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In principle, making sure your family eats a healthy diet is very straightforward. In practice, keeping everyone happy without blowing the budget or spending hours in the kitchen can be a major challenge. Fortunately, a bit of strategy can make that challenge a whole lot easier. With that in mind, here are five top tips for family meal planning.

Inventory Your Kitchen

There is a very good reason why commercial kitchens generally have inventory-management software. It means they never have to wonder about what they have in stock or where it is. They always know and that helps them to run smoothly under pressure.  

This is probably way too much for the average family kitchen. A basic spreadsheet, however, should do the job nicely. Unless you really hate technology, it’s best to have an electronic inventory so you can update it easily. In fact, ideally, you should have it on your phone so when you are shopping or on the go, you can access your inventory and update it.

If creating an inventory of your whole kitchen sounds like way too much work, break it into more manageable pieces. Inventory one part of your kitchen at a time. Whatever approach you use, see if you can purge some items as you go. Anything you keep you should use. In the case of food supplies that means ensuring it’s eaten before its use-by date.

Once you get this system up and running, you should only ever need to keep a manual track of the foods your children access by themselves. This should make both shopping and cooking a whole lot easier. 

Build a Recipe Bank of Go-To-Meals

An effective family meal planning should have your favorite go-to meals. These meals meet three criteria. Firstly, go-to meals are those that everyone in your family eats, at least with minimal adaptation. Secondly, they can be made with ingredients you always have in storage. That means pantry and frozen food. You might add fresh or chilled food to them as an extra. You should not, however, need to rely on them to make the dish work. Thirdly, they need to be easy for you to cook. What that means in practice, of course, depends on you. It isn’t just about your cooking skills. It’s about whatever else you need to fit into your life.

Keep a copy of these recipes on paper (or on index cards) or on your online documents so you never have to think about what you need to do. Try out new recipes when you have the breathing space to enjoy cooking and eating them together. It’s important to keep introducing your children to new food experiences; food diversity is not only good for them, to help develop their taste buds, but it’s good for you and your microbiome. Besides safe dishes, those that the children are (practically) guaranteed to eat, you should consider some of the best diets for dads too.

Stockpile Your Basics & Adjust

If you want a case study of how the food industry works, head to your local supermarket and look at the jars of sauce. Chances are the vast majority of them are variations on a few main flavors typically white sauce, tomato sauce, and mushroom sauce. You may even have loaded up your cart with these as an easy way to ring in the changes in your meals.

Actually, this approach is making your life harder rather than easier. Just buy or make the basic sauces. Then adjust them to whatever it is you want to make. After all, how difficult is it to add some mushrooms or herbs to a plain tomato sauce?

Learn to Love Frozen Ingredients

Another tip for effective meal planning is to utilize frozen foods. Frozen ready meals are variable, to put it mildly. These days, you can get options that are both healthy and tasty. That being said, you tend to pay a high price for them. Besides, a lot of these frozen foods have high levels of sodium, harmful partially hydrogenated oils, and MSG.

Frozen raw ingredients, by contrast, are often a great way to combine nutrition and convenience at a reasonable price. Frozen foods are preserved when they are at their freshest (and most nutritious). They are therefore at least as healthy as their fresh counterparts. Admittedly, they have a limitation. You can’t just take them out of the freezer and eat them, except in the case of frozen fruit which you can put in a smoothie.

If, however, you’re cooking/baking frozen ingredients, they have a lot of benefits. Firstly, you can get them pre-prepared (e.g. peeled and chopped onions). That can save you a lot of time and energy. Secondly, they have a long shelf-life so you can stock up and not worry about food waste. Thirdly, they often make very efficient use of space. For example, it’s usually easier to shove a bag of chopped carrots in the freezer than to find space for fresh carrots.

Canned Food Anyone?

Canned and dried foods can also be good. The main problem with them is that it can be difficult to store leftovers after the can/packet/box has been opened. You need to use them up quickly. What’s more, there’s usually more preparation involved. For example, canned foods often need draining and dried foods soaking. Another thing to be aware of in regard to canned foods is that PBA. Most cans contain BPA, a chemical known to cause birth defects and has been linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other serious health. So if you are buying canned foods, choose PBA-free cans. That being said, they definitely have their uses. It is wise to keep canned foods in your home as they are great for emergencies. For instance, canned foods come in handy during power outages or circumstances where the food supply is compromised as we experienced during quarantines.

As you can see, the above tips are simple. Having an inventory and a list of your go-to meals’ recipes, as well as stockpiling on your basics, and using frozen and canned foods can make effective family meal plans.

To a Fitter Healthier You,

Adriana Albritton

The Fitness Wellness Mentor

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