5 healthy meal planning tips for busy parents

You know your family would be better off, health-wise, if you could sit down to eat a balanced meal more nights than not. But getting that meal on the table can be a challenge! That’s why we’re sharing some meal planning tips to make things easier.

We often have the healthiest of intentions. We plan to get plenty of sleep, to exercise regularly and to eat a healthy diet. But a lot of times, the realities of life — and the chaos — get in the way.

There are steps you can take to implement healthy habits into your life in a way that’s more streamlined, helping you to stick with them. Today, we’re going to focus on healthy eating.

So, let’s break it down into actionable steps you can take to promote healthier eating habits in your family and get everyone sitting down to a good, healthy meal.

Meal planning: The easy way

If the phrase “meal planning” sends a shiver down your spine, you aren’t alone. The phrase is tossed about a lot on TV and in magazines…with all sorts of lofty, pie-in-the-sky ideas.

But the reality is that meal planning does not have to be overwhelming. In fact, at its most basic, it can help your family dinners feel less disorganized and easier to get on the table.

Give these five tips a try:

  1. Choose themes and create a schedule. This is where a bit of planning comes into play! Rather than having a set regimen of meals that you prepare each week, broaden your horizons but still stay somewhat simple by having days that are themed. For example, Meatless Mondays are a common option, as are Taco Tuesdays. Taco Tuesdays don’t always have to include actual tacos — anything within the Mexican food category could fit in nicely. Bonus: Incorporate as many fruits and veggies in your meals as possible, even sneaking them in as add-on ingredients to your recipes.
  2. Shop with your menu in mind. Once you’ve sketched your themes and chosen individual meals for the week, make out a complete list of items you need from the grocery store. Before heading to the store, be sure to first shop your pantry. Make sure that the ingredients you need — or ones that could be substituted — aren’t hiding on your shelves or in the fridge before you go shopping. Then go to the store with your list in hand to fill up on the essentials. Bonus: Put in a little advanced legwork for breakfasts, too, and grab the essential ingredients for healthy breakfasts while you’re there.
  3. Prep after shopping. So, you scooped up a bunch of fruits and veggies for your meals — and got chicken and fish for this week’s recipes. Don’t just put them away when you get home! Take the time to immediately do some prep for your meals. Wash and cut up produce as needed, and if it’s possible, go ahead and cook your meat ahead of time. That may mean roasting or baking a chicken on a Sunday to save time during the week. Bonus: Prep some snacks, too. Research has shown that easy-to-grab foods will always be what we gravitate toward, so make sure the healthy options are ready to go.
  4. Make it slow or make it fast. What on earth are we talking about? Well, these days you have two super easy options for making meals that require little to no hands-on attention. You can either toss things in your slow cooker and set it to cook all day while you’re working — or you can toss things in an Instant Pot and have dinner ready in minutes! These devices are a working parent’s best friend! Bonus: Save time by prepping your food ahead of time and tossing it in a freezer bag, then simply pour it into the slow cooker or Instant Pot when it’s time to cook.
  5. Mix it up with leftovers. Mix it up…with leftovers? Yes! Plan one meal for the beginning of the week, then plan to use the leftovers at the end. But don’t simply serve the same thing at both meals; prepare a different take on the same ingredients. So, that baked chicken you had on Monday for dinner can become chicken tacos for Friday. Bonus: Make it a game! Work with your kids to come up with innovative recipes to try using your leftovers. It’ll be fun and creative…with the added bonus of getting your kids invested in what they’re eating.

Your pediatrician can give you more tips to help your little one stay healthy as they grow. Don’t have a pediatrician? Find one here!