I’m not a mom… yet.
So when people ask me about meal planning and meal prep tips for families, I struggle!
Learning how to meal prep for just one person is hard enough.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to cook for yourself, picky kids and possibly a partner that doesn’t have the same diet as you.
- Feel like you barely have time to shower let alone cook for your family
- Can never think of ideas that the entire family would enjoy
- Frequently cook a million different things to satisfy everyone’s preferences
- Sometimes resort to take out for the fam because you have no idea how to prep
This post is for you!
Even if you’re just cooking for one or two, you’ll find something helpful in this post.
Five meal prep tips from parents who make it happen:
Use fast resources like Pinterest and Instagram for ideas!
Meal prep is definitely the best way to go. Find one or two days out of the week when you’re the least scattered and just go for it. There are a ton of Instagram and Pinterest accounts that make meal prepping cheap, simple, and fast.
-Ryan from Texas with one son
Remember to grab pre-prepped proteins at the grocery store!
Semi-prepped meats from the supermarket (like shredded chicken and turkey carnitas) makes for easy protein. I make 10 or so freezer crock pot meals at a time so I have a stash whenever we have a busy week. I think ahead about what I’ll need for dinner and will chop veggies, etc. to make dinner prep faster the next night. My 2-year-old is always up on the counter while I cook.-Jessica from California with one kid
One-pot meals are your BFF:
My husband and I alternate which days we cook. I cook one night, he the next. Most of the time we try to make meals that require one pot and little clean up. At least once a week we’ll do a crockpot meal that we start when we leave for work so it’s ready when we come home.– Darla from Arizona with two kids
“What should I make for dinner tonight?” should never be a question:
Think of the recipes you want to cook before the week starts. I usually write down the dishes I will cook for the week. This even goes for breakfast and lunch. Each meal of the day is planned ahead so I don’t have to spend time thinking “what should I cook today?” I also chop up all the vegetables on Sunday to save time during the week.– Shweta from Houston, one child
Know your go-to meals and have those groceries on hand:
My biggest tip is to plan out five supper meals for the week. You don’t have to set a specific meal for a specific day, but just know what five meals will work for the week and have those groceries on hand. If I make a roast one week I’ll freeze half to have something different with it the following week.-Kayla, Manitoba, Canada, two kids
Grocery shopping & budgeting tips from parents:
Think about how to repurpose bulk items:
I use the weekly ads to buy produce and protein where they are on sale, and I know what items are priced at each store. Use items twice. So if I buy a big bag of kale, one day I’ll use it for a white bean and kale soup, two days later use it for kale Caesar salads.
-Rachel, California, two kids
Your list is your grocery spirit guide:
We have a local produce delivery that we get weekly. Eggs included. Sprouts always has great produce and meat sales. We buy bulk meat and freeze it from Costco (salmon, pork loin, chicken, meatballs.) I never go to the grocery store without a list! It keeps me focused.
-Jessica, California, one child
Skip brand names and pre-cut foods to save money:
To save money, ignore brand names. Make your meals fit the sale instead of buying to fit your plans. That’s a huge money pit. Buy whole vegetables or fruit and dedicate 2-3 hours to prepping them for the week. Precuts are ridiculously priced! Also, buy bone-in meat for the same reason.
-Joyce, Pennsylvania, two kids (and one more on the way!)
Making your own baked goods is the way to go:
If your not picky, frozen fruits and veggies on sale can be a great option for families. Buy in bulk, shop what is on sale and menu plan around that. Stay away from pre packages items that can be more expensive. Make your own cookies, muffins etc instead of buying pre packaged snacks.
–Kayla, Manitoba, Canada, two kids
How to handle cooking for different preferences in your family:
Find the common ground to make cooking faster and easier:
Most of my own meals are often whatever my daughter doesn’t eat. But if everyone has a common ground it can be easier. For example if I’m cooking a shepards pie for my parents, I can keep aside some mashed potato for my sister and my daughter to add to their meals. Its mostly about optimising what I can to feed everyone.-Heather, Dublin with “one insane toddler”
Why food can be fun and how to ease into more adventurous meals:
Experiment, experiment, experiment. I’m the more adventurous eater, but my wife is a lot more cautious so I either pull out the puppy dog eyes or just get her in the kitchen with me. We dance, she tastes things as everything is being prepared and I just try my best to make food fun. Make a list of about 20 meals everyone will eat. Slowly add more adventurous items, and pair something new with something familiar. Make it colorful — people are more likely to eat pretty food.-Ryan, Texas, one child
Split up leftovers based on food, health and diet priorities/preferences:
My husband and I have similar tastes, although I’m more of a veggie eater and he loves his meat. Our plates have different portions of meat, carb, veggie, but we all eat the same thing. If there are leftovers, he gets more meat and I get more veggies. Avery eats everything we do- tonight she spit out her broccoli, but I still put everything on her plate so she has the option to try it when she wants.-Jessica, California, one child
Be strategic about getting your fam to try new foods without changing the dish too much:
With some foods my family doesn’t enjoy, I’ll still include them and leave them to pick it out, but only with ingredients that don’t actually drastically change the flavor (legumes, mushrooms, greens). For other things like spiciness, I’ll put the spice or sauce on the side to be added for personal taste. Everyone actually tries more variety with these methods.-Joyce, Pennsylvania, two kids (and one more on the way!)
Let your family build their own dishes (buffet style) to accommodate everyone’s needs:
I would have them do “parts” for meals. For example, I recently made Talia’s shrimp stir fry. My husband isn’t too keen on pasta right now and my daughter detests shrimp. We made the meal so the veggies, meat and pasta were all separate and you could “build your own” dish. This really worked for us because is accommodated everyone in our family.-Darla, Arizona, two kids
A little compromising never hurt anyone:
Compromise! Plan on cooking some meals that all of you love. It can be boring to eat the same thing over and over, so sometimes you have to cook separate meals. You can use Talia’s trick where she keeps the main component of the dish same but utilizes it in different ways to accommodate different taste and dietary preferences. For example, I am on gluten free diet. When making pasta, all of us eat gluten free pasta. My fiancé’s daughter does not like any sauce on her pasta, so I put some olive oil on hers and serve it with vegetables she likes.-Sweta, Texas, one child
If your kids help, they’re more likely to try new things:
Get your kids involved in cooking. This helps them see what goes in their food and what it looks like before and after it is cooked. If they are involved, they are more likely to try something they “cooked.” My daughter would not eat the beef stew I made. The following week I had her “help me” make it (put the cut veggies in and pour pre-measured ingredients in the pot). When it was done I told her I was so proud of the stew she made. She ate it and asked for “ew” the next day, haha.-Leigh, Pennsylvania, one child
How to make meal prep work for family cooking:
Prep the easiest meal to save time and make family dinners fun:
I usually prep lunches for the week because lunches are usually the easier meals to make. Pinterest is my best friend when it comes to making meals more kid-friendly for my son. He loves when I make little animals out of his meals. Dinner can be a bit tougher because three days out of the week are insanely busy, but I do love to make an event out of it. We set the table together, we cook together, we BLAST music together (usually Disney tunes) and there’s a no TV rule as well so we can all stay connected. Then, for the finale, we’ll bake cookies or make ice cream together.-Ryan, Texas, one child
Make a meal prep system and stick to it:
Friday’s, I grocery shop and meal plan. Saturday’s, I bake and make something to freeze for later in the week (meat in marinades, pulled pork in a Dutch oven etc) Sunday’s, I wash and chop all the produce for the week, make hard boiled eggs, and make dinner for Monday so no one has to come home and cook. I portion out veggies, fruits and snacks for 2-3 days.-Rachel, California, two kids
Make leftover-friendly dinners to save time:
I make dinners that I can turn into lunches for the week. Then we have yogurt, veggies, fruit, cheese sticks, etc for snacks. My goal is to move into meal prepping dinners like you do, as there are a precious few hours between getting home and bedtime that seem to get sucked up by cooking and cleaning up the kitchen each day. I’m working on it!-Jessica, California, one child
Let your kitchen tools and appliances do the hard work for you:
I actually don’t prep a lot of meals in advance. I make broth and cut veggies to freeze. Utilize appliances that allow you to save time, if you already have them. Crock-Pot, pressure cooker, bread maker…they all make a lot of tasks easier and are not used as much as they could be in many kitchens. Also, get comfortable with using recipes as a guideline rather than a hard and fast rule. Substitutions and swaps can save time and money.-Joyce, Pennsylvania, two kids (and one more on the way!)
Extra dinner portions provide flexible lunches and more variety:
We use meal prep mainly for lunches. We cook enough for dinner to feed the family and at least two extra dishes for lunch. Sometimes, like this past week, we make 2-3 dishes and wind up with 3-4 extra dishes worth and that makes more variety for lunch. Our oldest daughter helps make her lunch every evening.-Darla, Arizona, two kids
Do a weekend and mid-week meal prep to stay on track:
I do meal prep on Sunday and Wednesday. Sunday I make lunch and breakfast to last till Wednesday. On Wednesday I cook breakfast and lunch to last till Saturday. I cook dinner on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The kid usually eats breakfast that I don’t have to cook. She gets lunch at her school. When she did not get lunch at her school, we would assemble her lunch every night.-Sweta, Texas, one child
Prep some elements the meal and cook others fresh to keep it interesting (and easy):
I prep various veggies and brown rice or quinoa. I like to make our protein that night. If I am doing a crock pot meal, I cut the veggies and prep the sauce so I just throw it in that morning. Other things I always prep for the house are hard boiled eggs and muffins. Once a month I bake two dozen muffins (typically whole wheat muffins with spinach in them and then each batch will be slightly different so it’s not too hard). These go in the freezer and I pull out weekly throughout the month to be defrosted for my daughter and husband.-Leigh, Pennsylvania, one child
Go-to meals that parents love to make for their family to please everyone and save time:
- Stir Fry. Stir fry was the most popular suggestion from parents across the board. Here’s an easy recipe.
- Shepherds Pie. This is a versatile, comfort food dish that works well for meal prep too. Here’s an easy recipe.
- Burger night! Whether you’re using frozen patties or homemade burgers, these are usually quick. Grab a recipe here. (and here’s my vegan burger recipe.
- Tacos! Who doesn’t like tacos? Nobody. Most leftovers are actually taco-friendly if you get creative! Here’s a family-friendly recipe.
- A big pot of soup. Soup is freezable, easy to make and you can throw in any leftover veggies you might have on hand. I love this recipe for vegetable soup.
- Chicken teriyaki. This was my favorite as a kid, and I was as picky as they come. This recipe is easy and delicious.
- Quesadillas. Another super versatile, kid-friendly dish that you can make any which way to fit your dietary needs and preferences. Here’s my budget quesadillas recipe.
Do you have any tips, tricks or go-to meals you love for family meal prep and planning? Drop them in the comments!
Thanks for reading 🙂