Planning implies work, which is why many parents see meal planning as a chore. But it doesn’t have to be, says Leslie Beck, registered dietitian, nutrition expert and author of Leslie Beck’s Healthy Kitchen: 250 Quick and Delicious Recipes Plus Essential Kitchen Tips (Penguin Canada, $28). We asked Beck how meal planning can be a time saver (really!) for busy families.
What Are the Benefits of Planning Meals?
“Planning your family’s meals allows you to be organized—you’ll shop in advance for your menu and have all the ingredients on hand, preventing last-minute dashes to the grocery store. It allows you to account for the nights you need to put a quick meal on the table, and designating what you’re going to eat prevents you from making on-the-fly poor choices for your family, such as convenience foods, order-in pizza, etc. And knowing what you’re going to eat takes the stress out of having to figure it out at the end of a hectic day. If the whole family knows what’s for dinner in advance, last-minute meal battles can also be avoided. What seems like such an overwhelming chore really isn’t. The more often you plan your family’s meals, the easier it gets. The reality is, the busier you are, the more important meal planning becomes.”
Leslie Beck’s Top Three Menu-Planning Tips for Families:
1. Get Input: “Engage your family in the process. When everyone has a say about which meals they’d like to eat, they’re more likely to be open to eating other people’s selections. Post your weekly meal plan in a visible spot (e.g. fridge door) to prevent complaints by reminding everyone what’s been agreed upon for dinner.”
2. Plan for Leftovers: “As you plan your meals, think about how you can cook once and get two or more meals out of it. For instance, you might plan to make a large roast chicken one night and save the leftovers for wraps the next night when you need dinner in a hurry. Batch-cook soups, casseroles, pasta sauce or chili on the weekend and freeze to serve on a busy weeknight.”
3. Make a Grocery List: “Once you have your meals planned out, write out a list. It means you’ll buy only what you need. Grocery shopping once a week also saves you time and money. (You may need to restock fresh produce mid-week.) If you don’t have time to grocery shop—or just don’t enjoy it—consider using a grocery delivery service.”