, I inevitably mess up dinnertime. I either don’t have all the ingredients or I forget to thaw out the meat. The night before, mentally or visually review what you are having for dinner the next night. Think about prep time, do you have the right ingredients, do you have any last minute plans that will affect dinner, do you need to marinate something, do you need to thaw something out, what needs to be prepped (onions, peppers, veggies), etc. Plan ahead, and you can thank me later.
Can we just talk about grocery pick-up and delivery for just a minute? When we lived in Denver, I was in the test market for Wal-Mart Grocery delivery. And I was hooked after my groceries were lovingly delivered to my door when I wanted them to be. All I had to do was sit at my computer, place my order and wait. What a God-send! Now sometimes, they mess up. They don’t always substitute the right products. Like one time, they gave me granola cereal to substitute for granola bars. Hmmm. But for the most part, it has been so helpful for us. Not only is it great to avoid shopping with young children (you know exactly what I’m talking about here), but this is a great way to maintain your spending budget! You can look at your total and adjust your items as you go. I avoid a lot of impulse purchasing this way. Sometimes that’s a good thing. . . other times I wish I could just impulse buy that Blue Bell ice cream I don’t need, darnit. So try it out sometime! HEB, Walmart AND TARGET (you can squeal, ladies!!!!!!) offer this service.
Oh breakfast. I loathe planning breakfast. I love to cook so very much, but I need someone to magically appear in my house every morning and make breakfast for me. Where is my breakfast fairy? I am NOT a morning person, folks.
Because of this, I have fallen in love with overnight oats! Have you heard of them? They are AMAZING. Just google it. You will find a treasure trove of recipes. My personal fave is carrot cake overnight oats. All you need is a ball jar, your ingredients and about 8 hours overnight to let them sit in the fridge. You can make enough for the entire week if you want. 100 Days of Real Food also has a good overnight oats recipe. To simplify your mornings, you can make breakfast burritos, wrap in wax paper and freeze. Oh and we can’t forget about waffles and pancakes! Make a batch and freeze them, separated by wax paper.
Lunch prep is so easy! You can prep your lunches for the entire week by planning ahead. Meal planning helps encourage healthy eating. Plus, when you have similar tasks to complete throughout the week like lunchtime and you combine them, YOU WILL SAVE TIME!
One of the easiest methods is a jar salad. You take several large Ball jars and fill them assembly-line style with salad ingredients for the week. The rule of thumb is to keep the wet stuff at the bottom and the dry stuff (like lettuce) at the top. When you are ready to eat, you simply shake it up, baby!
Meal Plan Your Dinners for the Entire Month
I love planning ahead, but this seemed daunting to me when I first heard about it, and I didn’t get how people could stick to such a strict schedule. It’s terrible, but I admit, I even made fun of moms who did this. . . . .because seriously. . . how much free time do they have on their hands, and how can they be so regimented? I don’t have free time to do this business & I like my freedom & spontaneity. Well, my freedom was causing my family dinner distress, so I gave in and decided to do it on a trial basis. Basically I experimented on my family. And 6 years later? I am still doing it.
What I learned about meal planning is that it doesn’t have to be strict. I cater it to my family’s needs. Our schedule is never predictable. My husband owns a business that causes him to miss a lot of dinners, and we just can’t plan ahead. If this is you, guesstimate the number of meals you might need for the month and put them in list form. Each week as you confirm your schedule, plug those meals into your meal calendar and go shopping! I still plan for the whole month, so I just leave a few days blank at the end of the month and shuffle meals around as needed. Be sure to use a pencil or a smartphone so you can always switch things around.
Meal Planning for the month does take discipline, and it is a learning curve at first. But once you get the hang of it, it is the biggest time saver that you can find when it comes to dinner planning. If you’re ready to get started, check out the step by step ideas in this article, Meal Planning 101.
Here’s to creating more time to spend with our families! Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.