Meal planning preserves health and sanity for busy families

By Kim Larson

The new school year is here! Are you a mom anxiously anticipating the ramping up of kids’ schedules and being faced with the dreaded “What’s for dinner?” question every evening?

Meal planning is key to keeping your family healthy and staying sane with hectic schedules that interfere with healthy mealtimes. It also saves time, money, stress and promotes healthy eating — for everyone.

Planning meals that are healthy, delicious, quick and easy to prepare for weeknight dinners doesn’t have to be stressful.

Here are some tips to get you started and on track for the change in fall schedules coming soon:

Use a simple weekly meal planner where you can write down your meals for each day — don’t try to remember or wing it from day to day. That is stressful!

I do this every Sunday after looking at the schedules for the week, so I know how much time I have to make daily dinners and what evenings need to be a fast reheat-and-eat.

Take inventory of what you have in the frig, freezer and pantry to keep food fresh, rotated and prevent food waste. Is there something you should use this week? Plan a meal around that.

Find healthy meal ideas. Browse a few of your favorite recipe sites on-line — here are a few of mine: Eating Well, Cooking Light, Skinnytaste, Pinch of Yum, America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook (any of their recipes), Pinterest boards, and food blogs. Be sure you identify which ones are healthy and stick to those you think your family would like.

Healthy meals contain vegetables (half the plate), lean proteins that are animal or plant-based, whole grains, low-fat dairy and minimal added sugars. Fruit is always a great dessert choice to satisfy the sweet tooths in your family.

Try a meal planning app to organize your meals, file your recipes and make your grocery list — or develop your own system. There are many meal planning apps that can help you stay organized.

Some popular ones are: Cozi, Meal Builder, Noom, Dinner Decider, Meal Board. Find a system that works for you.

Cook once and eat twice or more. Focus on making recipes/dishes where the leftovers can be used for recreating another meal. For instance, leftover fish can be used for fish chowder, fish tacos or fish sandwiches.

Eat before you go shopping and be flexible enough with meal ideas to take advantage of foods that are on sale that week. Stock up on those you can freeze and use later. Always make and take a list to avoid impulse buys.

Cook from scratch as much as possible. Avoid boxed mixes and overly processed foods. Choose whole foods that are fresh or frozen for the most nutrients.

A meal planning system can save you time and energy so you can make a nutritious weeknight dinner the whole family will enjoy. For more recipes go to www.eatright.org/

Kim Larson is a registered dietitian nutritionist, founder of Total Health, www.totalhealthrd.com, and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition &Dietetics.

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