Family Meal Planning Made Easy

August 16, 2009 by Amy Clark

Amy family meal planning v2

My friends and I say we can never have enough quick tips and tricks to getting meals on the table. Here are my favorites for when I need to loop in my kids for mealtime prep.

Let kids help
My kids like to be involved in food preparation and shopping. Engaging the kids will make your life easier as well. Before you leave for the store, let your older kids help by checking the fridge and pantry for staples and suggesting menu ideas.

Have younger children make a little photo album of foods while you make your grocery list. They will learn shapes and identify foods as they cut pictures out of old magazines and create a grocery book. They can bring the book with them and check off items as you find them.

Let older kids help by finding items. School-age children can add prices into a calculator. Talk to them about price per unit and discuss which options are better values.

Ask children to guess the total grocery bill. This gives them a sense of family spending and might keep them from asking for tempting checkout treats. When the final tally is told, praise them for their good efforts.

Make a “meal kit”
My family has homemade pizza night on Fridays, so I pre-mix the dry dough ingredients in zip bags and note the wet ingredients that I’ll add later.

Next, I make a large batch of pizza sauce and divide it into freezer containers. I buy cheese and pepperoni in bulk and divide it into the portions needed for pizza. This upfront work keeps me stocked with about two month’s worth of pizza ingredients.

This is also great for recipes like cookie dough or pancakes. Mix the dry ingredients together with a note on what to add later, then pop them in your pantry.

Bag it
Make bag lunches easier. Bag sliced fruits and veggies and store them where kids can easily see and grab them. I like my Kenmore Elite® Fresh-n-Ready™ Bin. It’s right on the door and keeps produce at stay-fresh temperatures. Measure out and pack portions of dipping sauce or dressing to give snacks a little kick.

Make it homemade
Prepackaged meals affect your grocery budget and usually add calories, too. Try my top five homemade “fast foods.”

1. Lunchables
Slice your own fresh roasted turkey or chicken and skip the preservatives in prepackaged luncheon meats. Cube fresh cheese, add crackers and grapes and store in a sectioned container, ready for school lunch or snacks on the go.

2. Granola bars
Bake your own granola bars with dried fruit, nuts and granola. Your homemade bars will have less trans fat and preservatives.

3. One-dish skillet dinners
Throw together a stir-fry or a sloppy Joe dinner easily by assembling the ingredients the night before, or before you leave for work.

4. Trail mix
Combine whatever kid-friendly staples you have on hand and package into zip bags for quick snacks.

5. Soups and stews
This is where your slow cooker comes in handy. Make soup or stew from scratch with leftover meat or chicken, vegetables and noodles or rice. Freeze portions in individual lunch containers.

Share your favorite tips and tricks with us!

Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark has been the driving force behind MomAdvice since 2004. In addition to running a successful community for women and running after her two kids, she has appeared on The Early Show, and in Parents magazine, Redbook, Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, MSN Money and The New York Times.