Hello, chaos, my old friend.
With the new school year comes a heavy dose of insanity, between getting kids to class, carting them to extracurricular activities, and somehow finding time to make meals, take care of yourself—and breathe. Luckily, meal prep is one of the best ways to ensure you and your kids are staying healthy during the school year and it doesn’t have to be time consuming. Use the following ideas to keep your family healthy without losing your mind.
1. Prep on Sundays
Sundays, or whichever day you have the most down time, is the best day for your weekly food prep. Your prep day can even be on Wednesdays—just be sure to keep your prep days consistent to encourage positive habits. Consistency ensures you won’t be scrambling the first few days of the week because you don’t have anything prepared.
2. Make life easier with versatile foods
Versatile foods are those that can be used for more than one meal, allowing you to get the most bang for your buck. It also makes prep easier—cook once, serve multiple times. Some of the best multi-meal foods include:
- Chicken: salad, stir-fry, sandwiches or plain with hummus and veggies
- Turkey: salad, sandwiches or pasta (ground turkey)
- Rice (and most grains): stir-fry, topping for green salad, cold veggie salad or side dish
- Pasta: hot, cold, with sauce, with butter, with cheese or as a side
All of these foods can be eaten for a wide variety of meals, making it easier to spend less time prepping and still get what you need. If you roast a whole chicken, you can then use the meat in morning eggs, on the kids’ lunch sandwiches, on a lunch a salad for you, and mixed into pasta for dinner.
3. Make list-making a priority
You’re doing yourself a disservice by leaving your grocery list at home—or not writing one at all. Not only will it take longer to shop without a plan for what you need, but you’ll end up buying too many things you don’t need and not enough of what you do need.
If you have a habit of losing everything you put down, use a basic note-taking app to jot down what you need throughout the week or before you head out.
4. Away with “gourmet”
Resist the urge to go all-out every single week. While your kids will appreciate an elaborate lunch with two side options and a dessert, they’ll be just as happy with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which sweet potato chips and a whole-juice fruit box.
Be realistic with yourself at the grocery store: if you know you have more time for prep, choose a few new items and make those cute Pinterest snacks you always admire. If you know there’s more going on than usual this week, take a step back. You’ll be less stressed and your family won’t know the difference.
5. Prep it and forget it
Breakfast and dinner are the most challenging meals because you need to cook something or everyone turns to the cereal cabinet. Prepping in advance, so you can heat the meal and serve it in 30 minutes—no cooking required—makes everyone happy. You have less to do and everyone is still fed.
Here are a few prep-ahead ideas for breakfast and dinner:
- Basic oatmeal: Make a large batch (at least 2 cups raw oats to yield about 8 servings) and let everyone add their own mix-ins each morning. You can even chop fruit ahead of time, rather than each morning, so kids can easily take a handful.
- Veggie egg white muffins: Whisk 6 to 12 eggs and stir in your family’s favorite extras: cheese, black beans, onions, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, bacon, etc. Add a dash of salt and pepper, pour into muffin tins and bake. When done, you can refrigerate for up to a week. Serve by microwaving or heating in the toaster oven.
- Breakfast muffins: Two of my favorites on the blog are the almond blueberry muffins and chicken and oat muffins. Muffin makes for a portable breakfast, which is perfect for mornings when you’re rushing out the door.
- Baked oatmeal casserole: If you’re looking for something fancier (maybe you have company), you can prep this breakfast casserole the night before and place in the refrigerator (covered) and bake in the morning.
- Burritos: Fill flour tortillas with your favorite burrito fixings, like rice, meat, cheese and veggies. Roll them up, wrap in tin foil and freeze. When you’re ready, heat them in the oven and serve with extra toppings such as shredded lettuce, sour cream (or Greek yogurt) and extra cheese.
- Soup: This is such an easy meal to prep and will keep for a month when frozen. With so many soups to choose from, you can please everyone in the family with one big pot.
- Casserole: This dish can keep for a few days and is just as versatile as soup. Try this quinoa enchilada casserole with beef or this white bean Tuscan casserole.
You can also prep all your side dishes ahead of time, as well, including pasta and rice, both of which keep and reheat well.
Start prepping, stop stressing
Use these tips and recipes to stay healthy during the school year while maintaining your sanity. Reheat-able meals, versatile foods and a designated day for prepping will make your life easier than you can ever imagine.