As you’re prepping your children’s backpacks and closets for the new school year, could your kitchen and meal planning use a resurgence as well? Many of us enjoyed the long, lazy days of summer, impromptu social gatherings, and weekends away and put weekly meal planning on the back burner these past few months. If you’re getting the rest of your family organized for the start of the school year, why not take this time to get your kitchen in tip-top shape as well? Here’s how to get your kitchen cleaned and prepared, use time-saving shopping tips, and improve your food prep and meal planning so you’ll feel like you started the school year ahead of the game.
1. Take inventory
Grab a big trash bag and throw out anything that’s expired, questionable, or that’s unhealthy and you know you shouldn’t still have in your cabinets (leftover Easter candy, we’re talking to you!). Clean out your fridge, freezer and cabinets so there’s plenty of room for healthy food.
2. Make a list of cupboard staples you need
Jot down the staple items you’re missing that you’ll need to shop for. Healthy meal components that you’ll want to keep on hand might include: brown rice, whole wheat pasta, low-sodium chicken broth, vegetable soups, tomato sauce, salsa, pesto sauce, whole grain crackers, low-sugar jellies or fruit spreads, peanut butter, whole grain cereal, oatmeal, and snacks to buy in bulk, like raw nuts and seeds. Consider adding products that will help you get dinner on the table quickly some evenings, like instant brown rice, varieties of canned beans, and canned tuna, chicken, or salmon.
3. Plan for the week
Look at the week ahead and determine which nights your family will be able to sit down for dinner together and which evenings you’ll have to pack sandwiches and snacks in a cooler for busy nights carpooling to practices and lessons. Once you’ve got that figured out, try to do meal planning for the week so you can streamline your shopping list. If you have time Saturday or Sunday to do some cooking, you’ll reap the benefits all week long of having food ready to go for when you’re in a hurry. Research has proven that people who spend at least an hour or more each week prepping food are more likely to have healthier diets, and eat more fruits and vegetables. That same study also found that people who spend less than an hour prepping food tend to spend more money eating out and dine on fast food more often. First, prep and cook your proteins! Consider buying a whole cooked chicken or boneless, skinless chicken breasts to add to various meals. You might also want to pick up sirloin steak (lean), boneless pork chops or a pork loin, and fresh or frozen shrimp to toss in your favorite dishes. Stock up on frozen vegetables, rice pilaf-veggie combos, frozen turkey meatballs, and even a low-fat frozen pizza for those days when that’s the only thing the kids will eat! Modify your list according to your family’s preferences and make an effort to have your plate be divided into one-quarter protein, one-quarter grain, and half veggies.
4. Cook your proteins and prep veggies
If you’re prepping on the weekend, clean and cook your proteins on the stove, grill, or in the oven. Consider cooking your proteins (chicken, steak, pork, fish) plain and then adding seasonings and different ingredients throughout the week: chicken and veggie stir-fry in the wok one night, pasta with pesto sauce and shrimp, steak and sautéed pepper fajitas, or season them with fresh herbs, spices, or these 19 ways to add flavor for under 10 calories, and your favorite whole grain side. While your food is cooking, clean and slice up veggies for the week. Bag sliced celery, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, radishes, and your other favorite raw veggies so you’ll be able to throw them in your lunch bag each day. This is a good time to clean and chop fruit that won’t go bad quickly. Make a beautiful fruit salad that you’ll see every time you open the fridge so you’ll be more inclined to reach for something healthy when trying to satisfy a sweet tooth.
5. Be armed and ready for snack attacks
Try to buy snacks the whole family will want to eat. Stock up on string cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, whole grain crackers, hard-boiled eggs, applesauce, hummus, popcorn (or make your own!), even fiber-rich cereals or granola that you’ll want to top your yogurt and cottage cheese with for a crunch. To satisfy your sweet tooth, keep individual squares of dark chocolate on hand—for their heart-health benefits of course!
6. Make batches
Whenever you’re cooking, whether it’s weekend meal prep, or you’re cooking dinner for the family, if you’re spending time making one meal or snack, you might as well take just a few more moments and whip up extra—for lunch the next day or another meal during the week. So if you’re making a stir-fry, cook twice as many veggies as you need. You can chop the cooked veggies and add them to omelets, quiches, pasta dishes, wraps, and more throughout the week. Whether you’re packing up your food after your food prep day, or just putting away leftovers, make sure the food has cooled and you put the food in individual containers in the fridge for easy lunches the next day. While it takes planning and time spent cooking, having all of these prepped foods on hand will help you eat healthier and reach your weight loss goals.