Weeknight Meal Prep Tips

Planning ahead can make weeknight meal prep a breeze

During the week it can be a juggling act to prepare a balanced meal for your family between jobs, daycare pick-ups, and afterschool activities. It can be tempting to go through a drive-thru on your way home from work or when running your kids around to their various activities. From a mom of two kids who juggles working outside the home and getting kids picked up from daycare and school, here are some tips that will help keep your weeknights from being so hectic:

1. Plan ahead!

Meal planning is important. Planning meals and snacks in advance will help make weeknights go smoother as you’ll have a plan of attack each night and won’t be constantly stopping at the store throughout the week. When making our menu for the week, I check to see what foods we have on hand and get inspiration from my favorite food blogs. I use the menu and recipes to make a list of items that I need to pick up during my weekly grocery store trip.Image: My weekly meal plan.

2. Consider the whole plate!

Use USDA’s MyPlate as a guide when menu planning to ensure that meals are balanced. I started planning a vegetable side dish with every meal when I noticed our family wasn’t getting enough vegetables in each day. Roasted vegetables are a favorite at our house. To make: Spread cut vegetables on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with your favorite seasonings. Bake at 400°F for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. We all (yes even our 3 and 6 year-old) enjoy broccoli, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, carrots prepared like this!Photo: Roasted broccoli.

3. Prepare meals in advance!

If you have time over the weekend, prepare meals in advance that can easily be cooked or reheated during the week. The girls and I don’t get home until 6:30 on Tuesday nights so on Monday night I prep our meal for the next night so that my husband can throw it in the oven or warm it up on the stove and have it ready when we walk through the door after gymnastics.

One way I love to use vegetables that are hanging out in the fridge or freezer is by including them in a Vegetable Beef Soup. Pour 6 cups of beef broth into a pot, add 1-2 cups ground hamburger or leftover roast meat, then add whatever vegetables you can find. Last time I made this soup I added frozen broccoli, corn and peas with fresh chopped spinach, diced bell peppers and onions. Prepare this the night ahead and then pull out the next night and put on the stove. Bring to a boil and add bulgur 20 minutes before you’re ready to serve. Don’t add the bulgur the night ahead as it will soak up the liquid. Serve with fruit and a glass of milk for a balanced meal that hits all of the food groups!

Photo: Vegetable beef soup.

4. Prep & measure ahead!

Over the weekend or in the evenings look at your menu and prep ahead by cutting vegetables and measuring ingredients in advance. Cutting up all your vegetables at one time will save you time and make it easier to throw together meals during the week.

Photo: Hands chopping vegetables with knife.

5. Avoid ‘Hangry’ Attitudes.

Ward off those inevitable pre-dinner meltdowns by setting out cut fruits or vegetables for children (and adults!) to snack on while preparing dinner. Offering up fruits and vegetables as a healthy pre-dinner snack won’t ruin anyone’s appetite and helps ensure that everyone gets in the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables in their day.

Photo: Carrots and apples.

6. Prepare meals together!

Mealtimes are a great time for your family to come together and share about their day. Try cooking and cleaning up together as well. Even small children can be given tasks such as setting the table or helping throw in ingredients as you prepare a recipe. Did you know that children who help prepare a new food are more likely to consume it?

Photo: Mom and daughter cooking pizza in kitchen.

7. Love your leftovers.

Prepare enough food to eat it again during the week! Planning for leftovers a couple of nights a week can save you time and money.

Photo: Leftovers in refrigerator.Check out some of my family’s favorite weeknight meals.

Jill Ladd MPH, RD, LD

— Contributed by Jill Ladd, MPH, RD, LD



    Love these meal planning tips and tricks? Check out this section on packable snacks! Or would you like to know more about who grows your food? The Browns are one of the many families behind the ‘Snack that Smiles Back!’

Meal planning is easy with these tips and tricks from Jill Ladd, registered dietitian! Meal planning is easy with these tips and tricks from Jill Ladd, registered dietitian!