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Meal Planning Tips for the Busy Parent

06/11/2015 05:36 EDT | Updated 06/11/2016 05:59 EDT

With summer around the corner and kids heading off on summer break, parents' schedules are about to get even busier -- if that is even possible! Between transporting the kids from soccer, swim, dance, friend's houses and back again, it's easy to put weekly meals on the back burner leaving parents to rely heavily on take-out and unhealthy processed foods.

At the end of a long day, parents arrive home hungry and exhausted and feel pressure to put a meal on the table that is not only healthy, but one that the whole family will enjoy. As a mom of seven and a meal-planning expert, I have spent the last 20 years helping families overcome this daily dilemma and the stress that weighs heavily on today's families when it comes to dinnertime preparedness. For years I have been sharing tips for families to enjoy a less stressful, healthier and positive eating experience at the dinner table every day.

I believe strongly that the foundation to meal time success stems solely from being prepared. Here are a handful a tips to help all families triumph with food during the week:

1. Make food a family affair!

The main cook often feels overwhelmed and hates having to be the one to choose the meals as well as make them. Get all family members involved in picking just five meals together. Write out your grocery list and get all the week's groceries in one trip. A great resource for making this easy is my Eat Sheet™ available at cookingfortherushed.com. By having the meals chosen by the whole family, it makes your family excited to eat at home. And, having the groceries you need already in the house, makes it easy to pull things out and prepare in advance.

2. Take out your equipment and ingredients before you start cooking.

Any great chef knows ingredients need to be out and ready or the meal preparation can fall apart! The same holds true in the home kitchen. By taking out bowls, spoons, measuring cups etc. and having everything laid out and easy to reach keeps your brain organized and can cut your dinner prep down by 30 per cent.

3. Take 5

Five minutes the night before, to do just one thing for the next day's dinner, like cutting an onion, browning the meat, rinsing your lettuce etc. will feel like a half hour saved when prepping tomorrow night's dinner. Making the prepared food easy to find means help in the kitchen! The first person in should begin dinner assembly before a parent even walks in the door!

4. Leave the recipe on the counter

Families often don't arrive home at the same time. If you are the main cook in your house and get into a traffic jam having the night's recipe on the counter makes it easy to ask a helper at home to get things started. Plus, if you enlisted the family's help in planning the meal, this is a great opportunity for the young budding chef of the family to take the reins on the recipe they picked out at the start of the week.

5. Freeze flat for easy defrosting

Don't you hate it when you walk in the door and realize you forgot to take something out for dinner? For easy freezing and defrosting, parents can package meat and freeze it flat in large freezer bags. When meat is frozen flat it defrosts very quickly eliminating the panic if you need to take it out right when you get home. Freezing flat also works beautifully for my make it once; use it twice weeknight rescue step! For example; if a recipe calls for 1/2 an onion, cut the whole onion, slip the chopped half that you're not using into a small freezer bag, press flat and freeze. No cutting onions for you next time!

Life is stressful enough, so I hope these tips help you beat the battle we know as dinnertime. The one important thing to remember is that dinner is a time to connect with the people we love the most. At the end of the day, your children will remember the time spent around the table and the moments you were able to share together.

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