Meal Planning Tips and Tricks

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A family making a meal together.Back in my single days, I had no problem eating rice cakes, and whatever fruit or vegetable was left in the fridge. I could push my grocery shopping off another few days and pick up takeout on the way home. I also had no problem ordering pizza and eating it for a few days.

Now that I am a mom with a family of five, my food prep, or lack thereof from the past, won’t work anymore. I have had to get organized, plan, and take time each week to ensure everyone will be fed. In doing so, I have found shortcuts that help me save time and money when feeding my growing family. 

Here are some meal planning tips that help me alleviate the stress and make my hectic life a little bit easier during the week.

1. Write It Down 

I have a note on my phone titled MEAL PLANS, and there, I jot down a rough idea of what we’ll have for the upcoming week. I like looking back at weeks for inspiration when I can’t think of what to make, and I love being able to plug in our weekly repeats (taco Tuesday and pizza Friday).

2. Shop Your Freezer, Pantry, & Fridge

Before I even make my shopping list, I go through my freezer, pantry, and fridge to see what needs to be used or what may be hiding underneath the frozen nuggets. This helps keep things in rotation, but it can spark some inspiration when I come across an ingredient I want to incorporate. 

3. Always Serve a Favorite Food 

I have learned a lot from cooking for three kids, and one of the biggest take aways is always to serve something you know is a guarantee for them to eat. I cook and serve one meal to my family and refuse to be a short-order cook. I will always ensure there is a favorite food I know everyone will eat alongside what’s for dinner. In our house, that is typically cut-up apples, strawberries, carrots, celery with ranch, or cheese sticks. Having a favorite food offered tends to make newer foods less intimidating, and fresh fruit and veggies are an easy and low-prep side.

4. Cook Once & Eat Twice (or more) 

On taco Tuesday, we’ll often have shredded chicken alongside all of the fixings. I’ll throw double the amount of chicken breast in the crock pot and store the leftovers in the fridge for a quick chicken salad, chicken quesadillas, a protein for a salad, or served with sauce and mozzarella over pasta for another dinner. Cooking more than you need allows for leftovers and quick meals later in the week.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Repeat Favorites

A few meals are consistently in the rotation on our dinner table. I try to mix it up slightly each time I make it to prevent burnout. For example, taco Tuesday is a weekly celebration around here, and I keep it exciting by changing the protein, or some weeks getting hard shells along with soft shells. I always serve all the fixings in small bowls and allow everyone to serve themselves and make their own, leading to much more eating. On pasta nights, I will change up the shape of the pasta, sometimes giving it an inventive name to make it more fun. Slight changes like this keep everyone happy without being tired of the same old thing.    

Though it may feel daunting to start, meal planning pays off! What do you do to help alleviate the dinnertime struggle during a busy week?

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Nancy is mom to 3 girls (2016, 2018 and 2022) and lives in Trumbull with her husband Tom, daughters and black lab Norman. Originally from Farmington, CT, Nancy met her husband while living in Baltimore after college. In 2014 Nancy moved back to her home state of Connecticut, living in West Hartford, Norwalk and finally settling in Trumbull. Nancy is a full time high school teacher who loves to make the most of her time outside the classroom. Cape Cod, family dinners and a fresh manicure are some of Nancy’s favorite things.

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