How to Tame the Mealtime Mayhem

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With school starting up and the flurry of fall activities beginning, it could be easy to turn to fast food over healthy meals. Here are some tips for getting organized at mealtime.

Chicken teriyaki stir fry meal prep lunch box containers with broccoli, rice and carrots

By Perri Kersh

We’re entering that time of the year. That season when your calendar almost instantaneously blows up with meetings, sports, activities, volunteer opportunities, deadlines and more. This is also the time of year when feeding your family a healthy meal seems impossible. However, with a few organizational tricks up your sleeve, you may be able to survive the fall onslaught and still put a meal that you can be proud of on the table.

Meal Planning and Prep

• Have a time set aside each week for recipe searches and meal planning.

• Create a simple way to store favorite recipes online such as Pinterest or Evernote.

• Use your trusted time management system as part of your solution (be it paper or electronic). Write down what you plan to cook and make sure you have time to do it.

• Consider posting weekly meals for everyone to see to cut down on the kids asking, “What’s for dinner?”

• Keep it simple with theme nights. Taco Tuesday can really be your thing! Limit the decision making with a set schedule that you can adhere to.

• Have a set day when you shop for food, and stick to it.

• Keep staples in your pantry for things you can make in 20 minutes or less.

• Teach your kids to cook two or three of their favorite meals, and keep those ingredients on hand. This will foster independence, help build a love of cooking and give you an occasional night off.

• When all else fails, consider one of the meal prep kits readily available such as Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. Better yet, keep it local and consider a family meal plan at The Root Cellar or Foster’s Market, or search for a personal chef who might cook at your home for a week or two to get you through a particularly busy time.

• Finally, there are a number of local, healthy favorites that allow you to grab and go but skip the fast food drive-thru, such as CAVA, Zoës Kitchen, Chopt, Whole Foods Market and Weaver Street Market’s hot bar.

Poke meal prep containers with salmon, rice, radish, cucumber and avocadoSnacks and Lunch

• Car snacks can be an essential way to cut down on the “hangry” afternoons when kids are being schlepped around for hours on end. A small cooler with cheese sticks, apple slices, Goldfish crackers, nuts and dried fruit will be your saving grace between school and afternoon activities. Create a grab-and-go bin in your fridge for these pre-portioned items to make life easier.

• Consider Amazon Pantry or Costco for buying snacks in bulk so you always have favorites readily available. If you are a team parent and have to provide for the entire roster, try buying enough to get you through the season so you aren’t constantly running to the store for Gatorade and granola bars.

• Make daily lunch packing a snap by creating a lunch prep zone in your fridge. Cut up veggies or fruit in bulk to get you through the week, and use containers to keep those items together for grab-and-go lunches. Sandwiches will last a few days in the fridge, too. Prepping things ahead of time (or better yet, have your kids take over this task!) will help you avoid the morning rush/grumble session.

 Beef Broccoli Stir Fry Meal Prep lunch box container on gray stone backgroundLeftovers and Storage

• Quality food storage is important! For leftovers, use square and rectangular glass containers with locking lids. They stack easily and can be packed into the fridge with less wasted space. They’re dishwasher safe, sturdy and won’t leach plastic into your food.

• Remember, your freezer is your “future you” friend! Use it wisely. Whenever you can double a recipe, freeze the extra for future use. Be sure to mark the date and contents so you don’t have mystery food filling your freezer.

There’s no shame in the occasional drive-thru emergency or pizza night! But a little preparation will go a long way and keep those cheat nights to a minimum. Involve the whole family in the planning, shopping and prepping so this chore is shared. Setting these habits (even if you pick one or two of them to tackle!) early in the school year means by “Cray-May,” you’ll have your system down and be ready to cruise through the next busy start to the school year. 

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Hannah Lee

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