Family Meal Planning Made Easy: 5 Tips for Success (Guest Blogger)

Planning healthy meals for families can seem daunting. Guest blogger Mary Ellen RD gives 5 top tips on how to achieve meal planning success!
Healthy meal planning can seem daunting for anyone, but especially when you have a family to feed. The following guest post was written by registered dietitian Mary Ellen from MaryEllenRD.com.

*Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Food Farmacist RD and Mary Ellen RD will earn a commission upon purchase.*

Family meal planning. When you hear that phrase, thoughts that may come to your mind include:

Overwhelming.

I don’t know how to cook.

Eating healthy is too expensive.

I am too tired to cook a full meal after a long day.

My children and/or husband don’t like my cooking.

I just don’t have the time.

These phrases haunted my mind after I had my first child.

One child turned into two, and my career continued at full speed. How in the world was I going to provide wholesome meals to my husband and children, all while maintaining my own sanity?

Sure, everyone wants to provide healthier meals, but where to begin? So many other activities beg for attention: work, cleaning, laundry, dishes, toddler tantrums, walking the dogs, oh my!

BREATHE.

The key to meal prep is this: FLEXIBILITY. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef.


Creating balanced dinners for the family is possible.

With some planning, flexibility, and a few little tricks, nutrition for the family will become easier, and may even be FUN!

Let’s dive in.

Cooking at home benefits everyone.

Some benefits include:

  • Controlling ingredients (necessary for diet restrictions, allergies and/or sensitivities).
  • Families who eat home cooked meals tend to be healthier, eat more fruits & vegetables, and have lower body fat percentages.
  • Cost savings. Eating at home is less expensive than eating out.
  • Improved communication skills and cognitive development in children.

Tip 1: Consider your Lifestyle

Analyzing current habits, schedules, and activities throughout the week is the first key to meal planning. Why? To be successful, you must be realistic with how things naturally happen within the home. Meal planning only works when it ebbs and flows with your lifestyle. Think about the following:

  • Work schedules.
  • Children’s schedules.
  • Activities that week (soccer practice, after school activities, birthdays, meetings etc.)
  • Which days can you realistically cook from home?

Put it into action:

Think of this week (or next). Write out each day’s schedule thinking of the above considerations, or anything else that may stand in the way of meal planning. Choose at least THREE days where you could realistically cook a healthy meal from home. 


Tip 2: Cut Corners

Work smarter, not harder. Meal planning is no different. The right equipment, utensils, and appliances make the process easier and speeds up prep time.

Some kitchen essentials I can’t live without include (*affiliate link):

  • Crock-Pot*
  • Slow Cooker Liners *
  • Instant Pot* (this one is on my wish list but I hear AMAZING things)
  • Sharpened knives
  • Press & Seal Wrap
  • KitchenAid Mixer*
  • Parchment paper
  • Pre-minced garlic
  • “Steam in a bag” vegetables
  • Pre-cut vegetables
  • Grocery pick-up services (thank you  Click List! I cannot emphasize enough how much this service has helped my sanity. It’s convenient, helps me stick to our meal plan, and has even saved me money on my grocery bill…by limiting impulsive purchases).

Buying pre-chopped vegetables may be a little more expensive as well, but it is often worth the cost due to sheer time savings! My favorite pre-cut vegetables include: butternut squash, zoodles (zucchini noodles), kale, sweet potato cubes (like this frozen, steamable kind from Wal-Mart), and spaghetti squash.

Put it into action:

With your three (at least) days you have set out for cooking at home, think of how you can cut corners. Can one of the days be a Crockpot or Instapot meal? For your vegetable, can you use a “steam in a bag” version? Look at the recipe ahead of time – what vegetables can you purchase pre-cut?


Tip 3: Plan strategically

I REPEAT: cooking from home every night is NOT feasible for most families. This doesn’t make you a bad mom or dad, this makes you human. Planning 7 meals a week is exhausting when you are working, dealing with everyday life, and especially raising children. I don’t do this, nor will I ever cook 7 meals in 1 week.

Here are some tips on healthy meal planning.

  • Plan 3-4 meals in a 7-day period, and utilize leftovers.
  • For a balanced meal include a vegetable, a protein, and some type of high-fiber starch (like quinoa or sweet potatoes).
  • Establish 1 family fun night. Create your own pizza or have a nacho bar and get the family involved! This gives you a break, and gets the kids (and maybe your spouse!) involved and interested in cooking.
  • Choose only one “high prep” item per meal. For example:
    • Vegetable lasagna – High Prep
    • Steamed green beans – Low Prep
    • Grilled peaches – Low Prep

Put it into action:

When could you schedule in this planning time? Pick 1 day this week as your grocery day, and schedule it into your weekly calendar as well. You can plan as far ahead as you’d like, although I usually cannot find time to plan more than 1 week in advance.


Tip 4: Amp up the casserole dishes

With growing children and large families, making casseroles and “heavy” entrée meals are a solution to feeding lots of mouths for a reasonable price.

But is this healthy? Yes, it certainly can be. *Sigh of relief*

Chicken and rice casserole, taco spaghetti, and chicken pot pie are on constant rotation in my household. Achieve a healthy balance by:

  • Eating slowly, at the table, and making sure your portion size of the heavier meal item is appropriate. Engage in conversation and ask each other questions about the day. This makes it easier to slow down when eating.
  • Pair the item (like chicken and rice casserole) with a non-starchy vegetable. Non-starchy vegetables are veggies that contain a lower amount of carbohydrates, but lots of fiber. These include: asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, green beans, leafy greens, Brussel’s sprouts, mushrooms etc.
  • Tweak the recipe by adding more vegetables into popular casseroles or main entrees. Making sloppy joes? Slice some zucchini or eggplant into small pieces and add to the tomato sauce. Taco night? Dice some bell pepper and add to the taco mixture. Many times you cannot even tell the veggies are there.

Getting the family to eat more vegetables can be tough. If all else fails, try, try again! It can take 9+ times for a little one to acquire a taste for a new food, especially vegetables. For more information on getting kids to eat more veggies, click here. 

Put it into action:

Pick one of your planned meals this week. How can you amp it up with veggies (either on the side, or “hidden”)?

Related Post: 5 Reasons to Eat Seasonally


Tip 5: Cherish Meal Time

For years, food has remained the focal point of special occasions, birthdays, holidays, graduations, etc. Food symbolizes family, relationships, love, and intimacy.

When dinner is ready:

  • Eliminate all other distractions (television, tablets, cell phones).
  • Gather around the table.
  • Invest in the relationships of those around you.
  • Be kind to yourself and appreciate the meal you have provided, no matter the outcome. You are doing GREAT.

Put it into action:

This week, set apart 3 days/meals where you can turn off all distractions, and simply enjoy each other’s company at the table.


For more information or help with meal planning, allow me to do the work for you! I provide meal plans, grocery lists, and recipes weekly straight to your smart phone.  Contact me through my website, www.maryellenrd.com.

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