Family Health, Healthy Eating, Healthy Tips

Meal Planning Ideas and Tips to Start the School Year off Right

With the start of a new school year upon us, meal prepping and planning for the week ahead can be difficult. Here are some easy-to-follow tips to get you on track so you can enjoy the year ahead!

Plan ahead. 

  • Check out recipes in magazines, books, or websites, and ask family members what they are craving for the week ahead. 
  • Cycle between the same meals every other week or month. 
  • Start small and cook dinners for 2 to 3 days of the week.1
  • Try themed meals like Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, or Breakfast for Dinner! 

Keep a shopping list handy. 

  • Add the ingredients needed for the recipes to a list, creating categories for food groups like fruits and vegetables, frozen foods, dairy, meat/chicken/fish, etc. 
  • Check the pantry first to see if you already have some items on hand. 

Balance the plate. 

  • Include fruits and vegetables, protein, carbohydrates, and fat with meals. 
  • An example could be a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread with a side salad of mixed greens and tomatoes or chopped vegetables with olive oil and an orange for dessert.
  • If time is an issue, you can always mix in convenience foods, like using frozen vegetables or picking up a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket.2

Meal Prep. 

  • Try marinating chicken, chopping vegetables, or preparing items in the fridge on the weekend or on a day during the week when you have extra time. 
  • Start first with foods that take the longest to cook such as whole grains (like brown rice, farro, or quinoa); proteins (such as fish or chicken); dried beans and legumes; and vegetables to be roasted. 
  • Chop fresh vegetables and fruits while foods are on the stovetop or baking, or wash salads for the week ahead.1

Ask for help. 

  • Get the family involved! Kids can help mix recipes, pour drinks, set the table, and can help food shop. They can also help prepare lunches.
  • Getting children involved teaches them that eating together as a family is important. Children who eat with their families are more likely to have a healthy weight and eat more fruits and vegetables.3

Use leftovers. 

  • You can alternate between one day of cooking and one day of leftovers, along with using leftovers for lunches. 
  • Make sure to properly store foods and label the containers with the date so you can keep track of everything.

Prepare lunches for yourself and your child. 

  • Lunch ideas can include: wraps like turkey, cheese, lettuce, and tomato in a whole wheat wrap; homemade vegetable soup with whole wheat crackers; PB&J on whole wheat bread with fruit; whole wheat sandwiches with cheese and lean meats; and easy-peel oranges or individual packages of unsweetened applesauce.4,5
  • Use insulated lunch boxes with ice packs or frozen water bottles with perishable items like yogurts and sandwiches since should not be left out for longer than 2 hours. 
  • Hot foods such as soups and stews can be kept in insulated thermoses. 
  • Food items that do not need to be refrigerated include peanut butter, jelly, breads, crackers, whole fruits and vegetables, canned meat and fish, mustard, granola bars, and trail mix.6,7

Benefits of meal prepping and planning. 

  • Portions and ingredients can be controlled when preparing foods at home, along with aiding in weight control. 
  • You can save money and time, while having a more nutritionally balanced meal. 
  • Planning ahead can lead to less stress as last minute decisions about what to eat are avoided since meals are planned out for the week.1

Post written by Nicole Parello MS, RD, CDN


  1. Meal Prep: A Helpful Healthy Eating Strategy. Harvard T.H. Chan. 2017. Available at: Accessed August 26th, 2019.
  2. Ansel, K. Family Dinners in a Flash. Eat Right. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2019. Available at: Accessed August 26th, 2019.
  3. Wolfram, T. Family Meals Small Investment Big Payoff. Eat Right. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2019. Available at:–small-investment–big-payoff. Accessed August 26th, 2019.
  4. During Kids Eat Right Month, Academy Recommends Parents, Kids Team Up For Healthful Lunches., Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2018. Available at: Accessed August 26th, 2019.
  5. Porrazza, F; Harrison, C. Back to School Lunches. Pennsylvania Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. 2017. Available at: Accessed August 26th, 2019.
  6. Van, D, Keep School Lunches Safe. 2010. Available at: Accessed August 25th, 2019.
  7. Gordon, B. Packing a Safe Lunch for School. Eatright. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2018. Available at: Accessed August 25th, 2019.

Contact us for more information about our in-person and online nutrition services.