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Cooking camp just wrapped up at Culinary Artistas and we’re getting our team prepped and ready for after-school programs to begin. After over a decade in the business of culinary education and school programming, that’s a well-oiled machine. But, when it comes to getting organized on the home front, I (and the other parents on the team) are feeling just as frazzled as anyone.
That being said, if there’s one thing I personally have down to a science, it’s meal planning.
I know first hand that for families ready to get back into the swing of things, meal planning can be a huge help for taking the stress off the readjustment back to a normal routine and schedule. But meal planning in of itself can be a daunting task, so I’m here to help get you started with some healthy and easy options that can’t start the school year without.
Meal Prep Now, Save Your Sanity Later
1) Three Make-Ahead Breakfasts of Champions
It’s easy to let a healthy and hearty breakfast slip through the cracks when the wave of morning chaos rolls in. Planning ahead can help eliminate some stress and set everyone on the right track for a successful day.
One of my favorite go-tos is overnight oats. Oats are a great way to discreetly craft a hearty breakfast. (With enough maple syrup and cinnamon, it can even pass as dessert. Just sayin’.)
Another great option is breakfast burritos. You can pack in lots of protein and maybe even some cooked spinach. Pro tip: make a bunch ahead and freeze them for an even easier morning. (They redhead beautifully.)
Last but not least, I love making mini frittatas and egg muffins. You can pack these with veggies and protein, make them the night before, and just pop them out of the baking tin right before you need to get ready to roll.
2) Lunches That Love You Back
On top of making a healthy breakfast, it can be a struggle to plan out a balanced lunch. As much as your kid might love a turkey and cheese, even they get tired of a repeat lunch. Not to mention, it’s important to mix it up and expose kids to new foods.
One way to add some color to the lunch box is to prepare pasta salad with colorful veggies and a protein source like grilled chicken or chickpeas. You can mix it up even more by swapping the pasta out for quinoa or rice.
Another way to bring some variety to the table is creating a bento box-style lunch. You can do this by dicing up fruits, veggies, cheese, etc. It’s a really fun way to keep your kids excited about foods they're both familiar and unfamiliar with.
The best part: all these veggies and grain bases can be prepped a week ahead on Sunday and mix-and-matched throughout the week.
3) Don’t Sweat the Snacks
Keeping the meal prep train moving, let’s talk about after-school snacks. Growing up I always looked forward to this time of day. As I got older, I would be in charge of my own snack. (And let’s just say, most kids will go for the quickest and tastiest option.) That’s why it’s important to have ready to go healthy snacks in the house.
Taking time to cut up fruit and veggies will make them much more accessible and appealing. And having hummus or a yogurt based dip to go along with cut fruit and veggies will elevate this snack and make it that much more desirable.
Another great option to have ready to go is trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. If you’re really ambitious, you could even turn those loose ingredients into granola or energy balls. (No pressure.)
4) Make-Ahead Dinner Winners
One of my favorite ways to reduce post dinner clean up (and have meals prepped and ready ahead of time with lots of leftovers) is to make “one pot” or “one sheet pan” style meals.
One pot meals can range from a big pot of chili, creamy coconut curry, a big pasta, and everything in between. Sheet pan dinners are the same (and my ultimate faves), with a bunch of veggies and some protein (tofu, chicken, chop) thrown on a pan and cooked together. It’s such an easy way to make big quantities with minimal mess.
If neither of these options are hitting home, you could break out the slow cooker. Not only is this an incredibly delicious way to cook, it’s also one of the simplest. You can throw everything in before work, press a button, and voila—dinner is ready when you get home.
One Last Top Secret Tip That Saves My Sanity
While some weekends may be jam packed with activities and commitments, it’s really a sanity saver if you can find a little time to get organized for the week. You could spend time preparing larger quantities of food and portion them into individual containers for the week. Pre chopping veggies or cooking a big batch of grains is also a great way to get organized for the week ahead.
Another great way to get help with meal planning? Involve your kids! They can help with the shopping, planning and prepping as soon as they get an opinion and can hold a kid knife.
And the older your kids get, the more they can help. I find that even having them wash the greens or peel the carrots is a big time saver for me. (Not to mention really sweet bonding time.) I also see a huge difference in kids who are interested in what they eat when they get to be part of the meal planning process.
Whether you do one or all of these things, the result is a less stressful, more joyful week. We know what you’re trying your best, and we’re here rooting you on every step of the way!