Back to School Meal Planning Blues? Never fear, We Are Here!

26 08 2016

Back to school means back to reality for every teacher, child and parent. The days become Cathy head shotpacked with bus schedules, homework, and after school sports. Our lives have changed a bit this year with our oldest going off to college. Now I don’t have to prepare his meals, I just worry about what he is choosing to eat away from home! I found myself in my kitchen last night doing another evening of meal prep for this week thinking, “Yep, school starts tomorrow! The fun has just begun!” This week has brought the challenge of my crazy “back to school” life front and center! I have had to change my meal planning routine to accommodate the needs of my family, and making sure everyone has nourishing, tasty meals that fit our schedule is a big part of the challenge.

Planning healthy meals and snacks for three people seems a little less daunting since we no longer have to worry about 2 children playing sports, but it can still be like choreographing a Broadway show. My daughter has thankfully learned how to pack her own lunch, so that helps a lot. She is very active in sports,  so packs healthy, energizing snacks as well. Depending on work and evening events, my husband and I figure out some way get a healthy meal on the table, or pack food to take with us to sporting events. Among all of this, he and I pack our own lunches and snacks for our work day, and squeeze in some exercise for ourselves.

It sounds like a big job, but being organized and planning ahead can take the pressure off having to make spontaneous and often unwise decisions. Relying on fast food and take out can be unhealthy and expensive. So instead, have a solid plan of quick and easy healthy meals and snacks ready to tackle the week.

6 Tips to Tackle Your Week:

  • Check your family’s schedule! Start with plotting where family members need to be and when, so that you can decide how to tackle meals and snacks for the week. Think about how many meals you need to plan for, and how much time you will have each day. Are you a working parent? Do your children have after school activities? Do you travel for work? All of these factor in.
  • Plan the basics:

Breakfast: Many people eat the same breakfast most days of the week. Are the choices you are making healthy ones? What small change could you make to improve them? Make sure you plan to keep breakfast staples on hand at all times. Are you in a hurry? Try prepping grab and go items like a peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat, or a make ahead smoothie in a to-go cup.

Lunch: If you work, do you pack a lunch or succumb to take out because you didn’t have time to pack? Do your kids or spouse need to pack? Plan to keep lunch staples on hand, or to take leftovers from dinner. That is a great way to use up the healthy foods you have taken the time to make. When packing lunches, do it the night before to save you from the morning rush. If you are taking leftovers, put them into to-go containers as you are putting foods away to save time.

Snacks: Plan ahead for healthy snacks for your kids AND yourself. In a slump at 4pm and starving when you get home? A healthy snack with some protein and carbohydrate can bridge the gap. Kids will always need after school, pre-game/pre-practice snacks, so plan what you need to keep on hand (think apples and peanut butter, string cheese and whole grain crackers, low sugar whole grain cereal and low fat milk or yogurt, etc.)

Dinner: Keep a running list of family staple recipes. Store them however you like, but keep the ones you are using for the week at arms-length (Pinterest is a great way to search, organize and access recipes). Are they made from healthy ingredients, or are there easy ways to make 1 or 2 of them more nutritious this week? Try to choose a new recipe at least every couple of weeks to keep variety in your diet. Pick recipes with ingredients that may overlap to keep your shopping list concise. Don’t let recipes overwhelm you with too many ingredients. Plan on making enough to have some leftovers for lunch, or to create another meal. For example, prepare extra chicken and vegetables that can be used for a stir fry or soup on another night! Use My Plate to help you focus on planning a balanced meal. Can you check off at least 4 food groups for your meal? Using the premise that half of your plate should be vegetables and fruit will start you off on the right foot.

  • Check your pantry! Keeping a well-stocked pantry is key to successful meal planning for busy families. Get some great ideas here for some basic kitchen staples and kid friendly pantry items: The Good Pantry  A Kid Friendly Pantry Make sure you have what you need for meals and snacks you have planned. What you don’t have on hand, write on your grocery list for the week. Remember to write down the quantities of things you need, otherwise you may come up empty handed. Also, keep a running list of things you need during the week, so you don’t forget anything when you go to the store.
  • Time to shop! Plan adequate time to shop for what you need. Shop from your list to keep impulse spending down. If there are specialty items you need, make sure your grocer carries them, or you may need to find a substitute.
  • Prep it up! It always helps to prep up some of your foods ahead of time to make things flow smoothly during the week. Check your meal plan and figure out what you are going to need for the at least next few days. Some great ways to get started….

*Wash and chop/cut veggies and fruit for recipes and snacks as needed

*Precook meat for things like tacos, casseroles and soups, and drain and rinse beans.      These can be used any meal.

*Get out food prep items you might need like the slow cooker, pots/pans the night before.

  • Get cooking! If you have planned things out pretty well, evening meal prep should be a breeze! Use some great tools to your advantage like the crock pot, pressure cooker, grill, and microwave. Remember to keep it simple, healthy and tasty, and the stress of meal prep will be kept to a minimum

To hit the ground running start out with some healthy breakfast ideas for busy mornings! Check out the great ideas here from

Want to pack your own 5 Star lunch box? Get some great tips here: also has some great tips for planning healthy family dinners! Check out these ideas, and this great summer recipe!

Mexican Zucchini Burrito Boats:




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