Meal Prepping For Back To School
Back-to-school season is officially here! As the days become shorter and temperatures cool off, children, teenagers, and college-aged kids are getting ready to head back into the classroom. September marks new beginnings and mixed emotions. A high schooler who's gearing up to begin his or her senior year could feel bittersweet about the graduation to come while a first-grader might already be clinging to his or her mother's leg, terrified of being left with a bunch of scary strangers.
As exciting as going back to school is, the prospect of launching into a brand-new, busy schedule can bring feelings of stress with it, too… A lot of stress.
Staying punctual, coordinating extracurricular activities, monitoring homework, juggling more responsibilities, and, of course, packing daily lunches while also serving breakfast and dinner on time can be beyond daunting, especially if your little eaters are picky!
When you're pressed for time, it can be easy to get into a repetitive rut of making the same, boring meals over and over. You open the refrigerator, see the standard ingredients, and an hour later your sixteen-year-old is whining, "Ugh, meatloaf, again?" A vision of murdering your first-born flashes through your mind and the next thing you know you're squeezing your glass of water so hard that it shatters in your fist…
If you're anything like us, you definitely want to avoid this scenario, but how do you stay inspired and keep those meals fun and fresh when you barely have an hour to pick Benny up from soccer practice, and double-check that Amelia isn't typing up her homework assignment using the Wingdings font again, and then comb bubblegum out of the dog's fur, and then make sweet-sweet love to your spouse?
Have you given meal planning a try?
Meal planning involves selecting, shopping for, and cooking your families meals--breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks--in advance. You can organize preparing meals days and even weeks ahead of time. With smart planning, you won't have to do much more than heat up a dish in the oven before it's ready to serve! Spending less time cooking every day will free you up for the more important things in life, like interrogating your five sons until one of them confesses to the crime of having traded their baby-sister for a turtle… Trouble-making-Timmy from across the street should've never accepted the deal, but you'll handle him next... Why do these kinds of shenanigans always seem to crop up around back-to-school time!
When it comes to planning meals, creativity is everything! The funnest part can be flipping through cookbooks and selecting recipes! And just as cooking can leave a kitchen messy, organizing your meal prep can be a messy business, too. This isn't an exact science, but these tips and tricks will help you get inspired to cook the meals you and your family will love to eat.
You want cooking the meals you make to be exciting and, more importantly, you want sharing them with your family to be fun! Taking the time to get inspired first will give you the energy you need to go from meal ideas to mouth-watering meals!
- Keep a recipe journal
- Take a survey of your family's favorite foods and meals
- Dedicate one hour once a week to hunting for recipes
You probably never thought that keeping your family fed could be so… administrative… but it is. Surprise, surprise! Meal prep really is all about thinking and planning ahead, which is why the first item we recommend you get yourself is a journal of some kind. Keeping a recipe journal will help you stay organized, especially when it comes time to go shopping. In it, you can jot down interesting recipes, ingredients to buy in bulk, and note how your family liked the food!
A recipe journal is also where you can make lists and store information when you take a survey of your family's favorite foods and meals. It might sound obvious, but asking the members of your household what they would like to eat can save you hours of indecision. It's also fun to cook knowing that you're making your eldest's favorite breakfast--aren'tcha glad ya didn't go through with it?
When it comes to getting inspired and deciding the meals you're going to plan out for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, try to dedicate one hour once a week to hunting for recipes, but no more than an hour. The whole point of planning meals and cooking in advance is to save you time, not suck you down the endless rabbit hole of vegan-beef-cupcake-stew-that-tastes-just-like-lavender-fed-honey… And P.S. don't try that recipe unless you have an excellent E.R. co-pay on your health insurance plan, trust us!
The only way you'll arrive at your destination is if you map out your route to get there. Meal prep is not about winging it and hoping for the best. The next step is to get organized and act, as you head bact to school--ahem, pardon us as we clear our throats--we mean "back to school"!
- Use a cooking calendar to note shopping days, prepping days, and daily meals-to-serve
- Choose a shopping day, assess recipes, and list ingredients to buy
- Create days-of-the-week themes
How will you know when to cook and how much if you don't keep a calculated schedule? Moving into the "get organized" phase of your meal prep for back to school, we recommend that you use a cooking calendar to note shopping days, prepping days, and daily meals-to-serve. If you're a technology person, a Google Calendar could work great. There's nothing wrong with good, old-fashion, pen and paper, either. The point here is to apply what you know about the serving sizes your family members tend to eat per meal, calculate the quantities you'll have to cook, and then figure out which calendar days will be your bulk cooking days.
Having given some attention to building your calendar, you'll next want to choose a shopping day, assess recipes, and list ingredients to buy in your recipe journal. This is going to take some time and thought. If, for example, you've picked out five recipes and all of them call for sugar, you'll want to open the pantry and make sure you have enough Sweetly Stevia to replace it with… because of course you're on Team Sweetly! But you get the idea, you'll need to do a little math to make sure you won't run out of garlic or ground black pepper, for instance.
One fun way to organize your efforts even further is to create days-of-the-week themes, such as "Mango Mondays" where breakfast is mango pancakes and dinner includes a mango-chutney chicken dish, or "Taco Tuesdays" where you and your family gorge on tacos for every meal--psst, Sweetly has a delicious Taco Tuesday recipe you might want to check out! Daily themes like this can get very creative and involve the whole household!
Wrap an apron around your waist, roll up those sleeves, and sharpen the knives! No, you haven't decided to kill your eldest son for his prior meatloaf complaint. It's time to get cooking!
- Prep food at home right after shopping
- Cook the meals in bulk
- Refrigerate and freeze meals strategically
Chances are, you just got home with a lot of groceries. Rather than put every item away, you will actually save yourself a lot of time if you start prepping immediately, which is why our first tip in the "get cooking" phase is to prep food at home right after shopping. Wash fruits and vegetables. Shave potatoes. Trim the fat off the chicken. And strategically pack the refrigerator.
Because you've organized yourself using a cooking calendar, you know when it's really time to kick the kids out of the kitchen, roll up your sleeves, and get down to business. Get ready to cook the meals in bulk! You're going beyond the prep stage tonight. Now you're cracking open those recipes you've selected and pulling ingredients out of the refrigerator. Do three of them call for roasted potatoes? Cook those all together in a mass quantity, then use containers to separate out potatoes for one dish versus another. If you're broiling chicken to go on salad and in sandwiches, divide those quantities up as well.
Once you have all of the meal components for the next few days, or few weeks, cooked and divided into containers, you're ready to refrigerate and freeze meals strategically. Not every meal can be frozen, but most of them can. You can place half of your tomato sauce, for instance, in the fridge and the remainder in the freezer. And don't forget how delicious frozen fruit is in general! Frozen leftovers, once thawed--and cooked if need be--will taste great! When packing your refrigerator, be mindful that it doesn't end up looking like a winning game of Tetris, because that could quickly turn into a losing game of Jenga if your eldest son finds his way into the fridge! On second thought, maybe you should.... Nah!
Meal planning is a highly personal task that takes the whole family into consideration. Only you know what the members of your household will and won't eat. You know their favorites and you have gotten a feel for who likes to eat what when. The process of prepping meals can be just as particular, and you'll likely discover your own tips and tricks as you go along.
If you would like meal prep ideas that include breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, and snack recipes, be sure to visit the Recipe tab on our website! Sweetly Stevia has low-to-no sugar added recipes that are perfect for back-to-school and healthy for the whole family!