It’s difficult to run a household. Planning, preparing, and making meals, meanwhile, working and managing your own life. In the middle of all that, deciding what the whole family will enjoy is quite a tall order to fill. If only there was a way to mitigate some of this work. We won’t even attempt to address your professional and personal life, that will have to be bookmarked for another time. Maybe over a glass of wine. But, we can help with your meal prep. Having a meal planner consolidates the need to purchase unnecessary items. Here are some tips, tricks, and strategies that we’ve found to be the most effective for both money, time, and sparking creativity in your dishes.
Let’s Start With: What Are Your Goals?
While cooking for your family is numero uno, what are you looking to gain from planning meals? Are you looking to spice up the meals you make for your family? Eat better? Or just simply for your own sanity? All great reasons for planning meals out. In any case, whatever it may be, you should ultimately have that idea front and center in your plans. It’s important to stick with whatever your goals may be, since it will make your life that much more streamlined.
Choosing Your Recipes
It’s not only important what your family eats, but also to understand what you want them to remember. Are they going to be the taste testers in your life or do you want them to keep where they came from, their heritage in mind even after they have their own kids. It all depends on your goals.
But, hey, no one said that you had to cook 7 days a week, 365 days a year, 3 square meals every day. To some, that might be a dream, but at that point, they wouldn’t need to plan their meals out, would they? Some might cook 5 days a week and, on the weekends, eat out or order in. That little extra R&R is a fantastic way to rejuvenate the soul, and be able to try new things as well.
Keeping it Simple
There are many dishes that are made with the same ingredients. Case in point, sushi. You can make a ton of rolls with only the minimal changes. These main ingredients include rice, some veggies, and fish. Granted, I am somewhat generalizing the difficulty, but the fundamentals stay the same. Instead of making a different dish every day, it is cheaper, and faster to create something with the same ingredients. Spice it up a bit with your creativity. The best part is, that you don’t have to go wild. No one said that it had to be the same dish or style.
The key to this is to figure out what your family loves to eat, and then dissect it. Doing this will allow you to go food shopping less often. Maybe once a week!
Cook a Lot or a Little, But Have A Clear Intention In Mind
I remember that when I was in college, my roommate would bake a whole casserole dish. He would make it with the intention of their being leftovers for the whole week. Sometimes, leftovers are simply wonderful since you don’t have to cook again for a few days. Even with the leftovers standing by like a champ, I may add, more than often, you'll probably get sick of eating the same dish for a few days straight. That is where appetizers and staple foods come into play. Make sure that with the leftovers there is something that you can make easily. For example, rice. It isn’t only a asian thing. It is a staple food for many nations.
If you cook a little, that’s fine too! Since, everyone has their own preferences and tolerance levels. Eating the same thing every day does get boring. Not to mention that your body will get sick of it. As they say, “Haste makes waste”. If you have time, and the mental stamina to make a new dish every other day, more to you.
Cook What You Enjoy
Enjoying what you eat is one of the most important pillars in meal planning. That, combined with a weekly set of dishes, is a great way to save money, time, and the dreaded q&a, “what’s for dinner?” “What do you want?” “I don’t know, anything” “How about this?” “No, not that” “Then what?” “Anything else”, you know the modus operandi. It’s a fruitless endeavor. Having a set menu each week is a great way to prevent that kind of mindless drivel, as well as, honing in and improving your skills incrementally on a particular dish. Also, the meal pattern can change every week. It doesn't have to be the same thing, however, it would be a lot less work if it was. Pro tip: have one day of the week as a way to express your creativity by having a mystery dish night. Your family will welcome the meal pattern adjustment, and you can take note of what they enjoy eating.
The Shopping List
It is also important to have a shopping list. It could mean avoiding time and money on things you already have a home, as well as time spent in the grocery aisles. So, how should my shopping list be organized? Well, there are several ways, but I would do it so that it is first organized by perishables and nonperishables. Then, depending on how well you know your local grocery or farmer’s market, organize it by section and category. The benefits are that you don’t have to keep going back and forth. Unless you like to add some cardio calisthenics into your day. Remember, you are not the only one who is looking around, and the human traffic might worsen the longer you are in there.
The School Day Lunch
Every parent has a different approach to lunchtime for their kids. Some will pack pb&j with a fruit or two, usually an apple or banana. While, others will pack cultural items, such as a rice ball, or pasta. Some might even order food from a local deli for delivery. Whatever way you choose, remember that you can’t control whether your kids eat their lunch or not. That means that it better be good. There are certain things to follow to ensure a higher probability of that. But, since President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, that provides better nutritious meals served in public schools. This was essentially updating the National School Lunch Program, which was established in 1946 by President Harry Truman. This allowed affordable meals to public and not for profit private schools. The child nutrition programs encouraged children to eat healthier and be in the best mindset to learn.
Keep It Cool
School lunch is usually left out until lunch which means that it might be left at room temperature for 4 to 5 hours. That is why you should keep the lunch prep to a minimum. That means don’t pack anything that will get soggy. That means no pasta, toasted sandwiches or anything hot. Even in a thermos, that means it will be subpar from when you made it at home.
Rule of thumb, if it isn’t portable, or cold, don’t make it.
Keep It Fresh
By that I mean, make sure to put it in a controlled space, for instance, an insulated lunch box. Which is fairly accessible online, but maybe include additional meal packaging equipment such as ice bags for extra precautionary measure. This will make a huge difference especially for fresh fruits. Keep in mind that fruit don’t do very well in warm, confined areas.
Don’t Add Hot Cured Meats
While sandwiches are fine, sausages and other salty products will just get saltier when cooled. However, cold cuts are not very healthy to begin with, so it might be best to pack something plant based. The traditional pb&j sandwich with a bag of Novacrisps is a great option. Since, the peanut butter provides the much needed protein, while the jelly is sweet and salivates the mouth, it really is a great option. In my experience, you don't want to make a jelly sandwich or a peanut butter sandwich alone. It's either too dry or too sweet. Plus, the benefits are reduced when made separately. There are many options out there with native dishes that do the job, but at the same time, you probably don’t want your kids to be shamed on their lunch options. Not to say that it will happen, but on the off chance it does, you don’t want your children to have bad eating habits outside of the safety of home cooked meals.
Meal planning definitely has its benefits, and its inconveniences, but overall, it is a great way to take charge of your family and not having to decide what to make every day. That includes, your children's lunch. Whichever you choose, make sure it is right for you and your family. Either way, packing their lunch or off set it to child nutrition meal services, you'll be set to save some money, time, and mental fatigue.