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Meal Planning for the Working Mom or Dad: Healthy Eating Habits for Time-Crunched Parents

Why is meal planning time well spent? Meal planning can: Keep your budget in check; Optimize your health; Reduce food waste; Eliminate mealtime stress; and Minimize time spent thinking about what to have for dinner. 

How can I make meal planning faster and easier? Once per week on your lunch hour or in the evening, plan a week of meals.

Think of meal planning in three steps:

1. Book it!

Book a date with the grocery store.

Pick one day a week and schedule an appointment to grocery shop. (Your grocery date should be considered equally as important as a family member’s birthday!)

Don’t have time to shop? Consider a grocery delivery service, now being offered by many local grocery stores.

2. Map it!

Using a calendar, journal, or computer template, assign each day of the week with the following labels based on the time you have in your schedule:

Fast and fresh. Fresh, single meals that can be prepared, cooked, and assembled in 20 to 30 minutes.

Slow. A fresh, single meal that will take one hour or so to prepare and cook.

Big batch. Fresh meals that can be made in large volumes, frozen, and eaten again later.

Repurposed. Cook once; eat twice. Use leftovers or meals using ‘planned extras’ (cooking extras of one part of the meal to use in a new way the next day):

Make extra grilled/roast meat.Use for wraps or salad the next day.

Roast a whole chicken. Use extras in casseroles or chicken salad.

Roast extra vegetables. Add to wraps, scrambled eggs, or soups.

Cook a double batch of rice or Quinoa. Freeze in individual or family-sized portions.

Out. Planned meals where you don’t have to cook. It may be take-out, a meal at a restaurant, or a meal at a friend’s or relative’s home.

3. Save it!

Create a reusable grocery list of staple and fresh foods.

Design your list so that it can be easily navigated in the grocery store you usually go to.

If you are tech-savvy, you can also download a grocery list app.

Compile all your meal plans and favorite recipes in a binder, computer folder, or app to reuse in a crunch.

Try the OrganizEat recipe storing app for free (my personal favorite as a time crunched mom since I don’t have to type recipes to store them - I can simply snap a photo and store!).

What if I am still struggling to get organized with meal planning?

If the three-step meal planning system is not a good fit for you and seems overwhelming, don’t worry! Start small. Any amount of planning will help.

Clients in our practice that commit to a weekly grocery shop and answer the question: “What is for supper tomorrow?” before going to bed are well positioned for success. Some of our clients also find it helpful to only think about planning three meals for the week ahead and leave the other ones more spontaneous or for use of leftovers and planned extras.

What are some healthy convenience food options?

Some healthy convenience foods are:

  • Pre-cut fresh or frozen vegetables and fruit
  • Packaged salad or coleslaw mix
  • Canned diced tomatoes, and legumes (lentils, chickpeas, and beans)
  • Shredded or pre-sliced cheese (can also be frozen)
  • Rotisserie chicken
  • Freeze individual portions of chicken breasts/thighs and fish fillets
  • Freeze lean ground meatballs
  • Veggie burgers, non-breaded turkey or chicken burgers, lean beef, or bison burgers
  • Pre-sliced meat (stir-fry and stewing)
  • Canned fish (tuna, sardines, and salmon)
  • Frozen, peeled shrimp and other seafood
  • Eggs
  • Frozen edamame beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole-grain pizza crusts or ready-made dough (can be frozen)
  • Fresh or frozen whole wheat tortellini

Calgary Dietitian and mom Andrea Holwegner, “the chocoholic nutritionist,” is owner of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. where she leads a team of nutritionists specializing in family meal planning, weight loss, eating disorders, kids nutrition, and more. She is a media expert and the creator of an online nutrition course for time-strapped parents looking to improve their personal and family eating habits. For more information, call 403-262-3466 or visit healthstandnutrition.com. Subscribe to her free monthly e-Newsletter or award-winning blog. Follow her on Twitter @chocoholicRD, Facebook @chocoholicRD, and Instagram @chocoholicrd.

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