What's a popular wish when the kids go back-to-school? That's a question I asked my friends and here's what they answered -- having a menu plan. When school begins, we have the backpacks packed and ready to go with fresh school supplies, new sneakers on feet that grew over the summer and a new outfit that actually fits after that growth spurt. All essentials to get back into the school routine. But here's the question -- are you prepared with a back-to-school meal planning strategy?
I've found having a back-to-school meal planning strategy is also essential for going back-to-school. Here's why I love having a meal planning strategy:
- It saves me so much time. Rather than sifting through recipes each day online or in my gazillion cookbooks, I already know what is for dinner (and breakfast and lunch too!).
- It saves me so much money. We've all had the time where we went to the grocery store for a couple of items and came out with a cart load. I've realized I can save big money when I have a meal plan.
- It's healthier. Just this year, a study released from the University of Washington noted that you are more likely to eat healthier when you cook at home without the higher food expense. By choosing my own ingredients and the cooking methods, my meals are healthier and more balanced.
- It's less stressful. When I know what's for dinner at 6 a.m., I feel so much less stress. When I have no idea what's for dinner and it's 6 p.m. -- watch out. My poor planning leads to a more stress-filled environment and both my family and budget suffer.
- It brings my family together. There's nothing more important each night than gathering around the table as a family. Sharing highs and lows and laughter and sometimes tears is what makes life so much more fun, fulfilling and connected. Meal planning makes this actually happen.
So let's get to it. Today, I'm sharing my best back-to-school meal planning strategies for you to use!
Back-to-School Meal Planning Strategies
Here are the best meal planning strategies I recommend as I work with my kitchen coaching clients:
- Meal Rhythms
- Cycle Menus
- Freezer Meal Prep Sessions
- Personalized Menu Planning
- Pre-Done Menu Subscription through GatheredTable
Meal Planning Strategy #1: Meal Rhythms
This is a simple way to begin meal planning. Simply write out the days of the week and then figure out the theme for that specific day of the week. That theme stays the same every week. For example, Mondays in our house tend to be a grilled meal. This past Monday, we had grilled salmon, the Monday prior was grilled Honey Rosemary Chicken. Every Monday becomes "Grilling Monday" making it easy to slot in grilled meals each week. Having a theme makes meal planning simplified and more organized.
Meal Planning Strategy #2: Cycle Menus
This is the strategy I used as a school food service menu planner and it's brilliant. First, choose the number of weeks you would like in the cycle, then choose the meals your family loves to eat. You want the same amount of meals as there are days in the cycle. For example, a four week cycle would include at least 20 meals if you plan to cook five days a week. I then plot the meals into the weeks, develop a shopping list based on those meals, shop and prepare. I keep these materials all in a binder as doing it once means you don't have to recreate the wheel each time a new week comes around. You simply pull the menu from the binder with the shopping list and you are ready to go. You can make the cycle as long as you want, and can even change it for the season you are in.
Meal Planning Strategy #3: Freezer Meal Prep Sessions
Have you ever prepared 10 meals in two hours? I bet that sounds enticing and impossible all at the same time! There are three options within this strategy that might inspire you. You can cook a double batch of a meal you are already preparing and pop it into the freezer, you can do a prep session choosing your own freezer-friendly recipes or you can have all of that done for you with a freezer meal kit. A freezer meal kit has the recipes done for you, with a shopping list and the spices/rubs/oils/vinegar, and you purchase the remaining items like meat, produce, dairy, bread, and pantry foods. You can prep alone or with friends! A popular offering is scheduling your own private workshop with seven other friends where I facilitate the entire workshop leaving you to be super productive in the kitchen!
Meal Planning Strategy #4: Personalized Meal Planning
Maybe this all seems too overwhelming but you would really love to have a plan in place. Maybe you have a health issue in the family that further complicates things. Maybe you just want someone to tell you what to prepare and make that cycle menu/meal rhythm/freezer meal prep for you. I can be that person. I love meal planning and have done it for 17 years as a nutrition professional. In fact, in the year 2000, I developed weekly menus where I worked that were different every week of the year. This was without the internet, and instead with cookbooks and the few cooking magazines available at the time. I loved the process of pulling together menus that were tasty and presented well because they were colorful and balanced in nutrition, flavor, and texture. (Did I mention my favorite class in college was Meal Management?) I work with you to create a personalized meal planning approach, one that will work for you and your family based on your needs and goals.
And guess what!?! I am now offering special back-to-school menu planning appointments!
You pick one meal you would like to focus on (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) and you will walk away with one of the following:
- A five-day, personalized-to-you, menu plan for breakfast
- A five-day, personalized-to-you, menu plan for lunch (for you or your kids - you choose)
- A five-day, personalized-to-you, menu plan for dinner (including a meal rhythm!)
Meal Planning Strategy #5: Pre-Done Anti-Inflammatory Menu Plan Subscription through GatheredTable
This is a pre-done, dietitian-created menu plan to help you prepare recipes aimed at stabilizing blood sugar, maintaining healthy weight, promoting healthy digestion, and reducing inflammation associated with many chronic diseases. Each week, you receive a weekly anti-inflammatory meal plan that emphasizes the preparation of plant-based meals and lean protein. You can swap out recipes, add your own recipes and more.
You can check it out for FREE. (no credit card is required for a 1-day trial). After that it’s less than $1/day – Pay $29 monthly or save 35% when you pay annually.
To check it out, visit www.gatheredtable.com/jenhaugen