7 easy steps to family meal planning

Busy parents are always on the lookout for ways to simplify their lives and spend more quality time with their families. Dinner is usually the most stressful meal of the day for moms who are just getting home from work or have been busy carpooling their children to activities. So taking some time to plan out meals for the week can save you time and money, and keep nutritious food on the table.

Here are seven simple steps to quick and easy meal planning.

1. Find new recipes. Meal planning can easily become a fun family activity. Choose some of your favorite cookbooks and involve everyone in choosing new dishes. Keep the recipes simple, and use only one new recipe per meal and keep everything else as simple as possible. Finding recipes that will yield leftovers that can be used in other meals also cuts down on time, like using roast chicken leftovers for simple chicken tacos later on in the week.

2. Make a shopping list. Look through your pantry and fridge first to make sure you don’t buy anything you already have. A shopping list categorized by section will help cut down on time spent at the grocery store, and will ensure you don’t forget things.

3. Prep in advance. Go through the list of meals that you’ve chosen for the week and choose a day to prepare as much as possible. This can also be turned into a family event with everyone tackling a different chore. Onions, garlic, and herbs can be chopped and measured in advance and kept in the freezer until needed and vegetables can be cleaned and prepped as well. Making casseroles and seasoning protein in advance is a good option for freezing and keeping for later in the week.

4. Invest in a slow cooker. This allows for easy prep on nights you have less time than usual. Use some of the ingredients you prepped in advance and put them directly from the freezer into the slow cooker for an easy meal.

5. Cook once, eat twice. Cooking enough for two nights can cut your work in half. Double the amount you would normally have, eat it on Monday night and again on Wednesday night. This can be done with any part of the meal, whether it’s the main dish or a side dish. If you’re seasoning a protein, it can also be doubled and half of it can be frozen for the following week.

6. Think outside the box. Not every night has to look like a traditional dinner. Instead, incorporate easy options such as a salad and sandwiches or even traditional breakfast options like scrambled eggs and whole wheat pancakes, accompanied by a fruit-and-vegetable smoothie.

7. Designate a leftover or going out night. Choose one night per week that involves having a buffet of all the leftovers. Proteins can be tossed into a salad and extra vegetables can be made into a soup. If you don’t want to give up going out for mid-week dinner, designate a day and know where you’re going so you don’t end up at the drive-through window.

Over time, the menu-planning process will become second nature and by saving your menu plans and shopping list, you can easily rotate them and save even more time. With a little planning and teamwork, dinner can go from being a headache to being a time to bond with the family over a nutritious meal.