By: Kristin Bugden
With the long and lazy summer days behind us, it’s time to look forward to a new school year ahead. Along with the excitement of starting fresh comes the task of juggling busy schedules and wondering what to make for dinner — again. To mitigate the stress that comes planning dinner and making last-minute trips to the supermarket, we spoke with three registered dietitians about efficiently planning for the upcoming week's meals. See what they had to say below.
One of the best things you can do in terms of back-to-school meal prep is to plan and be prepared. “Plan out your dinners for the week ahead, including some basics, for example, veggies, chicken or pasta, that are on rotation,” says Keri Gans, RDN, nutritionist and author of The Small Change Diet. “You can even let each child have one night a week where it’s their choice — however, do still try and put a healthy twist to the meal if necessary.”
Rochelle Sirota, MS, RD, CDN of RocNutrition, adds that you might want to anticipate what the work/school week is going to look like. “Put together a grocery shopping list and set aside time in your schedule to grocery shop and prepare,” she tells Lively. “If using recipes, look those over and add the required ingredients to the list before going grocery shopping.”
Once you have an idea about what you want to make for the week and make a list, Gans suggests hitting the supermarket over the weekend — bring the kids and don’t forget healthy snack options. In terms of some other purchase ideas to keep in mind, Vanessa Rissetto, MS,RD,CDN, has a bit of great advice.
“I always make sure that I have yogurt, fruit, nuts, nut butter, chicken, chickpeas, limes, lemons, whole grain rice, bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots, hard cheese like a cheddar and spring mix,” she notes. “From there I can make any meal.”
Sirota suggests purchasing a few frozen items like veggie burgers and frozen fruit and vegetables that could serve as good back-ups, especially if you run low on produce in the middle of the week and don’t have time to run to the market.
Our experts also recommend batch cooking to save time and have nutritious meals throughout the week that are easily ready to go. “Plan to prepare a large batch of one or two dishes (soup, bean chili, chicken, etc.) that can last for several meals and perhaps freeze some to be eaten at a later date,” says Sirota. Of course, any leftovers from dinner can make for a delicious lunch the following day, so pack it up in some Tupperware the night before and take it to the office in the morning.
Batch cooking also works when it comes to having a nutritious breakfast option at the ready. “Anything that can be prepared several days in advance and stay reasonably fresh, such as rolled or steel cut oats, chia pudding, or boiled eggs might be prepared on Sunday, so that Monday-Wednesday will be covered,” explains Sirota.
We also love the idea of making a batch of Healthy Breakfast Bars at the start of the week to grab and go on busy mornings.
When it comes to lunch for the kids, having options is key. “I like to provide a variety of healthy finger foods, so the kids don’t get overwhelmed and also eat nutritiously,” Rissetto tells Lively. “I’ll line a bento box with a grain so 1-2 tbsp if the rice, some carrots, a few cheese slices, shredded chicken and then maybe some hummus for dipping.”
Sirota adds that it might be a good idea to pack snack containers in advance perhaps for the week or even if only for the following day.
Hopefully some of these tips will help cut down on the stress and time spent coming up with healthy meal options throughout the week and make the transition to a new school year that much smoother!