Easy Meal Prep Hack for Back to School
Stay on track with healthy meals even when your schedule gets hectic!
Photo Credit: @meditatewiththeweight
Creating a game plan for back to school is crucial for a smooth transition ̶ both parents and children can benefit from having a strategy for this busy time. After gathering all the necessary school supplies and reeling in bedtime, now is the time to answer the dreaded question… “What’s for dinner?” Sure you might have a few recipes that are crowd-pleasers, but sometimes it’s difficult to find time for the preparation. Today is the perfect time to learn about planning out weekly meals in advance to decrease stress levels and promote family bonding over a delicious dinner.
Weekly Dinner Plan
When you’re new to the meal prep game it’s best to initially focus on one meal a day. Since dinnertime usually includes all members of the family, this will most likely be the best choice to prepare ingredients for in advance. The foundation for a nutritious and balanced meal includes protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables. Most nutritionists suggest using lean protein such as chicken and fish because they have less calories and fat content than red meat. When choosing carbs consider whole grains such as quinoa or brown rice; however, potatoes are another versatile option. When fresh vegetables aren’t an option, you can save some prep time by buying frozen veggies that can be microwaved in the bag. After you have the essentials, creating different flavors is a breeze by simply adding various spices and sauces. The best part about weekly meal prep is that by buying in bulk (especially the meat) you can save a considerable amount of money.
In order to keep your meal prep on track, I highly recommend creating a weekly meal planner worksheet. Make a row for each day of the week and write down what you will be eating for dinner that day. After comprising your weekly meal plan, transcribe ingredients you will need to purchase onto a grocery shopping list. This process will ensure that you have enough food for the week and hopefully deter you from impulse buys. Also consider using similar ingredients for different recipes to stretch your dollars even further.
Although it might seem counter intuitive, choosing a specific day and time to prepare your food for the week will drastically reduce the amount of stress associated with cooking dinner from scratch every night. By dedicating a few hours on the weekend to cooking and portioning your protein and carbs, the amount of time it takes to put together a meal throughout the week becomes considerably downsized. Utilize this guide from the FDA to determine how long specific items will last in the refrigerator/freezer. If you don’t already own an instant pot, then now is the perfect time to purchase one because this device makes food prep a breeze.
Freezer meals are one of the best ways to have delicious meals for your family every night without feeling exhausted from the preparation. This technique is cost effective and asserts dominance over the chaotic dinnertime scramble. Once you have an arsenal of family dinner favorites, consider doubling the recipe and freezing for future use. The only necessary supplies are going to be the containers that you place the food inside of. I would suggest using either gallon sized freezer bags, aluminum foil pans, or glass baking dishes (if you have a few to spare for freezer use). If you use foil pans it will reduce the amount of time spent doing dishes which is a perk if your short on time. It is best to label the containers before you fill them to ensure legible handwriting. Label each container with the recipe name, date it was made, and reheating instructions.
Photo Credit: @thebudgetingmaven
2 key tips for freezer meals: 1) leave room for liquid to expand and 2) avoid freezer burn by getting all of the air out. When you’re ready to eat a freezer meal, simply use an instant pot or oven to reheat.
Foods that don’t freeze well:
- Fried foods
- Fruit & vegetables with high water content (i.e. cucumber, lettuce, melon)
- Recipes with mayo or yogurt
Promote autonomy in your child by allowing them to build their own lunch to bring to school. By devoting some time on the weekend to prepare the sides and entrees, your child will be able to go into the refrigerator and grab food from labeled bins. For sides consider using fresh fruit and vegetables. Good options for entrees include pinwheel sandwiches, pasta salad, or pita pockets. Referring to it as “build your own lunchable” transforms this daily chore into a fun activity. Since you’ve already given the ingredients a parent’s approval, you can rest easy knowing anything they choose aligns with your food philosophy. Make their day extra special by including a handwritten note with words of encouragement or appreciation!
Mason jar salads are a great option for adults that bring lunch to work. These salads are trendy, nutritious, and customizable. You can even put the dressing inside the container with the correct layering! To create your mason jar salads use the following method, layering from bottom to top:
- Hard chopped veggies
- Cheese & protein
- Soft produce
I recommend using wide-mouth canning jars to ensure ingredients don’t get stuck in the opening when you’re ready to eat. Mason jar salads should last up to 5 days refrigerated, so you can prepare a week’s worth of lunches all at once. Be sure to have tight fitting lids to ensure freshness of the ingredients. When you’re ready to eat your mason jar salad, simply open the lid and pour into a bowl. Besides preventing soggy lettuce, the salad building technique mentioned above will help coat your entire salad with dressing. The best part about this type of lunch is that once you know the order in which to build your salad, its composition is nearly endless - which means no more boring lunches!
Weekly meal prep is an efficient and cost effective way to produce delicious meals for the whole family on a budget. When you’re first starting it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so start small and build up from there. After determining which meals and prep days work best for you, this method will decrease the amount of stress you feel over deciding what to eat every day. Because let’s be honest, we can all benefit from having weekly meals planned to give us time for the more important things in life.
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