Meal Planning

Meal Planning for Back to School

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I'm Kris, trained chef, culinary nutritionist and busy mom, here to help you take the stress out of healthy eating with flexible meal planning, simplified meal prep and easy budget-friendly meals.

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It’s back to school time, which means schedules are changing, after school activities are starting up soon- and it’s time to adjust that meal plan for fall.

If you’re like ‘meal plan, WHAT meal plan… it was summer!’ I totally get you. Summer is supposed to be relaxing and breezy and it’s ok if you ditched the meal plan entirely for a more lax approach. But often as we approach the school season and our schedules start to tighten up, it gets more difficult to simply throw together a dinner or pop into the grocery store on a whim without it being an unwelcome blow to our routine. This is where having a meal plan comes into play- so let’s chat adjusting your meal plan for the back to school season.

Before we dive into the HOW, let me remind you WHY a meal plan– dinner plan, specifically (we’ll get into breakfast and lunches, soon) is so helpful.

  • Meal planning takes the guesswork out of ‘what’s for dinner?’. Let me remind you it does NOT have to be rigid and arguably, SHOULD not be rigid or it likely won’t work (or at least won’t stick long-term). My philosophy is that life happens- so plan for it!
  • Meal planning saves you time. It saves you time going to the grocery store several evenings a week, saves you time figuring out what’s for dinner. 
  • Meal planning simplifies grocery shopping and saves you money. In this world of inflation- we can all use some help grocery budgeting. The first step to saving on food is planning to avoid food waste!

If you want more on the basics of meal planning, check out these helpful podcast episodes:
The two lists you need to make meal planning a breeze
How (and why) to create a seasonal family meals list
How I organize my recipes

So… how do we start the shift from summer mode to the school season? (p.s. Even if your kids aren’t school age yet, these tips will still help you shift season-to-season).  

  1. Take out your calendar and look at when things start to shift. Do you have activities that begin before the school year starts, or is it all in that week school begins? You’re going to want to work backwards 1-2 weeks from the date everything starts to change. Mark it on your calendar- and we’re going to start the slow shift then. 
  2. From there, mark down your regular schedule for the fall… what activities are on what night (that you know of) and when do you get home and/or when does your spouse get home- and when do you want to start your bedtime routine, whatever that looks like depending on your kids’ ages? What you’re doing here is figuring out a realistic timeline for when you’re going to be able to eat dinner and how much time you’ll have to cook. Also, mark down any special days you might want to do fun and special meals, like the first day back to school. 
  3. So… how much time DO you have to cook on an average night? Write this down… and also mark down the nights dinner feels like it’s going to be impossible- these are the nights you’re going to want to plug in the slow cooker, instant pot or utilize shortcut dinners.
  4. From there, it’s time to create your magic meal planning lists. I want you to take your time doing this, so… make it fun! Carve out 30 minutes to an hour for this, grab your favorite drink- starbucks brown sugar oat milk shaken espresso, glass of wine, ollipop, kombucha… make it fun! You’re going to make two lists: 
    1. List #1- Your family favorites for the Back to School season…  make sure these meals are REALISTIC meals for YOUR season- based on the questions you answered above (how much time do you have, how much capacity do you have in the evenings, etc). As a bonus, put a star next to shortcut meals that can help you save time on a busy night.
    2. List #2- Recipes you want to try. Pinterest is a great place to store these- but I also like having a master list that has all the recipes and where to find them if they’re not online. 

So WHY is this important?

When you go to meal plan each week, you now have a place to start. Instead of starting from scratch, you’re going to choose at least 1-2 recipes from your Family Favorites list, more if you want an easier week and the rest from your recipes to try list. I find the beginning of a season is a good time to experiment and try new recipes and build up that Family Favorites list… and then I choose more from the Family Favorites list as time goes on, and life tends to get busier towards late fall and early winter. 

BONUS STEP: Organize your recipes. I have a whole episode podcast on how I organize my recipes- but I’ve actually shifted to a more digital system, which I’ll share with you soon- however you do it, having a place to store all your recipes for easy access will make your week of cooking easier, guaranteed.

Now it’s time to create your first (back to school) meal plan!

  1. Start by figuring out WHEN you’re going to do your planning… routine and flexibility is what will make things stick. I like to do my planning on a Friday or Saturday morning, so I have plenty of time to shop and prep on the weekend.
  2. Once you have your date set, sit down and plan!  I ALWAYS recommend just planning for 5 days, because life happens. You want flexibility to mix and match days, impromptu date nights, invitations to a friend’s- or the OG budget saver, leftover night (we actually often schedule this into our routine!). If you’re just getting back into meal planning, start with 3 days and work up to 5 days when that school year starts. 

Did you find this helpful?? Leave me a comment and let me know how you like to transition your meal plan into the back to school season!

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