Meal Prepping for Busy Families

We are all so busy these days.  Work and family commitments can make finding the time to cook and shop for meals very challenging. We often resort to eating out, getting takeout, or grabbing something quick, which may not be the best choice. It is certainly fine to eat out and grab a quick meal on occasion, however, when this happens too often it can start to affect your health and the health of your family.

Many have thought if I could make some homemade meals, we would eat better. The issue seems to be finding the time and getting organized. There are many benefits to prepping meals in advance besides better nutrition, such as saving money, saving time by being more efficient, controlling the ingredients to stay on track with your health goals, and decreasing the stress of trying to figure out what to eat at the last minute. Below are some strategies to help you prep meals that are healthy for the whole family:

  1. Figure out what your family likes to eat and create a menu based on those foods.  This minimizes waste.
    1. Some find it helpful to plan a weekly or monthly calendar of meals to stay on track.
    2. Keep a book, binder, or file of healthy recipes that you like so you know what ingredients you need. 
  2. Check your local grocery store circular to see what is in season, on sale, etc., and plan your menu around these foods as well.
  3. Decide how many meals you need to prep for the week. This will vary depending on your family’s needs.
  4. Choose a specific day of the week you will shop and a day you will prepare your meals. You can do both tasks on the same day if you have time.  Most people choose a day off (weekend) to do their meal shopping or prepping.
  5. Keep your pantry and freezer well stocked:
    1. Shelf-stable pantry staples such as whole grain pasta, brown or wild rice, quinoa, farro, barley, dried beans, and legumes are helpful to keep on hand. 
    2. Stock up your freezer with a variety of frozen vegetables, fruits, and grain medleys. These are great to quickly microwave in a few minutes as a side dish. The frozen fruit can be added to a smoothie.
    3. Canned fish (tuna or salmon) can be a quick addition to a meal or recipe for some healthy protein.
  6. When you start cooking, cook the foods that take the longest first, which are usually protein (meat, chicken, fish), roasted vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. 
    1. Consider marinating foods the day before so you can quickly cook bake, roast, broil, or throw them in a stir fry.
    2. Keep dry spices and spice blends on hand as dry rubs or add to roasted vegetables and other dishes for easy seasoning options.
  7. Multitask. When meat or veggies are cooking in the oven or stove top, chop up your vegetables and prep salad greens for the rest of the week. Wash and cut up fresh fruits and other vegetables for easy grab-and-go snacks or to add to other dishes.
  8. Batch cook.  When cooking, make more than you need for the week. You can take the extra and freeze it for a later time.  Make sure you label and date all the foods you freeze to stay organized and know what you have available. Having premade foods in your freezer helps you plan ahead for busier times.
  9. Upcycle leftovers. 
    1. Take the leftover meat, fish, or chicken from dinner and add that to a salad or sandwich for lunch the next day.
    2. Cooked vegetables from dinner the night before can be added to an omelet in the morning or a salad for lunch. 
    3. Leftover grains, legumes, and vegetables can be put together to make a soup for a delicious meal.  Yes, soup can be a meal in and of itself (protein, legumes, grains, and vegetables. Mixed together with broth and seasonings). 
  10. Look into meal delivery services. Sometimes we do not have the time to shop or meal prep. Some people just do not like to cook or do not have the cooking skills to prepare a meal. Whatever the case, there are many good meal delivery companies on the market that cater to many different types of diets, cuisines, and food preferences. Find one that fits your lifestyle and dietary needs. 

Meal prepping and planning are possible in a busy household. Once you start and set up a routine it will get easier.  Below is an easy recipe to get you started. You can serve the salmon with a side salad and brown rice.

Salmon with Honey-Balsamic Glaze (from the American Heart Association)

Use simple ingredients likely to be found in your kitchen to create a sweet and savory glaze for salmon.

Ingredients

 Servings  4   Serving Size   3 ounces fish

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 3/4 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • 4 salmon fillets (about 4 ounces each)

Directions

Tip: Click on the step to mark it as complete.

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly spray a shallow baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and vinegar until smooth. Whisk in the remaining ingredients except the fish.
  3. Put the fish in the baking dish. Lightly spread the mayonnaise mixture over the top and sides of the fish.
  4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the fish is cooked to the desired doneness.