Six tips for healthy meal planning

August 14th, 2013 by Live Well Omaha Kids

By guest blogger Kim Reiner. Kim lives in Omaha with her husband and their 2-year-old and almost 4-year-old. She and her family recently took the Live Well Omaha Kids Family Dining Pledge. She blogs regularly at

In my sleep deprived early years of motherhood, I let convenience foods help me get a warm dinner on the table. After a full day of work, it just seemed easier to cook some spaghetti and pop open a jar of marinara. At least it wasn’t take out, I reasoned.
Dinner on patio 8-10-13
Then, my husband and I made a conscious effort to reduce the amount of processed foods we ate. It took planning, though, to make it work.

I’m proud to say after about a year of this whole food kick, we’re going strong. With two full-time working parents, it can be done. Here’s how we do it:

1. We make a menu each week. Some superstar parents out there can plan for two weeks to two months, but I’m happy with a week. We plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks. All that planning cuts down on impulse purchases at the grocery store, too.

2. With the meals for the week in mind, start making plans to cook more than you need for each dinner so you can have leftovers the next day. I often plan one dinner entree a week to be doubled so I can freeze some for later. Other tricks in planning: Prepare double batches of an ingredient to use in another recipe another day. Take broccoli: Chop it and use half to steam one night and the other half to add to a stir fry the next. Prep once, eat twice.jar salads

3. I found an easy way to get greens into our diet daily. I like making 10 jar salads for the week to include in lunches for my husband and I. As long as the greens are separated from the dressing everything stays fresh (just don’t put beans in there beyond the first day). Now if I could only find a way to get my kids to eat greens daily.

4. I’m not a huge fan of the microwave, but sometimes, it just makes life easier. I occasionally replace spaghetti with spaghetti squash, cooking it in the microwave in place of the oven if time is limited (oven is preferred). Twelve minutes in the microwave and the squash is ready, use a fork to scrape the strands onto a plate, top with sauce and you’re done.

5. Do some prep work. On Sundays, I try get all the jar salads prepared. Same goes for some side dishes and snacks for work. I might wash, peel and chop carrots to put in baggies for work that week and set aside some to steam as a side dish for dinner one night. Along that line of side dish prep, I like to make a double batch of brown rice on Sunday, with plans to use it for two dinners (and the subsequent leftovers in lunches). You start to get the hang of what can be prepped ahead of time. Some nights, I prep the ingredients for the next day’s dinner, so all I have to do when I get home is start cooking.

6. Know you’re not perfect and plan for it. I have back up meal ideas for when I just don’t feel like cooking. Pull out one of those extra entrees you froze the week before. And spaghetti and marinara jars still have a place in my cupboard. It’s not the worst meal I could feed my family.

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