Between managing the family’s hectic after-school activity schedule, coordinating rides to ensure everyone gets to and from where they need to be and ensuring homework and other responsibilities are completed, the thought of trying to figure out how to get a well-balanced meal on the table each night can be enough to put even the most resilient parent over the edge.
Looking for ways to minimize the stress related to family meal planning? Here are some tips for meal planning made easy for busy families:
Set Realistic Expectations
While it would be wonderful if the family could sit down together for a hot, freshly-prepared meal each and every night, this is an unrealistic expectation in most households with school-age children. Instead of feeling guilty, look for ways to make the most of the time you have available.
To assist you in your daily meal preparation efforts, set aside some time periodically to conduct a recipe search to locate ones that will appeal to your family members and meet your varying needs. For example, find a few quick and easy recipes that would be good for evenings when your time is limited, or convenient ones for the nights your family needs to eat in shifts. In addition, identify recipes you could make ahead of time in a slow cooker or that could be made in multiple batches at one time and frozen for future use.
Advanced Planning is Essential
The best way to minimize the stress related to meal preparation is to plan out your meals, preferably a week in advance. With your family schedule in hand, determine your time constraints and plan accordingly. For example, select one of your “quick and easy” or “slow cooker” recipes for the night you have to be out the door by 6:30 for that church meeting, or the “convenient” menu option for the night you will be eating in shifts.
Once you’ve planned out your menu for the week, check to see what items you have on hand and then create your grocery list accordingly. This will make grocery shopping a much more efficient process and could even save you money in the long run.
Planning out your menu on a weekly basis like this can help eliminate the daily guesswork and stress related to coming up with a meal on the fly after a hectic day.
Learn to Be Flexible
Whether expectedly or unexpectedly, it is a fact of life that will schedules change. To avoid added stress and chaos, be prepared with a backup plan. If it’s early enough in the week, your backup plan may simply involve rearranging your week’s meal plan to accomodate the change in schedule. Otherwise, it is good to have a backup meal or two in the freezer that can be pulled out in a pinch.
With a little advanced planning, your evening meal time can be low-stress, well-balanced and family-friendly.