Meal Planning Strategies for Busy School Nights

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The new school year is upon us! Consider these meal planning strategies for back to school to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner good, easy, AND cheap.

divided lunch box with cheese, vegetables, salad, and dip

The clock is ticking on summer vacation. In some parts, the kids have already gone back to school; in others they’re counting down the days until summer ends. Perhaps you’re hearing the faint ding of the school bell in the distance?

Switching from the lazy days of summer into the regular routine of the school year can be a shock to the system as well as to the pocket book. There are school supplies and new clothes to purchase as well as quick, easy, and packable meals to prepare.

No longer can you just warm up a plate of leftovers at lunchtime and call it good.

However, those “convenience” items they hawk at the supermarket cost a pretty penny and have a fairly scandalous ingredients list to boot.

Meal Planning Strategies for Back to School

Consider these meal planning strategies for back to school to help you not only eat well, but also to save money as the school year gets under way.

1. Go big.

If you know you’re going to be packing lunches, buy items in bulk packaging and then reportion them for school or work lunches.

You can easily scoop yogurt from a large container — we love the ginormous container of Fage from Costco — into small plastic containers or half-pint canning jars. Add fruit, nuts, granola, and/or a drizzle of maple or honey and you’ve got a delicious yogurt without all the added sugar, preservatives — and high prices.

Likewise, you can make your own “lunchables” by dividing a larger package of crackers, cheese, and meats into smaller, meal-size portions. The same goes for big bags of chips, crackers, pretzels, and popcorn.

Make or buy a bulk batch of something and divide it into smaller containers. You can easily do this on Sunday night and set yourself up for the whole week.

mise en place of vegetables and cutting boards with freezer cookbook

2. Chill out.

Make freezer meals your friend. If you don’t have it already, buy my book Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook. It contains over 200 recipes that freeze well and covers every meal of the day, including lunch, snacks, and desserts.

Do a big freezer cooking session and freeze soups, casseroles, and meats as well as baked goods in single-serving portions. This will make for lots of quick breakfasts and lunches throughout the coming months.

Thaw a small cup of soup overnight, reheat it in the morning, and fill your child’s thermos. Grab home baked breads and Breakfast Cookies to stuff the lunch box or to eat on the way to school.

Freezer cooking is a great way to combine the healthier aspects of homecooking with the convenience we so desperately need during the school year.

divided metal taco tray with beef tacos with toppings

3. Create a meal rotation.

Bring peace to your meal planning with theme nights. It’s a great way to simplify your meal planning, automate your pantry needs, and help picky eaters know what to expect.

You don’t have to commit to the same thing each week, just give it a general theme. For instance, tacos on Tuesday. You can make a different kind of taco filling and pair it with a different kind of shell for weeks on end. And your grocery list for at least one meal of the week will be virtually the same each week, at least when it comes to basics.

Set yourself up for easy meal prep by creating a meal rotation for certain days or certain meals so that you don’t really have to think about it. You just prep and eat.

These strategies will serve you well during the school year to save time and money.

What are your meal planning strategies for back to school?

pinterest photo of divided lunch box filled with healthy food

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Emily says

    That school bell is dinging here! This last week I cooked two batches of soup–french onion and potato–and froze them in pint and half pint jars. Also made a few batches of muffins to freeze. While I am dreading the shocks to all of our systems, I am so looking forward to getting back into our school routines!

  2. Tiffany R says

    Great tips, Jessica! We are coming off a pantry challenge this week so after I replenish the pantry, I will work on filling up the freezer. It is so nice to have meals that are ready to go. We did make a large batch of pancakes this weekend and freeze them for school morning breakfasts. I will probably make some muffins and do the same.

  3. Jessica, I really enjoy following the different blogs you write and edit. Any tips for families entering the teen years on how to “feed the teens” or actually keep food in the house? The way mine are growing and eating, I make a huge shopping trip and then two days later, I am like Mother Hubbard!

    I am asking you because of your large family size, teen experience and healthy budget friendly options.

    Kelley aka Ma Hubbard

    • Great question! I will get you some answers in the next week. Is that good?

    • Janet says

      Kelley, we have the same issue at our house. I made tacos, rice, re-fried beans, and all the fixin’s for dinner. Fast forward to 10:45 and my youngest teen is in the kitchen heating up a big bowl of leftover mac & cheese because she is “starving.”

      • Our latest strategy is to package leftovers as “meals” and stash them all in one spot (top shelf) in the fridge. Trying to waste less and keep people fed.

  4. Teena says

    I clean and cut all my veggies on Saturday. I batch cook enough to reheat for breakfast each day (cabbage, shredded beets, spinach, onion, garlic, swiss chard and kale). Then I make mason jar salads. It is so nice to know that breakfast and lunch are done for the week. I am very lucky that my family is fine eating the same thing everyday but I do change it up with the types of veggies and seasonings I use. I also do the theme night for dinners.

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