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Top 5 Meal Planning Tips!

Mom, what's for dinner?? Now that’s a loaded question if I ever heard one. Give the wrong answer and you could be met with loads of opposition from your kids, trust me, I’ve heard it! “Why don’t you make something that I like?”; “That again, didn’t we just have that?” and my personal favorite “I’m huuunnnggrryy, why is it taking so long?” spoken in the first 5 minutes since you walked in the door. It’s definitely enough to make you want to make a run for the border so you can hear “I’m lovin’ it”.

Hi! My name is Tanya Koziara, and I am a FIT4MOM Chapel Hill Body Back member. And like you, I am busy! I’m married to my wonderful husband and we have 3 children, ages 12, 7 and 5. Both my husband and I work full time and as an added bonus, for 3 months out of the year my husband works 7 days a week during his accounting busy season.

Needless to say, trying to figure out what’s for dinner after walking through the door at 6:30 PM wasn’t working for us. So, in true Tanya fashion, I made a list. Lists keep me on track, and I get great satisfaction when I cross something off.

This is my list of top-5 strategies to tame the “hangry” in our household.

1. Check your calendar. Saturday morning: What does the upcoming week look like? Soccer practice, music lessons, late meetings at work? Identify the days you know you will be short on time.

2. Make a meal plan. Answer the question “What’s for dinner this week?” Write down your meals. Be as specific as possible. Make sure your choices complement your schedule for the week. For example, don’t choose baked mac-n-cheese that requires 90 minutes of prep and bake time when you know you’ll only have 30 minutes that day. Post the upcoming meals for everyone to see (my list is on the fridge). Why? That seems like a lot of work. It may take time to become a habit, but having a plan WORKS! You will use this plan to:

  • Create your grocery list;
  • Plan which freezer items need to thaw for step 3;
  • Keep your family informed (fewer "what's for dinner?" questions for Mom!);
  • Execute your plan!

3. Mass cook on Sunday. Set aside 2-3 hours on Sunday to prepare or cook as much as you can that will store well in the fridge. Spending a few hours in one block is a more efficient use of your time because you can prep all your ingredients at the same time and use across multiple recipes. When baking, make a double batch and freeze items for the following week. Muffins are great lunchbox snacks and they freeze well. Cut up and wash all your fresh vegetables and store in Ziploc bags. It’s so easy to pull a handful of broccoli and steam in a pot when you don’t have to clean, chop, cook and then clean up. Or if you’re planning a crock pot, it’s much easier the morning-of to grab and dump the items and not prepare that morning. It’s AMAZING to walk in the door on a Wednesday evening, reheat and eat! From fridge to table in less than 15 minutes. And it’s made from ingredients YOU chose and prepared! Mom win!

4. Use your leftovers. Plan a leftover night into your meal plan. My kids love leftover night because they get to choose what they eat. And it’s a simple ‘heat-and-eat’ dinner for you. For example, if your menu includes a roasted chicken Saturday evening, you will likely have leftover meat. Use the chicken in a variety of ways that are fast, easy and can be prepared in less than 30 minutes, such as chicken soft tacos, burritos, or quesadillas. Perfect options for the evenings when you do have some time to assemble a meal!

5. Always have an easy back-up plan. Let’s face it, even the best of plans can get derailed. Interruptions to our daily routines and schedules are a given. But don’t let that get in the way of providing a quick and healthy meal for your family. I’m a big fan of breakfast for dinner. It’s quick and easy, I never hear complaints from the kids. I make sure we always have eggs, milk, frozen vegetables, and cereal in the house. With these ingredients, you can offer anything from pancakes, omelets, or cereal and fruit. And, best of all, you win the Mom of the Day award!

Bonus tip: depending on the ages of your kids, involve them in the planning and preparation process as appropriate. It guarantees they have at least one of their favorites for dinner that week and they take a lot of pride in “I helped make this”. Baking is especially fun and they learn firsthand fractions, proportions, and how to follow directions.

I hope these tips help you answer the question, “What’s for dinner?” Then you can hear "Yay! Dinner sounds yummy!" when you walk in the door! Bon Appetite, fellow busy moms!