Are you a busy athlete or a parent of a busy athlete who are in full swing in the back-to-school season? If so, then you might be feeling overwhelmed by the preparations that need to be made for this time of year. One thing I’m really looking forward to this fall is throw together meals.
One important strategy to lighten your load this school season is your meal prep strategy. In this post we will explore five strategies for back-to-school meal prep that will save you time and energy. Plus, you’ll love that you and your family are eating well.
I hope it helps make things easier for you and keeps everyone happy and healthy during these busy days!
No matter your children’s age, your husband’s disdain for cooking, or your roommate’s busy schedule they can help at some level with meal prep and lunch packing. I know my kiddos especially love to chop veggies and my husband is the go-to smoothie maker!
Try to enlist the help of your roommates, teammates, family members, etc. You can all benefit from the meal prep throughout the week! Besides, what a better team building activity than having fun in the kitchen 🙂
If you have kids, they love to participate in food prep. Whether it’s cutting up ingredients, packing sections of their bento lunch boxes or stirring muffin batter, giving them some responsibilities will help your child to eat their meals if they’ve had a role in their creation!
Plus, kids are also more likely to try new foods – even fruits and vegetables – if they’ve helped to prepare them. This may be true of that super picky eater on your team as well!
Use Convenience Items
Convenience items like pre-packaged, microwaveable rice, frozen veggies, pre-seasoned or pre-chopped meal starters are all excellent ways to cut down on meal prep time. The perfect throw together meal starter!
My favorite meal starters include:
- Garlic or ginger squeeze tubes
- Pre-chopped veggies
- Frozen starters
- Frozen veggie packs
- Sauces and marinades
It is hard for any of us to make the best decisions when we’re tired or frazzled – even a dietitian! Having a plan A and even a plan B helps to keep meals running smoothly, no matter how the day unfolds.
Using a meal plan as a guide can be REALLY helpful. It doesn’t mean that you have to make every meal on a meal plan but it can help to get started with preparing healthy meals the whole family can enjoy. Select three dinners and a few snacks for each week of the month. Stick with it until you have a repertoire of at least 10 dinner meals you can put into rotation – this can take up to 4-6 weeks. Dinners such as soups, stews, and roasted proteins make excellent lunch box appearances when paired with non-prep items such as fruits, vegetables, cheese, and crackers.
My favorite dinner leftover combinations include:
- Shredded chicken tacos with salsa and prepared guacamole
- Vegetable chili with cheese and crackers
- Air fried salmon with rice
- Tofu or other protein kabobs with yogurt sauce
- Pasta with sauce and veggies
A helpful tip to leveraging dinner as lunch is to scale your recipes to ensure you have enough for lunch the next day. Also, pack lunches BEFORE you eat dinner to avoid adding burden to your already busy morning schedule.
Batch your work
We talk about batching work with tasks at the office, but what about in the kitchen? Same time-saving principle applies!
For example, if your kiddos love smoothies for breakfast, batch your smoothie packs in cups or bags in the freezer so that breakfast is as simple as dumping the ingredients into the blender and adding their favorite milk or juice to blend.
Or – if you love having crunchy red bell pepper sticks in their lunch, don’t cut up a new pepper each and every night. Once or twice a week, cut up bell peppers (or have your kiddo do it!) and store them in baggies that are ready to toss into the lunch box. Or store all of the sliced peppers in a container so that packing their bento lunch box is that much faster.
And if you know that you’re cooking two different dinners that call for chopped onions and celery, chop up enough veggies for both dinners. You’ll be thankful for less chopping when the time comes to cook the second recipe!
How else can we reduce your mental load and have easy throw together meals? Follow a template whenever you can!
If you use a bento box to pack your lunch, assign a food group to each section. Whole grains go on the left, fruits below, a protein on the right, and so on. Think what “counts” for each section of your lunch and brainstorm choices that fit into each category. From there, you can easily create a balanced, healthy lunch. If you use this strategy with your children, your child will be able to pack their lunch with less input from you!
And for dinners, have some regular meals that you can depend on to be quick and delicious, without needing too much brain power. For example, Taco Tuesdays! Use the crockpot to cook your favorite taco filling and dinner will be mostly ready when you and your crew get home hungry. A few other ideas are breakfast for dinner, pizza Fridays and getting a rotisserie chicken on Mondays.
A few of my family favorite throw together recipes are:
- Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore
- 30 Minute Coconut Curry Chicken Meatballs (really, any meatball recipe!)
- Sheet pan Fajitas
When your circumstances change, so too does your patience and bandwidth. This is completely normal! In this throw together meals season, remember to be gentle with yourself. If you have more activities to attend and more to-dos each day, it is reasonable to look for ways to simplify and delegate. You do not have to do everything yourself, or create meals in the same way as when you have more time. You can have a happy and healthy family, even with a few shortcuts.
Key takeaways: Throw Together Meals
Change always comes with a bit of stress, and back-to-school is full of changes! Be patient with yourself and your family as you establish new routines. Consider what steps you need to take to ensure that you’re eating the meals that help you to thrive. Plan ahead and don’t forget to make that plan B!
Check out my FREE 5-day email challenge created to help you create your winning meal planning system!