Daily Meal Prep Ideas for Busy Families

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Family dinners can be a nice reprieve from an otherwise busy daily life. But often, that busyness makes it hard to find the time to cook for your whole family. That’s where these meal prep ideas for families can help.

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, when family dinners are more frequent, kids are less likely to be overweight and engage in risky behaviors, and more likely to choose healthier foods and perform well in school. Eating together as a family can also lead to fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater trust for others, greater emotional well-being and higher life satisfaction for your kids, according to the Journal of Adolescent Health.

If you’d like to make family dinners a more regular part of your weekly routine, but you’re struggling to find the time to cook, meal prepping could be your solution. These meal prep ideas for busy families can help make weeknight dinners a snap!

Family Meal Prep Tips

1. Plan ahead

Create your meal plan for the week on Sunday (or any day of the week that works for your schedule), then do all of your grocery shopping for the week. To make meal prepping easier, try to plan on using some of the same ingredients in multiple dinners. For example, you can bake enough chicken for several recipes on your meal prep day and use the precooked chicken throughout the week.

2. Do as much as you can ahead of time

The purpose of meal prep is to spend your free days (usually weekends) preparing as much of your weeknight dinners as you can, so that when you’re busier during the week, you won’t have to spend a lot of time cooking.
In general, here’s what you can do to prep meals for your family dinners:

  • Cook pasta, grains (rice, quinoa, etc.) and legumes (beans, lentils) ahead of time and store in the fridge.
  • Chop veggies ahead of time and store them uncooked in the fridge or freezer.
  • Build layered dishes like casseroles and lasagnas and store them in the freezer. Thaw them before baking.
  • Prep for slow cooker recipes by preparing and mixing all ingredients and storing them in the freezer until you’re ready to use them.
  • Cook meats ahead of time, just keep in mind that most cooked meats last three or four days in the fridge. When prepping meat dinners, either eat them earlier in the week or find time mid-week to cook your meat for the second half of the week.

3. Get creative with what you have

Meal prepping is easiest when you reuse similar ingredients throughout the week, but that doesn’t mean your dinners have to be boring. For example, you could make chicken tacos, chicken casserole and chicken noodle soup in the same week and still give your family lots of variety by adding different vegetables, spices and side dishes.

Meal Prep Recipe Ideas:

To give you an idea of what a typical weeknight meal plan looks like, we’ve put together this five-day family dinner meal plan, along with some meal prep tips and tricks.

Monday: Maple Salmon and Cranberry Spinach Salad

To prepare: Marinate and bake the salmon on your meal prep day and save in the fridge. Combine salad ingredients together, then mix salad dressing ingredients in a separate bowl. Save each in separate containers in the fridge and combine right before serving.

Tuesday: Lentils and Spinach with Steamed Veggies

To prepare: Chop any veggies you want to steam for a side dish and store them raw. On Tuesday night, steam the veggies until tender, then serve.

Wednesday: Salmon Pasta Salad

To prepare: Cook the pasta and veggies and store in the fridge. You can bake the salmon along with Monday’s salmon, and store it separately from the pasta until you’re ready to serve.

Tip: Make this recipe even healthier by using a whole grain or gluten-free pasta made from lentils or chickpeas.

Thursday: Slow Cooker Chili

To prepare: Combine all ingredients (except the beef) and store in a freezer bag or storage container in the fridge or freezer. On Thursday morning, lightly brown the beef and add to your slow cooker along with the rest of the contents. If using frozen food, add one to two hours to the cooking time.

Friday: Rainbow Pasta Salad

To prepare: Use the same pasta from Wednesday night’s dinner. Add more veggies, raw or steamed. Use whatever you have on hand or get creative and use one vegetable for every color of the rainbow.

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