Back to school may mean changing meal plans

Richard Bogren, Reames, Elizabeth S.  |  1/4/2011 1:10:15 AM

News Release Distributed 07/08/10

After the more leisurely pace of summer, preparing and serving meals can be a challenge when juggling family members’ busy schedules of school, work, sports, homework, etc., says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames.

Reames offers several tips to reduce the pressure of preparing meals:

– Plan meals for the week.

Ask family members for suggestions, and pick options that are easy and popular with everyone, Reames says. Once you have an entrée – such as tacos, spaghetti, oven-baked chicken or slow-cooker stew – all you have to add is a vegetable and/or fruit and perhaps a whole grain roll to complete the meal. Put your menu plans on a calendar for the family to see.

– Plan a shopping list.

Based on your menu, shop weekly at the grocery store for the major items you need, she says. Then pick up milk, bread and miscellaneous items during the week. Weekly shopping will help save time and money.

– Keep basic items on hand.

Reames suggests looking for store specials on staples such as rice, pasta and beans as well as frozen and canned vegetables and fruits in juice. You can keep them on hand in your pantry and add fresh produce in season.

– Prepare in advance.

Brown a double or triple batch of ground meat for spaghetti or tacos and store it in appropriate sizes in the freezer until you’re ready to use it, Reames says. She suggests slicing, marinating and freezing extra beef, pork, chicken or fish for stir-fry dishes. You can drop any one of these protein options into a wok or skillet for quick cooking on a busy night. You also can prepare double batches of recipes and freeze one batch for a future meal.

– Use your slow cooker.

A slow cooker will allow you to prepare meals that will be ready to eat when you arrive home in the evening. It’s an ideal appliance to prepare a nutritious dinner with little effort, and it doesn't heat up your kitchen, Reames says. Many slower-cooker recipes are almost complete meals in themselves.

– Encourage family members to help.

Involve family members in meal preparation, setting the table and clean-up. Young children like being involved in planning and preparing healthful meals. Ask them to help with age-appropriate jobs, like choosing the fruit for dessert, mixing pre-cut vegetables into a salad, setting the table with unbreakable dishes or clearing the dishes afterwards.

Cooking meals at home will help to insure that family members eat nutritious, healthful meals. Eating meals together provides an opportunity for family members to enjoy delicious foods and each other’s company as well.

Rick Bogren

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