Home-Cooked Meals: Back to School Meal Planning Made Simple

Are you eating out more and staying at home less? You're not alone.

The Nutrition Journal reports that Americans have shifted toward cooking at home less. With busy work and back-to-school schedules, many parents find it difficult to find the time to make home-cooked meals. Yet the American Journal of Preventative Medicine reports that spending more time preparing food and cooking may be good for your health.  

Think you are too busy to cook good meals at home? The good news is that parents who are juggling back-to-school hours and work can fit in healthy, home-cooked meals that are quick to prepare, nutritious, and delicious.   

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“Parents love to be able to feed their kids good, nutritious foods. That’s why we have created free tools and recipes to make cooking fast, easy and delicious,” says Dr. Nimali Fernando, a Fredericksburg, Virginia-based pediatrician who founded The Doctor Yum Project. “Not only is cooking at home better for a family’s health, but it also saves them money, because eating at home is usually much more affordable than dining out.”

While the benefits of eating home-cooked meals are well documented, many parents are still unsure how to make it fit into their busy schedule.

Here are 5 back-to-school busy schedule tips to help get healthy meals on the table quickly:

  • Plan ahead. On the weekend, sit down and make a list of what your family will eat for dinner all week long. Then head to the grocery store or farmers market to get the items you need for those dishes. Knowing what to make is often half the battle, so you can just look at your list on the refrigerator and get started making the meal.  If you can, bring the kids along to teach them about healthy food and basic cooking skills.
  • Use what’s on hand. Pantries often have lots of food, yet people don’t know what to do to put it all together and make a meal. The Doctor Yum Project has taken on solving this problem by offering a free online tool, the Meal Maker Machine, that will help you create a recipe using the ingredients you have on hand. Simply input the items you have on hand and the system will create a convenient recipe for you.  This cuts down on food waste and saves money as well.
  • Get everyone involved. Help spread the cooking tasks among the family. Get other family members involved in meal prep by assigning tasks to each person. Even younger children can help with age-appropriate tasks, like stirring, to help with getting the family meal ready.
  • Do prep work ahead. When you do have time on the weekend, take half an hour to wash, chop, and get your vegetables ready to use in recipes throughout the week. This way, you can reach into the refrigerator and pull out the chopped and prepared items that you need for your recipe. Another option that can help is to do batch cooking on the weekend, where you make up a few meals that can be frozen or put into the refrigerator. Those meals can then be pulled out and heated up during the week as needed.
  • Give pressure cooking a try. Pressure cookers like the popular Instant Pot are all the rage because they are a great way to help get healthy meals on the table quickly. This new generation of pressure cookers makes cooking healthy food so easy with other features like saute, slow cook, and yogurt making.  Drop in ingredients like dried beans or tough cuts of meat, set the timer, and walk away while your dinner cooks up fast. This style of cooking leaves you free to focus on other after school activities like sports, homework, and more. 

Start the school year off right and build good habits will last you all year long.  

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Here is a recipe to get you started:

Quick, healthy recipe from the Doctor Yum Project website:

Healthy Pesto
Prep time: 8 minutes

What you need:

  • 2 cups basil (fresh, loosely packed)
  • ⅓ cup parmesan cheese (grated)
  • ¼ cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • 2 tablespoons walnuts (or pine nuts)
  • 1 clove garlic (use two cloves for more intense taste)
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoons salt
  • black pepper (to taste)

Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until everything is well-mixed. Serve over pasta or however you enjoy pesto! Works great on sandwiches or drizzled over grilled meats or veggies.


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What are some of your favorite home-cooked meals? Share in the comments!

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Home-Cooked Meals: Back to School Meal Planning Made Simple

Jamie is a Beltway Insider who loves channeling her pre-motherhood love of traveling into spending time exploring all D.C. has to offer with her brood of two girls and two boys ages 9, 7,5, and a baby. She is a reformed lawyer turned full-time kid wrangler who enjoys photographing her everyday chaos and anything salted caramel. Since life is never dull, she loves writing about the issues and events going on in her life at any given time, including caring for a daughter with special needs and th ... More

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