Using Meal Planning in Your Lunch & Dinner Routine

Ah! The moment when you realize you forgot to plan something for lunch or dinner. You are at a loss for what to make and everything is either frozen or cereal. There has to be something better, and there is! Meal times shouldn’t be stressful. But how do you make them less stressful and yet nutritious?

One simple thing can change stressful and not so healthy into simple and healthy. What is that one thing you ask? Planning. What? Wait? Planning? How is planning going to change this? Taking some time one day a week to plan for your upcoming week can really change the dynamics for lunches and dinners. But how?

Pick a day—let’s say Sunday is your meal planning day. Take some time on that Sunday and plan out your meals for the upcoming week—and write it down. The biggest favor you can do for yourself is to keep a list of meals that your family likes—that way when you are stuck in a rut and need an idea, you have a whole list to choose from. Sometimes having themes makes dinners more fun and easy to plan—Meatless Monday, Pasta Tuesday, Casserole/Crockpot Wednesday, Soup/Salad Thursday and Pizza Friday. Even make 4-6 weeks’ worth of weekly menus and rotate through the weeks. Below are some other fun ideas to help plan some less stressful dinners:

  • Let each child have a day of the week were they can pick 1 item to have with dinner. A side, veggie, main course or even dessert!
  • Pick one night a week that you try a new recipe or let your child pick a new recipe to try.
  • Plan a picnic night! In the summer months you can have it at a park or in your yard. In the Winter, lay a blanket down on the living room floor and enjoy an indoor picnic.
  • Make enough for 2 meals. Eat one and freeze the other for another night!

Now that dinner is under wraps—what about lunch? Take some of that time while planning dinners to think about lunch ideas. Maybe you have a theme of the week for lunch: Salads, Sandwiches or Finger foods. See some more ideas below:

  • Book(s) of the week. Have you child pick a book to read and theme lunches around that book.
  • Breakfast for lunch.
  • Seasonal / Holiday themed lunches.
  • Rainbow Lunches—include food of every color of the rainbow.

Have you heard the saying ‘3 square meals in a day’? Think of your plate as a square. Each plate should contain a protein, fat, carbohydrate and fruit/vegetable (See below). This makes for balanced and more nutritious meals. So when you are thinking of your meals—make sure you have ‘square meals’!

meal planning - Day 2 Day parenting

Not only will meals be less stressful with planning but you will save time, energy and money and enjoy a more nutritious meal. Once you have figured out what meals you would like to have for the week—make sure you have those items in your home ready to go. Often times many foods can be prepped a head of time—carrot and celery sticks for lunches, cut veggies for salads, portioned out sides like hummus, cottage cheese or pretzels. If you have a crockpot meal for the next day—fix it the night before and place the crockpot in the refrigerator—that way you only have to take it out and turn it on. Doing whatever you can to help your future self today will allow you to enjoy meal time with your family much more.

By: Emily Novak RD, LDN