Back to school means back to busy schedules and routines. But, it’s also a great time of year to get organized with family meal planning to save yourself time and money.
When you think about what you’re going to make for dinner, pack in lunchboxes and prep for snacks, you’re more likely to make healthier choices for your family.
Incorporating a little meal planning into your weekly routine is easy to do. Whether planning out your meals and creating a shopping list to avoid numerous trips to the grocery store or chopping veggies at the beginning of the week for quicker dinners, there are tons of simple ways to make mealtime more efficient.
Feeling intimidated? Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Keep a list of your family’s favorite, easy-to-make recipes.
Have the needed ingredients on hand to easily through these meals into your rotation. Our list includes sandwiches and paninis, like this Ham Caprese Panini, quesadillas or tacos with all kinds of fillings. These simple go-to recipes are a great way to add veggies to the meal!
For more dinner inspiration, check out these posts:
- 50+ Easy Dinners Ready in 30 Minutes or Less
- No-Fuss Dinners for Back to School
- 23 Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Dinners
- 25 Healthy One-Pot Meals
2. Set a day and time to meal plan each week.
Don’t try to “find” the time to meal plan, “make” the time to do it! I like to do my plans on the weekend so I can shop the next day and minimize multiple trips to the grocery store. I talk more about my favorite meal planning tips on Episode 1 of the Healthy Family Project – give it a listen for more ideas!
Grab a free meal planning printable to make planning breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks easier.
3. Use your calendar to plan your meals.
Do I have a day where we’ll be out all day? That’s a good night for a slow cooker meal. On other mornings, I will pull out a freezer meal I’ve prepared ahead of time to thaw in the refrigerator during the day (check out my tips for freezer meal success). When dinnertime comes, it’s easy to just heat, add a side like a salad or roasted vegetable, and eat.
On less busy nights, I might try out a new recipe or a family-favorite that’s a little more time-intensive.
4. Use your timesaving appliances like a slow cooker, food processor or Instant Pot.
These appliances are a cook’s best friend! Just a few minutes in the morning is all it takes to assemble dinner in the slow cooker, like this delicious Slow Cooker Veggie Lasagna. At the end of a long day, you’ll feel good knowing that dinner’s ready and you’re serving a healthy meal to your family.
Or, if you’re an Instant Pot lover, check out this round-up of 30 delicious and healthy recipe ideas.
5. Keep track of what is in your refrigerator and freezer.
When you have an inventory of what’s in the freezer and refrigerator, you can use that as a guide to decide what to make. Did you get a special deal on chicken this week and want to stock up by freezing some? Great!
Just keep a list of what goes in so you can take advantage of that deal before freezer burn sets in! You can also freeze fresh produce, like berries, to save money when they aren’t in season.
6. Involve your children.
Not only is it helpful to have an extra pair of hands in the kitchen, letting your kids help make their lunches also will help them gain valuable life skills as they grow older. They will learn things like patience as they wait for something to cook, or for their turn helping out, and math skills as they measure out ingredients.
Kids have fun when they can be creative putting together colorful lunches like this Rainbow Bento Box. Plus they’re more likely to try out new foods when it’s something they helped prepare! Here’s a handy list of age-appropriate kitchen tasks to get you started.
7. Try to think ahead to the next meal.
Pull those pots and pans out in the morning so you’re ready to go at dinnertime! You’ll appreciate those extra five or ten minutes when you’re in a rush to get dinner on the table. You can also prep your produce ahead of time by chopping or slicing them and saving in storage containers in the refrigerator until you’re ready to make your meal.
8. Plan a leftover night.
Are you making chicken in the slow cooker one night? Shred the chicken and add to a quick and easy meal like these BBQ Chicken Quesadillas. Or, have an all-leftovers night where your family members choose from a fun menu.
9. Always use a list when you shop.
Taking a list to the store helps you stay on track and avoid impulse buys—especially when the kids are shopping with you. Many stores have a store layout guide available that will help you plan your trip.
There are also apps available that let you create custom grocery lists on your phone so you always have your shopping list with you.
10. Plan your meals around deals.
You don’t need to be an “extreme couponer” to save money at the grocery store. Clip or print coupons when you see them, but also be sure to check the circular at your favorite grocery store. Using your favorite store’s app allows you to see the deals before you reach the store, and some of them add in some extra mobile coupons!
With a little practice, meal planning can become a habit that will last a lifetime and help you save money and time as well as eat healthier along the way.
How do you #PowerYourLunchbox? Show us your healthy lunchboxes on Instagram using #PowerYourLunchbox for a chance to win weekly prizes.
Looking for more lunchbox ideas? We’ve got you covered with 70+ ideas including make-ahead ideas, non-sandwich lunches, ideas for repurposing leftovers, and vegetarian, nut-free and gluten-free recipes.
Or check out all of our back-to-school content on our blog. A few of our most popular posts include:
- The Ultimate Guide to Packing Healthy Lunchboxes
- After-School Snacks that Won’t Ruin Dinner
- The Best Lunchboxes for Kids
- 20 Lunchbox-Packing Tips & Hacks from Parents