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Meal Planning Made Easy for Busy Families

Posted on Oct 3, 2015 6:00:00 AM by Kim Schlauch

meal planning what's for dinner

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.

meal planning freezer meals

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.

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Topics: Meal Planning

Healthy Snacking for Families Part 1: How to Establish Smart Eating Habits

Posted on Aug 11, 2015 3:00:00 PM by Kim Schlauch

boy snacking

Snacking can offer an effective way for children to appease their hunger, increase energy and boost nutrition.  On the other hand, with the endless array of snacking choices available, without proper guidance children can be tempted to engage in mindless munching that can lead to poor eating practices and health issues.

Taking the time to help your children understand the importance of nutritious snacking and helping them establish smart eating habits can keep them healthy and happy.  Here are three areas to focus on when it comes to snacking:


Make the effort to fill your pantry with nutrient-dense foods, such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains.  These types of foods pack a powerful nutritious punch and will do a better job satisfying hunger and building sustainable energy reserves.  Avoid or limit foods high in sugar, fat and salt as well as foods that are high in calories and offer little nutritional value.



In addition to snack quality, pay attention to serving size.  Offer your children or help them select an appropriate portion size based on their age and activity level.  


When given the opportunity to eat whatever they want whenever they want, children can fall prey to mindless grazing.  And, when children graze, it is difficult for them to determine when they are truly hungry.  In addition, grazing can ruin their mealtime appetites.  Maintaining a structured meal and snack schedule can go a long way in helping your children establish healthy eating habits and minimize the risks associated with grazing.

Another way to avoid grazing is to designate a snacking location away from the television or computer screen.  This helps avoid connecting eating with screen time, which can lead to the habit of mindless munching.

By offering the right foods in the right amounts at the right time, you are not only encouraging healthy eating habits in your children now, you are laying the foundation for a lifetime of healty eating.

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5 Freezer Meal Tips For Busy Families

Posted on Oct 11, 2014 6:00:00 AM by Kim Schlauch


Before our children came along, I took pride in having mastered the art of meal planning and preparation.  Each week I would carefully plan a healthy menu, create a shopping list designed to maximize our dollar and minimize our number of trips to the grocery store, and even found the time to prepare make-ahead meals to pull out of the freezer on nights when we didn’t have the time to start a meal from scratch.

Somewhere between having children, going back to work once they started school full time and managing our current (and often overwhelming) family schedule, it all seemed to fall apart.  These days, I’m lucky if I’m able to figure out when each family member will have the time to eat dinner on any given night.  Finding the time and energy to make that meal is a different matter altogether.

While my efforts are not quite what they once were, in an attempt to avoid family overdose on pre-packaged and carryout meals, I do try to plan ahead as best as I can and prepare something I can stash in the freezer when I have the chance to do so.

Here are some freezer meal tips I have picked up over the years:

1. Find Recipes That Include Foods That Freeze Well.

Meals less likely to dry out when reheated tend to be better suited for freezing, such as soups, casseroles, chilis and other one-dish meals of this nature.  When time permits, I will let something simmer on the stove while our family is watching football on a Sunday afternoon or will set up the slow cooker first thing in the morning before heading out for the day.  I usually double or triple the recipe so we can enjoy a fresh meal that day and have enough left over to freeze and eat in the future.

Keep in mind that some ingredients in these types of recipes may change the meal’s consistency after freezing.  For example, potatoes and pastas become much softer and will absorb much of the sauce during the freezing process.  You can compensate for this by either cooking these items separately and adding them when you reheat the meal or by adding water or extra sauce to the meal when reheating it.

For variety, you can also prepare and freeze individual items to save you time on busy evenings.  Pre-cooked marinated chicken breasts can be thawed and used on salads, in Mexican dishes, over pastas or in soups.  Crumbled and cooked ground beef freezes well and is easy to reheat for tacos.  Rice cooked ahead of time and frozen is a great time saver that can be warmed up in the microwave.  As mentioned previously, pasta can be cooked ahead of time; however, it maintains a better consistency when it is only cooked three-quarters of the way before being frozen and then boiled the rest of the way at the time of use.

2. Freeze Meals inSizes According to Need.

Food should not be refrozen once it has been defrosted, so consider packaging it according to need.  In other words, it is better to store the remainder of that triple batch of chili in several smaller containers that can be taken out as needed than defrosting one big container and ending up with uneaten portions that will need to be thrown out if not eaten within a few days.

The exception to the refreezing rule is raw meat.  While raw meat itself should not be refrozen, it is OK to put the meat back in the freezer once it has been fully cooked.  When storing raw meat, consider splitting packs of sausages, bacon, and chicken pieces up before freezing them to keep from having to defrost more than you need.  Helpful hint:  I have been known to wrap hot dogs individually in wax paper and storing them in a freezer bag.  This keeps them from sticking together during the freezing process and allows me to easily remove them one at a time.

My freezer containers of choice are plastic sealable freezer bags.  Not only are they easy to label, they are a great space saver as they freeze flat and are stackable.  Regardless of the type of container you use, be sure to label your items before you freeze them so you know what the package contains and when it was placed in the freezer.

Freezer meals

3. Be Aware of Food Shelf Life.

While most cooked dishes will keep for between three to six months in the freezer, some items have a shorter shelf life.  As an example, foods containing fresh dairy products, fish, and salty fatty items such as bacon, ham and hot dogs should only be stored for one to two months.  For more food safety information, please visit the USDA website.

4. Reheating.

Most pre-cooked one-dish meals can be reheated directly from their frozen state, either on the stove or in the microwave.  In addition, frozen pasta can go straight into the boiling pot.  Other items, such as meats, can be defrosted in the refrigerator overnight and then heated.

5. Maintain a List of What You Have on Hand in the Freezer.  

Many a time I’ve gone digging through my stocked freezer drawer looking for a meal only to realize we had already consumed it or, worse yet, come across meals I’ve had to throw away because they’ve lingered in the freezer long past their shelf life.  To solve this issue, I keep a list of the items I have stored in the freezer along with date they were made.  This not only helps with menu planning, but allows me to keep track of which meals to use first.  The key to the success of this tracking method is remembering to cross the items off as you use them and adding meals to the list as you place them in your freezer.

What freezer meal tips do you have to share?


Topics: Meal Planning

5 No-Brainer School Day Breakfast Ideas

Posted on Sep 13, 2014 6:00:00 AM by Kim Schlauch

Smiling egg

We’ve all been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but when it comes time to juggle everything that needs to happen in order to get the family out the door on school mornings, who has the time or mental energy to prepare a decent meal?

Here are 5 breakfast menu ideas that take little brainpower to pull together.  While they do require a bit of advanced planning, the prep work completed ahead of time can make your mornings much easier to manage:

1.  Quick Breads & Muffins.  These baked goodies can be made ahead of time using a variety of wholesome ingredients, including apples, pumpkin, cranberries, or zucchini, and can be baked in batches and stored in the freezer.  For smaller or even individual servings, cut the loaves in half or in slices before putting them in freezer-safe packaging.  When ready to use, place breads or muffins in the refrigerator the night before or the microwave in the morning to defrost. breads and muffins

2.  Frozen Fruit Smoothies.  These can be made the night before by combining fresh or frozen fruit with fruit juice, such as OJ, or with plain yogurt.  Mix the ingredients in a blender or food processor, pour the concoction into an airtight freezer container and store it in the freezer.  In the morning, run the container under warm water or place it in a bowl of warm water to soften.

3.  Cheesy Apple Quesadilla.  Grab a regular flour or whole wheat tortilla, sprinkle it with shredded cheddar cheese and a layer of tart apple slices (e.g. granny smith).  Put a second tortilla on top and warm it in the microwave until the cheese is slightly melted.  Cut into wedges and serve.

4.  Jazzed Up Yogurt.  Start with a serving of plain yogurt and add a dash of honey or fruit spread for sweetener.  Include other items as desired, such as fresh or dried fruit, granola, or nuts.

5.  Hard Boiled Egg.  Eggs are a good source protein.  If you don’t have the time to cook any up in the morning, hard boil a few and store them in the refrigerator overnight.  In the morning, serve them with melba toast and cheese slices or a side of hummus.

fruit smoothie

These are just a few ideas to get you started.  The beauty of these particular recipes is that they can double duty as lunch options too.  Now it’s time for you to put on your own creative thinking cap.  What are some other fun and easy ideas that might work for your family?


Topics: Meal Planning