Episode 22: Meal Planning for Busy Families

In Episode 22 of Healthy Family Project, we talk to Jessica Levinson, registered dietitian and author of the 52 Week Meal Planner Workbook about how to ease into meal planning for busy families. We discuss how to make it a regular part of your life. Jessica shares her favorite freezer staples, double duty meals, and ways to reduce food waste for busy families.

Jessica is a mother of two and author of the 52-Week Meal Planner. Jessica’s passion lies in the kitchen, where she develops nutritious and delicious recipes to feed her family and inspire others to do the same.

On her blog, she shares easy recipes, meal planning tips, and school lunchbox ideas. Also, Jessica lends her expertise to popular websites and magazines like Prevention, Fitness, SELF, SHAPE, Everyday Health, and Women’s Health.

meal planning for busy families tips and tricks

Meal Planning for Busy Families

Here at Family Healthy Project, we understand how busy life can be and how hectic our schedules can get. Especially if we have children. And we know how important it is to still have your families eating healthier nutritious meals and snacks, too. So make sure to browse around the website for easy snacks, lunchbox ideas, and dinners to help you get healthier options on the table.

Healthy Bites!

Today, we’re snacking on some delicious items from our Mission From Nutrition sponsors, Crispy Green and Eat Smart. Crispy Green Crispy Snacks are made with 100% real fruit, allergy-friendly, and available in 7 flavors. Perfect to take on the go and give to your kiddos as a healthy snack.

We also tried Eat Smart Sweet Kale Salad. This tasty salad kit is an easy side dish or can be jazzed up with extra veggies and protein for a filling and nutritious meal.

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 Meal Planning for Busy Families podcast

Listen to Episode 22: Meal Planning for Busy Families

Want to skip straight to a hot topic? See time stamps below. But of course, we recommend listening all the way through!

  • 1:09 Meet Jessica
  • 2:57 Advice for families looking to start meal planning
  • 5:12 Meal planning while reducing food waste
  • 7:22 Freezer and pantry staples
  • 10:46 Healthy Bites Break with Mission For Nutrition Partners
  • 13:40 How to avoid recipe burnout
  • 19:03 Double duty meals

Other Podcast Episodes to Check Out:

Healthy Family Project Podcast

Conversations covering hot topics in the world of health, food and family with a dose of fun. Helping families ease their way into a new fresh and healthy world.

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meal planning for busy families podcast episode 22

Transcript for Episode 22

This transcript was produced by Otter.Ai. Please forgive any misspellings and grammatical errors.

Welcome to the healthy family project by produce for kids, covering the hot topics in the world of health,
food and family with a dose of fun. Today we’re excited to welcome Jessica Levinson to the healthy
family project Jessica is a registered dietician mother of two and author of the 52 week meal planner.
Jessica’s passion lies in the kitchen, where she develops nutritious and delicious recipes to feed her
family and inspire others to do the same. So over on her blog, she shares easy recipes, meal planning
tips and school lunchbox ideas. Jessica also lends her expertise to popular websites and magazines like
prevention, fitness, self shape, everyday health and women’s health. And we are excited to talk to
Jessica today. Welcome Jessica. I’m looking forward to chatting with you today all about meal planning
for busy families, a topic that’s definitely near and dear to my heart. Before we jump in, can you tell us a
little bit more about yourself and the inspiration behind your blog?
Sure. Hi, Amanda. Thanks so much for having me. I am excited to be here and talking to you guys today.
So my blog, I actually started writing my blog back in 2009. And at the time, it was under a name called
nutritional Licious, which was really about combining nutritious and delicious food. It was very important
to me that people recognize that what we’re eating is not just about nourishment, but it’s also about
enjoyment. And over the years as I’ve had my own children, and as my family has grown, my blog, and
my recipes have really more evolved into family friendly recipes that are a little bit more on the gourmet
side, but still relatively easy. And still, you know, kid friendly, but not your traditional chicken fingers and
mac and cheese kid
food. I like it. That’s my goal. Yeah, I’m going to I’m going to have to be getting lots of tips from you.
Because I like that somewhere in between Gourmet and run of the mill. That’s where I I, my goal is to
land there. So as a busy parent, I know how essential essential it is to plan out my family’s meals at the
start of the week. Otherwise, and I’m totally guilty, we can find ourselves hitting up a drive thru, you know,
ordering out reaching for snacks, that might not be the best. So for a lot of families, the idea of meal
planning or prepping is just you know one more thing to add to the list of to dues as parents and families
we just have so much. So I guess there’s a perception that meal planning meal prep is time consuming
and tedious. What advice do you have for families looking to ease into meal planning?
Yeah, definitely I get a lot of pushback from people on you know what, like meal planning is so time
consuming, and meal prepping even more so. But what I always tell people is to start small, you don’t
have to plan every single meal for every single day of the week or even a month. You can start by
planning just dinners three nights a week, or just two full days if that’s what you know, breakfast and
lunch is more important for you to plan. I personally find that for families dinner is usually where they
need the most structure because breakfast you tend to eat the same couple of things. Lunch, they, you
know, either I don’t know, if it’s parents or, you know, adults, they’re eating out maybe if they’re at the
office, or if they’re taking maybe it’s leftovers for school lunch, you know, they maybe use things that are
on hand. But when it comes to dinner, that’s the part that they really need to focus on when it comes to
planning. But really, it’s not necessary to start with planning everything at one time. And I also highly
recommend scheduling at least one night off from cooking. I totally rely on making enough food for
leftovers at least once a week. And sometimes that one night off a week from cooking is takeout or you
know a freezer meal that I got at Trader Joe’s. And that’s okay, it doesn’t have to be freshly cooked every
single night of the week.

I like that. Yeah, that’s a good point. You don’t have to think going into it. You think oh my gosh, I have to
plan three meals a day I have to have this you know, I have to buy a planner, I have to do all these
things. So I think starting small looking at it that way with doing this three dinners a week and I also like
giving yourself a break and maybe planning so that you have those leftovers to incorporate whatever it
might be into, you know, an extra night of meals so good stuff. Now what’s the easiest way to plan out
meals for the week to ensure you use all of your ingredients so that maybe they’re overlapping. I know, I
struggle with this, you know, ending up with that huge grocery bill and maybe things go to, you know,
ways you’re wasting something. So what’s your strategy behind that?
Yeah, so I am very conscientious about food waste. And as a lot of people are these days, what I do
when I sit down to start planning, and when you said about the habit, getting a workbook or a planner, I
actually I wrote the 52 week meal planner, specifically so that people would have a place to write down
their meal plans, because I think if you don’t write it down, you tend to forget. So what I do is I take out
my planner, and I, first thing I do is I look in my refrigerator, and I see what ingredients I already have on
hand, you know, do I have half of a bunch of cilantro, do I have celery that’s leftover from a soup I made,
you know what is in my fridge, that’s going to go bad, and that I want to use up. And that’s where I start
my planning process, because I don’t want to buy new things when I already have stuff on hand. And
then I also make sure that I have a stocked pantry. So I always make sure that I have you know cans of
beans and I have cans, canned fish, vegetable stock, whole grains, different whole grains. Those are all
key ingredients that I’ll use to save money because they’re a little more economical. And if I’m opening
up if I have a recipe that let’s say calls for one can of beans, well, sorry, not one can of beans, if a recipe
calls for a cup of beans, then what I’ll say is okay, I’m gonna have some beans left in that from that
canned What else can I make this week using that so that it doesn’t go to waste? You know, maybe I can
throw them into my kids lunch, you know, or mash them up into a salad or turn them into hummus so that
I’m not not wasting them.
Awesome, great tip. So while we are talking grocery shopping, I have two questions around this. I guess
one is first and foremost, I overbuy on fresh produce, its happens every week. And what you know do
you have any tips on kind of combating that food waste? And then second, what are some pantry staples
or freezer freezer staples that you would recommend that everyone have on hand? I know you
mentioned the veggie stock and maybe some different types of beans in the pantry what would you
Sure. So first of all, for the for the over buying of produce, one of the things I suggest is thinking of out of
the box ways that you can use those ingredients. So for example, can you puree those herbs into a
sauce for chicken or fish? Can you turn some of those ingredients into a salsa that you can use for Taco
Night? What are some you know what are ways that you can use these ingredients that maybe aren’t the
typical or the norm and they’re maybe not going to make up the the main part of your meal but that you
can still get use out of them without wasting them. And then as far as staples go so as I mentioned
before, can beans canned fish veggie stock whole grains i There are certain canned vegetables I like to
have on hand I always have like roasted red peppers and sun dried tomatoes on hand those I blend
them into a sauce for pasta or I cook them with chicken I have a really delicious recipe for chicken that I
actually just made this past weekend using those ingredients and it’s so easy. And you know people say
oh well the sodium content is high but the truth is like I don’t add extra salt to those to those recipes. And
I also rinse the the canned stuff when I when I drain you know when I drained them and open them I
make sure to rinse them to get rid of some of the excess sodium. And then as far as the freezer foods go
frozen fruits and frozen veggies are always in my always in my freezer. And things like veggie burgers
which you know can just make up a really quick meal like as I said about scheduling a night off from
cooking. Something like putting a veggie burger in the toaster or microwave and calling that dinner
sometimes it’s just really like freeing and you still feel good about what you’re feeding your kids but
you’re not spending a lot of time you know, standing in the kitchen and prepping food.
I love that and I have to say I am a veggie burger fan. We do have always have veggie burgers in the
freezer. I feel like it’s filling and even on a Saturday or Sunday. You know for running around and we pop

back in the house. It’s something easy that I can can like you said not feel horrible about Yeah, and just
and it fills everybody up to so to win.
Right I would say I would add also, as you were speaking I was thinking of more ideas like frozen ravioli
or tortellini. So even just this past weekend, I made for my kids on Saturday night. I made them tortellini
they were just so happy that it didn’t need to be anything fancy. I opened up a jar of tomato sauce that I
had in the pantry, I cut up some cucumbers and fresh tomatoes for them. And that was dinner. And, you
know, if you think about the balanced plate, you know you have your vegetables you’re having you’re,
you’re you’re having some protein because there’s some cheese in in the in the ravioli and I put some
extra cheese on top. And you know, you could even if you have chicken breast in your fridge, you can
chop that up and toss it in there too. And you have your carbs. And not every meal has to be the most
balanced as long as it’s throughout the course of the week. But you know, there’s something easy and
simple and the kids were thrilled.
I like it. Yeah, I think it makes a lot of sense. Sometimes we feel like it has to be so elaborate. And it
doesn’t, it can be easy like that. Alright, now we’re going to take a minute for a healthy bite, Grace’s back
with me to snack she seems to reappear when we have the food in front of us. So this episode is all
about meal planning for busy families grace, what do we have here today to help us out. I’ll be starting to
snack while you talk.
So meal planning is all about getting yourself set up for the week. And part of that is accounting for when
you’re going to be really busy. So we’ve got two really awesome convenience items that are going to get
you through those busy times. So first up, we’ve got crispy green, crispy snacks, Amanda’s trying out the
banana flavor. This is delicious. Really good. They’re just perfect to take on the go. They come in seven
different flavors. And they’re 100% fruit, which is freeze dried fruit. So it’s a really healthy, easy snack. no
added sugar. Nothing funky in there.
So they’re 100% for 100%. Yes. Awesome. This is This is delicious. Very good.
Yeah. And it just great taking on the go not having to worry. And then next up, we’ve got Eat Smart,
sweet kale salads. Man is taken.
I was very excited. I’m already on it.
And I just love salad kids, because you’ve got those busy nights look in the fridge. Gosh, what am I
gonna make tonight, and it’s just super easy to whip up. You know, you’ve got your salad, it already has
addressing all these tasty toppings I just whipped up a quick protein. Sometimes I’ll just have chicken on
hand. And there you go. That’s a meal right there. No stress, no fuss, very simple.
No, it’s perfect. And this sweet kale, like, I felt like the sweetness of it, my kids would definitely, definitely
scarf this down very good. So both of these health conscious brands are part partnering with us for our
mission for Nutrition Program, which is going on during the month of March. So you can find recipes, a
free downloadable eBook prizes, and more at the mission for nutrition calm. And if you need to find out
where you can pick up these crispy green banana fruit snacks, or the sweet kale salad, you from
EatSmart, you can go to the show notes. And we’ll link up to those there. So my family, we have our go
to recipes. And I’m always looking for new ideas to incorporate into our meal plan to switch things up. I
know I kind of burn out on on the meals I have one of my daughters is kind of a picky, picky eater too. So
it can be challenging to look for new recipes that I can make a variation, you know, but outside of making
a whole new meal for her that I can do a variation for her. But any tips on avoiding recipe burnout and
keeping things new and interesting?

Yeah, so first of all, I always look for inspiration around me. So I’ll look maybe at Pinterest or in the
magazines that I that I get in the mail. Or if I go to a restaurant and there’s something on a menu that
sounds really good. Maybe I’ll use that as inspiration for a recipe that I’ll make for my family. But I also
especially when it comes to like those pickier eaters, what I love to do are is to make what I call
interactive meals and all roast a bunch of different vegetables, I’ll make a batch of a green, and I’ll make
a protein, you know, maybe it’s chicken or maybe it’s big tofu, maybe it’s ground beef, whatever that
protein is. And I’ll put everything in individual bowls and let everybody just make their own meal out of
that. And so that may be for one person, a bootable with you know, the grains and the veggies and the
protein for somebody else that may be a taco and then everybody gets to choose which vegetables and
what protein they want inside. And then you can use those ingredients for other meals throughout the
week. So it’s not that you know you’re not wasting then and it’s something that is a little bit more fun and
gets the kids especially a little more excited.
I like that and my picky eater. She is a big fan of the I call it the disassembled the disassembled recipe.
So whatever I made I usually have a disassembled version for her. She’s like things very plain, you know,
not a lot of sauce. So those are typically the things I look for. And I’m with you on. And I with I love, I still
love getting my magazines in the mail. But on the weekends, I’ll look and I won’t necessarily, sometimes I
do find a recipe that I that I plan to make, but I’ll see some of the flavors or I’ll see, you know, how they’re
making something, you know, really inspire me to make something maybe a little simpler or something
that you know, I know my family will like, based on what you know, they like have liked in the past. So I
feel like Pinterest is amazing. hours can go by some point when you’re on Pinterest, but definitely a good
place to find new recipes for sure. Good Search Search option. Yeah, and
cookbooks. Also, you know, people think, oh, cookbooks are rosy, I love cookbooks. And I really, I very
rarely make a recipe. Exactly the way it is in a cookbook, or you know, even from a magazine and my my
head is in recipe development. So it’s I’m always thinking of something different that I can do can do. But
to use it for inspiration is a great way. And also just thinking sort of like outside of the box. You know, last
weekend last week, I made breakfast tacos. And my kids were like what I don’t understand. It was so
novel to them. And it ended up being like one of the best dinners, it was so easy. Everybody got to
choose how they wanted their eggs, they made their own tacos are even like oatmeal for dinner. You
know, whether it’s sweet or savory, I make savory oats sometimes. And that was another thing. The first
time I did that my kids were like boots for dinner. And they just thought it was like crazy. But it works. And
it’s something that’s a little different. And again, just coming back to the fact that it’s easy.
Right? And I think kids love that too, like opposite day. Right? We’re switching things up. You know, like
kids, I know, when I do some thing kind of out of the ordinary, like, Oh, something new. So that’s good.
And then I know on your site, you have awesome resources. For recipes, do you want to share just kind
of what you have available over there? Sure. So
my site is Jessica levinson.com. And I, I post a lot of different recipes, breakfast school lunches, I’m
always making lunch boxes for my kids. So I’m coming up with new ways to keep it interesting dinners, of
course, snacks, basically, you know, a variety of recipes. And I also include some blog posts on meal
planning tips, so you can get more stuff there. And also general healthy eating and feeding the family.
And you know, the big thing for me is don’t be a short order cook. So like I said before, my recipes tend
to be a little more on the gourmet side. But as long as there’s something on the plate that every on the
table that everybody likes, then I don’t you know, I don’t make multiple meals, like that’s super important
to me that you know it. I don’t want other families to feel like they need to cook multiple meals for their
kids and for themselves.
It is and that is a question we get all of the time or you know, people struggling with that saying nobody
likes the same thing. I don’t know what to do. Like, I can’t find a recipe that everybody likes. So definitely
will link up in the show notes. And in the blog post will link up to your site and, and all of that good stuff
so that people can easily get over there and get some inspiration from you. So okay, so let’s see here.
Alright, I think we talked a little bit about this, but I will ask this question. So the thought of planning and
preparing three meals per day, whatever the kids you know, for whatever the kids eat may seem

overwhelming to some. So what are some hacks to do easy double duty meals to lessen the time spent
in the kitchen.
So first of all, three meals per day plus whatever the kids may eat that goes straight to my point about
shorter cooking, right there’s so and that you don’t need to prep three meals a day. So that’s number
one. Take take a little bit of the pressure off. But some of the things that I like to do I haven’t I recently got
an instant pot and I know that’s a big you know, it’s it’s all the rage now. But you don’t even need to have
it to do what I’m going to recommend but I’ll make chicken breasts or I’ll make I’ll make a batch of eggs
and I’ll use those for multiple purposes. So for example, roast chicken, I’ll shred the leftovers of it and
toss it with pasta and a sauce. Or you know, beef. Maybe it was maybe I had you know, maybe I had chili
right and then I put the leftovers of the chili on rice or I used you know, I ended up and I made it into
something that was on top of a taco or sloppy joe. There are ways to to reuse and repurpose the food
that you already made. I find lately we’re in a big hard boiled egg craze, because I’ve been making them
in the Instant Pot. And they’re so easy to make like that. And so, you know, it could be as simple as like,
that’s a snack for the kids, or I slice it, and I put it on toast with, you know, an avocado toast, and then
you have lunch. So trying to think about multiple ways that you can use what you’re cooking already, is a
good way to to, you know, reuse and also not have to waste.
Great Well, I think we all have great intentions when it comes to meal planning and meal prepping. I
know, I always have have big plans. But I think these tips that you’ve shared today will really help
families see, you know, see the benefits of what, what taking some time to do this. can hold for them. So
thank you for chatting today. We look forward to hearing from you again, hopefully on the healthy family
projects. I know that there’s there’s tons we can talk about about meal planning, and that’s your area of
expertise. But can you tell listeners where they can find you on social media? Sure. So
I’m at Jay Levinson, rd on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest. I think that’s everything.
Yes. Oh my gosh, there’s so many.
And like I said Jessica Levinson calm and I have the links to all of all of my social media profiles on my
website as well.
Okay, great. Well, thank you again for taking the time to talk to us and we look forward to talking to you
again soon.
Thank you so so much fun. Thanks.
Hoping this episode has you feeling like even as a busy family meal prepping and planning is totally
something you can handle and handle together. Be sure to check the show notes for links to all the
things that we talked about in this episode. If you aren’t seeing something in the links, let us know and
we’ll get that for you. Mission for nutrition is going on this month, head to the mission for nutrition.com to
download the free ebook and also enter to win one of our great weekly prizes. We’re hoping you’ll join us
on our social outlets this month. And always, of course, but this month, we’ll be talking all about meal
prep. So really focusing in on tips and tricks, helping everybody learn how to be better at planning those
meals and just being prepared so that we’re able to make healthy choices. If you are meal prepping, we’d
love to see your photos. So just use the hashtag on social media mission for hashtag mission for
nutrition and we’ll be sure to repost. And then if you want to tweet direct with me, I’m at Amanda M Kiefer
on Twitter. Of course you can find us over at produce for kids.com you can sign up for our E newsletter
that goes out regularly and then you can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and
YouTube. Be sure to Subscribe talk soon