Planning meals ahead of time is a great way to stay organized, but meal planning itself can feel time-consuming and stressful! Not planning can waste more time, causing you to scramble through your kitchen and spend hours online searching for recipes. Meal planning is a learned behavior, and it becomes easier with practice. A little prep and planning go a long way. As busy as our schedules may be, providing quick and healthy meals for your family can be accomplished. Here are some strategies to help you navigate this process.
Start with a well-stocked kitchen
A well-stocked kitchen is key to making healthy meals for your family, even when time is limited. Keep a list of staples that you always have in your refrigerator, and rotate fruits and vegetables with what is in season. This is a great way to add variety to your meals. Apples, potatoes, beets, celery, carrots, oranges, and garlic are fruits and vegetables that keep well when stored in your refrigerator. Keep your pantry stocked with chicken broth, canned tuna, canned beans, pasta, marinara sauce, and nut butters.
When the thought of preparing dinner feels extra challenging, or when you’ve had a busy day, rely on convenience items that are ready to serve like pre-washed mixed greens, canned soups, store-bought rotisserie chicken, and pre-cut fruit. Elevate simple meals and boost their nutritional value by adding in frozen vegetables. For example, combine canned lentil soup, frozen sweet potatoes, and frozen zucchini in a pot or sprinkle in nutritional yeast for added protein, fiber, and B vitamins. Or add frozen broccoli to boxed mac and cheese. Not everything needs to be from scratch! Consider ordering your groceries online when you know your week will be hectic. It might seem like a big investment, but services like these can reduce stress around mealtimes and save you time.
Keep planning simple
Life happens and sometimes things don’t go as planned. Give yourself grace and be flexible! Creating flexible meal plans and making changes as needed are crucial for reducing stress around mealtimes. To make meal planning easier, designate themed dinner nights. This helps narrow down ideas and can serve as inspiration. Not to mention it provides some structure during the planning process. For example:
- Mondays – Italian night
- Tuesdays – sheet pan dinner
- Wednesdays – leftovers
- Thursdays- Mexican night
- Friday – crockpot dinner
Keep a list of recipes you know your family enjoys and take 30 minutes or less. As you plan out what you will cook, you can pull from that list of recipes to create your menu for the week. I suggest experimenting with new recipes on the weekend or on a night when you don’t have a lot going on. This takes the pressure off as cooking a new recipe may require more attention to detail.
Get the kids involved
If you find yourself struggling to please everyone in the family when it comes down to planning meals, I encourage you to get your kids involved! Allow them to take part in the planning process by picking out a recipe or having them help in the kitchen. Depending on their age and level of maturity, kids can help by measuring out ingredients, chopping and rinsing vegetables, or helping set the table. Studies show that when kids participate in the mealtime experience, they are more likely to show interest in eating their meal. Creating a positive environment for your family during mealtimes allows you to connect with your loved ones and helps children develop healthy eating behaviors.
Meet Karina Nava
Karina is a Registered Dietitian based in Southern California who helps patients develop a healthy relationship with food. She began her career as a Registered Dietitian in 2016, working at a pediatric wellness center, educating families on nutrition. After that, Karina worked as a Cigna Health Coach for the employee wellness program at the Disneyland Resort. Most recently, she worked at a community health center where she provided nutrition education to patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol.
In May of 2020, Karina launched her virtual private practice. She offers one-on-one nutrition counseling, group cooking classes, workshops, and speaking engagements. Karina uses a non-diet and holistic approach to health by addressing the whole person – physically, mentally, and emotionally. She focuses on evidence-based nutrition principles to teach her patients about healthy eating so that they can trust themselves around food and move away from chronic dieting and disordered eating patterns. Her goal is to help patients learn to nourish their bodies and not feel stressed around food.