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Eat Well, Spend Less: Preparing for Busy School Weeks

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source: Jessica Dow

This month’s Eat Well, Spend Less theme is — of course — back to school, as we share strategies for eating on a budget during the school year!

One of the ways we ensure we’re eating healthy during the school year — when our daily schedule suddenly includes 3-4 hours of school time! — is to prepare as much ahead of time as we can. But whether you homeschool like us your kids go to school, the fall is a busy season as families adjust to a new schedule, sports & other activities and more.

The draw of convenience and packaged foods is that they’re ready when you need them, so we try to create our own convenience foods instead of relying on unhealthier options (or their more expensive “healthy” counterparts).

What does this look like in practice?

Incorporate Make-Ahead Meals in Your Menu Plan

When we’re planning our weekly menu plan,  I intentionally include meals that I can prepare ahead of time for the days I know we’ll be busy. For example, on Tuesdays we have soccer practice in the evening, and egg salad sandwiches are a recent favorite because I can make the egg salad a day or two in advance and just scoop it onto sandwich bread that day.

Similarly, casseroles can often be made a day in advance,  and I keep browned ground beef and cubed chicken in my freezer for a variety of meals so that I don’t have to do that step every time.

I do some of this on the weekend for the week ahead, and then I usually choose a free day during the week to prepare some more for the rest of the week. Because our youngest is recently GFCF/soy-free, I’m cooking from scratch even more, and I’ll make a batch of dairy-free spinach pesto, a pot of this delicious tomato soup and a few jars of steel-cut oats in the middle of the week to get us through to the weekend.

Prepare Individual Snacks

Similarly, I plan grab-and-go snacks for busy days, and I get as many of them ready on the weekends as I can. Hard-boiled eggs, cut up fruit & veggies, individual bags of trail mix, etc. can all be prepared days in advance so you don’t have to think about them each day or feel guilty for relying on less-healthy options. And while there are tons of “homemade snack” recipes, we tend to choose easy options — life fresh fruit or bags of raisins – for simplicity as well.

Benefits of Planning Ahead

There’s no doubt that meal planning has a huge impact on the being able to eat well on a budget, and here are some additional benefits of preparing for busy school weeks ahead of time:

  • Rather than trashing your kitchen every day of the week (or maybe that just happens to me when I cook!), you make a mess once as you prepare a bunch of meals so that you don’t have as many dishes to do, counters to wipe, etc. during the rest of the week.
  • When fruits and veggies are available and ready to eat, kids — and adults! — are more likely to reach for them than if you have to cut them up and prepare them first.
  • With a casserole waiting in the fridge, the temptation to stop at McDonadl’s is almost non-existent!
  • Having the prep work done ahead of time relieves mealtime stress.

What kind of foods do you prepare ahead of time for your family?