Feed Your Family

Most of us have good memories of our mother’s cooking. Whether it was a simple weeknight dinner or a Thanksgiving feast that she created for us, the recollection of that food can bring back warm, happy feelings…of the delicious taste of the meal, as well as the knowledge that she prepared the food out of love and caring for her family.

With over 21 meals and snacks eaten every week, we moms have many opportunities to nurture both the bodies and minds of our families by preparing good food for them.

The benefits of cooking at home

In recent years, it has become very common for most families to eat away from home. Whether it is due to busy schedules, preferences for restaurant-cooked food, or even not knowing how to cook, families eat more processed and/or fast food than ever before.

While preparing food at home does take more time and effort, it reaps a large number of benefits for our health.

For example, studies show that families that cook at home eat healthier foods and consume fewer calories than families that eat food purchased outside the home. Children that eat dinner with their families are less likely to be obese as well.

Cooking at home is also better for our budgets. A study in Forbes magazine found that, on average, it was almost five times more expensive to order food from a restaurant than it was to cook at home.

In addition to the health and financial benefits, cooking and eating at home also helps with emotional well-being, especially in children.

woman slicing zucchini on a wooden cutting board.

>>Check out the FREE printable download at the bottom of this post!

Why is it good to eat dinner together as a family?

Eating together as a family, without interruptions from television or other electronics, can help to build those important social connections with our kids.

Interacting with your children while eating a meal helps to cultivate a sense of belonging. These regular family meals can also make it less likely that they begin alcohol, tobacco and drug use, as well as eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia.

With all the benefits that result from home cooking, there’s no question that we should be doing it all the time! Unfortunately, in today’s world, moms and families are busier than ever, and don’t always have a lot of time or knowledge with which to prepare food at home.

That’s why I’m here to help! Let me introduce you to a big time-saver when it comes to feeding your family: the meal plan.

family meal of chicken and corn on the cob.

>>Check out the FREE printable download at the bottom of this post!

Meal Planning: A Busy Mom’s Secret Weapon

It may seem too simple to do any good, but the weekly meal plan can save you so much time (and sanity!) when it comes to preparing meals each day.

In fact, planning ahead can save you a lot of time! According to business expert Brian Tracy, “every minute spent in planning saves as many as ten minutes in execution.” If it works for multi-million dollar businesses, it can work for us too!

What to make for dinner when you have no ideas

Every mom has experienced a time when she was faced with a house full of hungry kids, but had no idea what she should make for dinner.

This scenario is exactly where a meal plan comes in so handy.

Imagine how nice it would be, if when you hear your kids say, “I’m hungry! What’s for dinner?”, you are able to open up your pantry/refrigerator/freezer, pull out all the ingredients to make a meal, prep it in 30 minutes or so, and put it on the table…without having to try to decide that to make, or look to see what you had on hand.

With a meal plan, you already have each meal mapped out for you, and if you follow up your planning with a trip to the grocery store, you will have everything you need in order to make each meal.

This trick prevents you from having to come up with a new idea for dinner every night.

How do I make a weekly meal plan?

To get started meal planning, all you really need is a piece of paper and something to write with in order to make a list. Alternatively, you could download my free menu planning printable to make it a bit easier on yourself.

Then you’ll want to think about what food items are already inside your freezer, refrigerator and/or pantry and cupboards.

If you’re budget-minded, you can take a look at your local grocery store’s weekly ad in order to see what’s on sale that week, like I do in the video in this post on how to meal plan. (internal link)

Lastly, think about how you can combine what you already have on hand into your family’s favorite meals, adding extra ingredients from the grocery store. Then write down those meals as your plan for the week. That’s all there is to it!

For a more in-depth tutorial on meal planning, check out this beginner’s guide from The Kitchn.

woman writing a list.

>>Check out the FREE printable download at the bottom of this post!

How to make your meal plan easier

Going through the meal planning process can take a bit of time at first, but as you get used to doing it every week, it becomes easier.

One thing to do to make menu planning more simple is to make a list of your family’s favorite meals to refer to when you can’t think of anything to make. While it’s fun to try out new recipes that you find in magazines, cookbooks or online, it’s always nice to have some tried-and-true meals that you can fall back on when you’re not sure what to cook.

Some other quick tricks that you can use to make planning meals easier are:

  • Creating theme nights each week. For example, you might want to do a taco-themed dinner every Tuesday, an Italian meal on Wednesdays, or Pizza every Friday.
  • Using the Cook Once, Eat Twice (or Three Times!) method. You can double one of your favorite recipes, making enough so that you get 2 meals out of one cooking session.
  • Freezer Cooking. With this method, you prepare meals in advance, either putting a fully-cooked meal or prepared elements of a meal into the freezer, for use at a later time.

Easy weeknight dinners for families

Weeknight dinners can be hard to prepare, especially if your kids have a lot of extracurricular activities that they have to get to…and they usually happen at dinner time.

In cases like these, I like to fall back on slow cooker recipes or sheet pan dinners. The ingredients can be prepared earlier in the day, and they cook while you are busy with other things. Clean up is usually easy too because you just have the one crock or sheet pan to wash up.

You might also find quick-cooking soup or stir-fry recipes that take almost no time to prepare. These kind of recipes also have the added advantage of taking less time to prepare than it would take to drive to a fast food restaurant to order dinner.

Some of my favorite easy weeknight dinners to make are:

  • Turkey Corn Chili
  • Easy One Pan Sausage and Veggie Dinner
  • Slow Cooker Vegetable Soup
  • Taco Night (5 minutes to quickly brown some ground beef, flavoring it with taco seasoning, then putting it on the table with corn chips, shredded cheese, chopped lettuce, a jar of salsa and a container of sour cream), and
  • Spaghetti Night (10 minutes to boil spaghetti, while at the same time browning some Italian sausage, adding a jar of pasta sauce to, then pouring it over the drained noodles. Serve with frozen veggies heated in the microwave.)

hands stirring food in a skillet on the stove.

>>Check out the FREE printable download at the bottom of this post!

Learning to cook at home

If you never learned how to cook, don’t worry…there are so many resources out there that you can use to become a good home cook.

A couple of good places in which to get started are the cooking guides at the New York Times website, and the cooking technique videos at the BBC website.

There are also many good cooking shows on television that can show you easy cooking methods, such as America’s Test Kitchen on PBS.

The most important thing to do, however, is to get into the kitchen and try things out.

Feeding your family on a budget

The food category of any household budget can be rather large, especially if you have teenagers at home!

But if you do a little advanced planning, learn some tricks for keeping your food costs down, and cook at home more often, you’ll be able to reduce the amount of money you spend on feeding your family each week.

Taming the grocery budget

Learning how to shop smart at the grocery store is an important first step in reducing your food costs.

By using a few simple strategies when you shop at the grocery store, you can save a good deal of money, while still being able to prepare healthy, filling meals for your family.

For example, by knowing the sales cycles at your local grocery store, you can time purchases of certain items to always make sure that you can get them at their cheapest price.

You can also learn how to combine coupons with sales for bigger savings, find markdowns on expensive perishables like meat, and how to make certain items rather than buying them at the store. I cover some of these strategies in my post on How to Meal Plan.

But for those who are looking to really maximize their grocery savings, I highly recommend Grocery University, (affiliate link) which is an inexpensive training program that teaches a tried and true strategy on how to save money at the grocery store.

woman counting dollar bills in her hands.

>>Check out the FREE printable download at the bottom of this post!

How cooking at home saves you money

Cooking meals to eat at home is much less expensive than buying meals at a restaurant, hands down.

Unfortunately, there are many reasons why we choose to eat out, such as being too busy to shop or prepare food or not knowing how to cook. But many studies have shown how much cheaper it is to make your own meals.

One example is how a writer at the Boston Globe was able to recreate a meal from Outback Steakhouse at home for less than half the money.

Another more scientific study, from Forbes magazine, looked at 86 different meals and compared the cost of the restaurant version against the cost of purchasing the meal ingredients from a grocery store and preparing them at home. In every case, especially in meals that are meat or pasta-based, they found that it was much less expensive to prepare those meals at home.

But perhaps the most practical—and my favorite—example of this is from food blogger Kiran Smith, writing for 100 Days of Real Food, in which she shows 5 home-cooked meals that are cheaper than McDonald’s.

With so much evidence supporting the benefit of cooking at home on our wallets, there’s no reason to not write up a meal plan and grocery list now…even using some of Kiran’s meal ideas!

Lunch Ideas for Kids

In addition to preparing a family dinner each night, moms with school-aged kids also have to think about what to pack in their kids’ school lunch box everyday.

While sandwiches and fruit are obvious choices, they do get a little boring after a few weeks. But it’s rather difficult to think about what to pack in a child’s lunch, especially when they don’t have access to a microwave to be able to heat something up to eat.

young girl at school.

>>Check out the FREE printable download at the bottom of this post!

What do you put in your child’s lunch box?

Children need need a healthy lunch in order to be able to think and learn well in the classroom.

So when packing my kids’ lunches, I try to avoid giving them pre-packaged foods and instead rely on nutritious whole foods, like fruit, veggies, yogurt and homemade sandwiches.

It’s also helpful to purchase an insulated lunch box to use, which can help keep foods cold, with the help of an ice pack. Small thermos containers are also great for keeping foods warm until lunchtime

Some healthy lunch box ideas for kids are:

  • Soup, packed in a thermos
  • Chicken nuggets, heated in the oven that morning and then packed in a thermos
  • Macaroni and Cheese, packed in a thermos
  • Sandwich made on whole wheat bread
  • DIY lunchables, made with organic crackers, meat and cheese slices
  • Yogurt and a bagel
  • Sides, such as cut up fruit, veggies, cheese sticks, pretzels, granola bars

You can also check out my eBook, Healthy Lunch Box Ideas for Kids, to get even more ideas and several make-ahead recipes for kid-friendly items to pack for lunch.

Hopefully all these ideas and tips will help making food for your family less of a chore and more of a delight. Knowing how much you are contributing to your family’s health and emotional well-being can help you to see just how important your meals are to the people you love.

To help you plan your family meals, I’ve created a printable planner that you can download for free!

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