Five Tips for Creating Healthy Back-to-School Meal Plans

Need some help creating a plan you can stick with and follow?

I’ve been a big fan of Kelly Smith since I tried her raw cookie dough bites nearly a year ago. Since then, I’ve been a big fan of her blog, The Nourishing Home. Kelly is a master meal planner, and today she shows us how to incorporate some of our recipes into a weekly plan. The following is a guest post by Kelly.

Summer is quickly coming to an end, and that means it’s time to get organized for the back-to-school season, as well as all of the activities that come along with it.

Of course, you wouldn’t be here reading this post if planning healthy meals (especially wholesome school lunches) wasn’t part of your back-to-school agenda! So that’s where MOMables and I come in: We want to show you how easy and beneficial it is to incorporate meal planning into your weekly routine.

The fact is, meal planning is a wonderful strategy to help families enjoy healthy, home-cooked meals with the awesome added benefits of saving time, money, and stress! Meals prepared at home generally contain a greater variety of nutrient-rich foods compared with those found at typical restaurants.

By making your meals at home, you can significantly save money. A typical take-out meal costs the average family of four about $25. Yet, with this same amount of money, you can actually feed your family three highly nutritious whole food meals, plus healthy snacks!

So, by learning how to create a weekly meal plan, you’ll not only ensure that your family eats healthier and saves money, but it will also save you time and stress as well. That’s because once you make your meal plan and purchase the ingredients needed for each of the meals outlined, you can then go on auto-pilot. Simply execute the meal plan day-by-day without having to stress over what’s for dinner and without having to make multiple trips to the market.

Making a Weekly Meal Plan Step-by-Step
Shown above is what’s on the menu at The Nourishing Home for our first week back-to-school. You can find each of the recipes listed (as well as my free meal planning template) by visiting Healthy Back-to-School Menu.

For those just getting started with meal planning, I recommend taking it slow. There’s no need to plan out every single meal, if this seems overwhelming. Instead, start with planning just a few meals each week, or planning meals only on the busiest days of the week. And once you see how easy and beneficial meal planning truly is, you’ll most certainly be inspired to add even more meals to your weekly meal plan!

So without further ado, here are the top five tips I share at each of my meal planning seminars. You can also find this information in more detail, as well as my popular “Cook Once, East Twice or More” tips, over at Mastering Meal Planning.

1)   Create a Master List of Meals

  • The first step in meal planning is to make a Master List of Meals, which is simply a list of all the meals that you make. Taking time to really think through this first step will save you a ton of time in the long run; no more racking your brain to try to think of what you should make for the week. Simply look at your Master List of Meals each time you make your weekly meal plan.
  • As you start trying new recipes, remember to add the ones your family likes to your Master List of Meals.

2)   Check Your Calendar!

  • Before you start selecting meals for the week ahead, first take a look at what’s happening each day, and plan your meals accordingly.
  • On busy days, opt for quick and easy-to-prepare meals, such as crockpot and one-pot meals, easy pasta dishes, grilled/roasted meats, steamed vegetables, and salads.
  • For extra-busy days, schedule a “leftovers night,” where you can simply warm up a meal from a previous evening.
  • Be sure to save new recipes, or more complicated meals, for weekends.

3)   Create Your Meal Plan

  • First, check your pantry and frig to see what you already have on hand, and be sure to plan for meals that utilize these ingredients.
  • Then, grab your Master List of Meals and your calendar, and get started!
  • Even planning a few meals a week, or planning meals for just the busiest days of the week, will go a long way in helping you stay on track with your healthy-eating goals and budget, as well as save you time and stress!

4)   Make a Shopping List

  • “The List” is your prime directive at the market, to keep you focused and save you time and money by limiting distractions. The List ensures you quickly get exactly what you need for the week ahead.
  • Make your meal plan for the week, and then go through each meal and list out all the ingredients needed to create that meal. Be sure to check to see what you already have on hand. Any missing ingredients go on The List.
  • Keep a pad of paper on your kitchen counter, and jot down items as you run out of them so they can quickly and easily be added to The List.

5)   Schedule a Prep Day

Just an hour or two over the weekend can go a long way in making things quicker and easier for you during the week ahead! Use your prep day to accomplish tasks such as:

  • Meats: Cut and divide meat into portions based on your meal plan, and freeze (you can even place the meat into a marinade and freeze). Use ground meat to mix and form into meatballs and burgers that can be frozen for later use. I also like to precook and freeze ground meat for use in meals such as tacos, chili, soups, etc.
  • Veggies/Fruits: Chop any veggies/fruits needed for recipes (that can keep well once chopped). For example, I find it super-helpful to pre-chop, rinse, and store lettuce for salads for the week ahead.
  • Other: Prepare anything that can be prepared ahead of time; e.g., bake a batch of healthy muffins, and freeze them for snacks for the week ahead. Grate cheese, make salad dressings or sauces, etc., and store them in the fridge or freezer.

And during the week, you can still be prepping ahead by doing timesaving steps such as:

  • Brown extra ground turkey, chicken, or beef, to use in another dish, such as tacos, later in the week.
  • Cook extra chicken breasts, and then cut some up for another meal such as stir-fry or pasta dishes.
  • Cook extra rice, put it into a container, and refrigerate or freeze for use as a quick side dish with a future meal.

Helpful Tips for Planning Healthy Lunches:

• Think leftovers! When making out your meal plan, consider which dinners lend themselves to also being a great lunch. And rather than just serving the same thing for lunch, think of ways to repurpose your leftovers, such as turning leftover grilled chicken breasts into Greek salad wraps.

• Strive for a Balance! Children need a healthy balance of protein, carbs, and fats for sustained energy and optimal learning. Foods such as whole grains, brown rice, fruits, and veggies provide a good source of healthy carbohydrates, while Greek yogurt, cheese, eggs, meats, and beans provide much-needed protein. And, the healthy fats found in nuts, meats, avocados, and whole-milk dairy products help satisfy and maintain stamina. That’s why providing children a balance and variety of these foods will help ensure that they’re well-nourished and energized to learn.

• Get the Kids Involved:
Cooking with your kids is not only fun and educational, it’s also a great way to encourage them to expand their culinary horizons because kids are more likely to eat what they help make. And the same goes with packing lunch. Allow them to make some healthy choices about what to include in their lunch. (For example, at our house, I plan out the main dish, and the kids help decide what sides they’d like to go along with it. We then work together to pre-chop and package their favorite healthy sides, so they’re ready to go for the week ahead.)

• Be Inspired! Sites like this one provide great ideas for planning wholesome and fun lunches! Remember, you don’t have to go it alone; there are lots of helpful resources out there for breaking free from the same-old, same-old lunches. Take a few minutes each week to go online with your kids and seek out some new ideas to make lunch not only healthy, but fun!

For more healthy meal planning strategies, as well as free weekly whole food meal plans, visit The Nourishing Home. Have a healthy and blessed school year!

 

Kelly Smith loves the Lord, her family, and sharing her passion for real food cooking and meal planning with others. She is the author and creator of The Nourishing Home—a blog dedicated to sharing delicious whole food recipes, cooking tips and techniques, and overall encouragement to help others in their quest to live a more nourished life. In addition to blogging, Kelly also teaches meal planning and whole food cooking classes at various venues in Southern California, and provides weekly whole food meal plans at TheBetterMom.com. You can also find Kelly on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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About MOMables

Laura Fuentes is the CEO & Chief MOM at MOMables™. A wife, mother of 3 and a lunch enthusiast who insists on healthy, wholesome food for her family. 
She’s on a mission to help busy parents overcome the difficulties of packing fresh school lunches. On her personal blog, SuperGlueMom.com, she writes about motherhood, deadlines, healthier living, and keeping her cool, even when her kids super-glued her hair. She’s also a food contributor and published weekly in numerous sites.