Sitting down for a family dinner every night may seem like a 1950s fantasy in today’s busy world, especially for single parents. But the benefits are undeniable: it makes kids less picky, they perform better in school, and it might even reduce your own stress levels!
This doesn’t mean you have to slave away in the kitchen for hours every night — simple meals do the trick just as well. When you add a little ahead-of-time prep to the mix, you may find family dinners both more achievable and more rewarding than you’d ever imagine.
Check out some of the benefits of meal planning, and some tips on how to plan your meals as a single parent.
You’ve probably been tempted by rotisserie chicken or expensive snacks at the grocery store when you’re trying to appease your appetite quickly. But, with a list and a meal plan in hand, it’s much easier to resist those impulses and stay on track with your spending. You can plan in advance and prepare more budget-friendly ingredients—like dried beans—so you aren’t tempted to buy convenience items.
In professional kitchens, chefs don’t chop chives for every dish they garnish — they cut up whole bunches early on to make less work for themselves later. Try this technique yourself by preparing and storing containers of chopped vegetables in your fridge, cooking bulk batches of rice and beans for a week’s worth of easy dinners, or mixing up a bottle of salad dressing. When it comes time to put your meal together, you’ll be assembling ingredients rather than doing all the work at the last minute. If your kids are keen on cooking, they might even enjoy being your prep cooks.
When you plan your meals in advance, you’re better able to choose healthy, wholesome options for your kids. It can be hard to remember to eat all your vegetables, let alone make sure the whole family does. Planning meals around vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins ensures you’re meeting their nutritional needs — and yours, too.
Another head of wilted lettuce headed to the compost? If you had a meal plan in place, you probably would have turned it into salad two days ago. When you plan out your meals in advance, you’re only buying what you need, and you’ll be more aware of what you have on hand. This means much less waste.
How to Do It
Is your fridge a mess? The first step to happy meal planning is cleaning out your fridge and cupboard and getting an efficient system in place. When you know what you have on hand, you’re more likely to eat it. Familiarize yourself with what you have, and challenge yourself to use up old ingredients before buying new ones.
Talk to Your Kids
There’s no point planning a meal nobody’s going to eat. Ask your kids what their favorite meals are! You can compromise on how to make their junk food of choice fit into the plan. Pizza isn’t necessarily bad if it’s loaded with veggies, and it makes great leftovers for lunch.
While cookbooks still have their place in a kitchen, the internet is one of the best places to turn to for meal planning. Sites like Pinterest can be super sources of inspiration if you’re looking to try new things, and a simple Google search can connect you with countless recipes. Do you have an ingredient or two you’d like to use up? Browse recipes that use it to see if you can find any that are easy and appealing to you and your kids.
Make a Menu
They say writing down your goals helps you keep them, and the same goes for meal planning. Write down your weekly menu to keep yourself on track, and also as a reference point for grocery shopping. It’s another great opportunity for your kids to provide feedback, to remind yourself of what’s coming up in the week ahead, and get excited for that Friday night spaghetti dinner!
At the end of the day, planning your meals will leave you with more time and energy to spend with your kids. Not only will you nourish them with well-thought-out, healthy meals — you’ll have the time to nourish their minds and souls with more active playtime by helping them with their homework, or simply by spending time with them. With a little meal planning, you can make new traditions.