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Meal planning and meal prep in the school year

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Many people are looking for THE solution when it comes to meal planning and meal prep.  The reality though, is that it doesn’t work exactly that way and it’s much more realistic to look for tools that you can use to varying degrees depending on your season. Here’s how I shift meal planning and meal prep in the school year

meal prep containers with veggies with text overlay how summer meal prep differs from school year meal prep

Hey everyone, welcome to the podcast today! 

Today’s episode is going to be a bit different, a little more personal/story-telly, to try and show you what meal planning and meal prep looks like in my life and how things shift depending on the season. I want to share how my techniqes for meal prep in the school year differs from the summer. 

How I use meal planning and meal prep differently in the school year

When it comes to the dinnertime problem, most people are looking for THE solution to their mealtime problems.  They want meals that are fast to prepare, healthy, that everyone at the table is going to like, affordable, etc…etc…

The reality of what mealtime looks like is much difference. 

I think I’ve shared my board game analogy in the past, but I think now would be a good time to bring it up again. 

There’s a popular style of board game called “resource management” board games.  The most popular resource management game that I know of is Catan, so if you’ve played that this will make a lot more sense to you, but it’s not too difficult to understand.  Actually, technically even monopoly could be considered a “resource management” game as well. 

Anyway, the idea of a resource management game is that you are given a finite number of resources, sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s gold, sometimes it’s commodities like corn or other agricultural products.  During the game you will take those resources, and build an engine to gain more resources, until you are eventually able to somehow trade in those resources for “points” that will win you the game. 

Some games deal with only one resource, but generally speaking you will be trying to balance different resources in the most effective way to earn MORE resources which will eventually win you the game. 

So the point of this, is that sometimes you have an abundance of the wrong resources.  You might be drowning in corn, when you really need wheat.  Many games will have options to help you trade in the resources that you have an abundance of, for the resources that you ACTUALLY need.  

This is the best description I have for what mealtime strategies look like in real life.  A truly savvy parent in the kitchen will know which resources she has in abundance at any given time, and will know how to trade them in for what they actually need at a given time. 

I realize that this is a little bit unclear/vague and that’s why I wanted to take you through this episode of the podcast where I show you how you can shift and alter your meal planning and meal prep strategy based on what’s going on in your life at any given time, rather than trying to make a rigid and unchanging meal plan work for you ALL THE TIME, because that’s just not realistic.  Seasons change and it’s much more effective to be flexible and move with the flow of life as much as possible rather than trying to resist the current. 

People want 1 system that works for them…but seasons change. 

So I want to take you through what meal planning and meal prep has looked for me in my current season (summer) and what I’m hoping it will look like as we shift into fall. 

What meal planning and meal prep look like in summer for a mom of 4

So, let’s be real here. 

Summer is a DIFFICULT season for my mental health…which in turn means it’s a difficult season for meal planning and meal prep. 

On the one hand, I love the extra time with my kids, the lack of routine and being able to just “shoot the breeze” and enjoying ALL THE TIME outside. 

On the other hand, I struggle with the extra time with my kids, the lack of routine, being able to just “shoot the breeze” and getting absolutely nothing done because we’re spending all the time outside. 

During the summer I take a much more “light and breezy” approach to meal planning and meal prep.  In fact, I spend the majority of my time prepping lunches for the kids so we CAN be out and about without feeling stressed about getting home at a certain time.  We pack lunch and then stay out as long as we please (I’ve talked in the past about what my summer lunch menu for my kids looks like here)

Meal prep and meal planning for dinners is challenging.  I honestly only have so much time to be doing meal prep and that time cuts way down in the summer when I have 4 people depending on me for all of their needs 24/7 (I’m not stressed, are you stressed? ;))

Meal prep for dinner REALLY looks like prepping some proteins so I have chicken cooked, meatballs cooked, etc…and RADICALLY simplifying my menu (I’m talking lots of sandwiches, lots of wraps/salads/pizzas with storebought crusts that require little to no prep). 

So if this is your season, that’s great.  There are times and seasons.  If my life looked like it did in summer all the time, I’d have to look for more sustainable solutions.  I would look for help with childcare, or use box delivery services more, etc…but for the short-term thing that it is, simply shifting attention to lunch and simplifying our meal plan works well. So let’s talk about how I shift my meal planning and meal prep in the winter when I have a bit more time to commit. 

How I use meal planning and meal prep for the school year

  1. I use the school lunch program as my own personal self-care- This may be a bit controversial, but I do not pack my kids lunches for school.  With Covid, the school lunch program was free to participate in last year so I let my daughter try it out (always expecting that I would go back to packing as soon as I had to start paying)…but I actually loved school lunch.  Is it always the healthiest option? No…do they use more processed foods than I would like? Yes BUT there are also some great things about it.  I know that my child will be served a fruit and a vegetable every day.  I know that my child will be exposed to new foods and will get the opportunity to “practice” tasting new things, and most importantly I’m able to take one more thing off my plate.  As my kids get older and more able to help with their own lunches more, we may get back on the bring your own lunch bandwagon, but for now, I have to give it up in favor of things that are more important to me when it comes to meal planning and meal prep. 
  2. I will do more ingredient prep-During the summer we are pretty laissez faire when it comes to mealtime and meal prep.  I usually don’t even start making dinner until my husband is home and we often eat late like 7:00 pm, which means bedtime is a bit late as well.  I’m okay with this in the summer, but in the school year we will need to be more strict on bedtime, which means dinner has to actually make it to the table.  This is made possible by having as many ingredients as possible 100% prepped before I even start cooking, so the veggies are cut, dressings are made, protein is cooked so that dinner is more of an assembly line than a starting from scratch cooking experience every night. 
  3. I will prep more for my own needs-During the summer, self-care is a challenge.  I do my best, but there’s much more grab and go, much more family meals, and much less prepping for the way I want to eat.  So when the kids go back to school, and because they will be eating school lunch, I will be prepping my own lunches so that figuring out what to eat myself every day doesn’t have to be so darn’d stressful
  4. I will prep more snacks and rely less on storebought solutions-This one goes along with the last one that I talked about, but during the summer it’s lots of storebought protein bars, sauces, shortcuts, etc…and this is fine with me! But I prefer the taste of homemade options, and I prefer to be able to choose what ingredients I want and in what proportions I want them, so I will also be prepping more muffins/bars/balls/snacks, etc…to enjoy at home! 

Alright my friends, thanks for listening. I hope this has given you an idea of how you can use meal prep for the school year to improve your life rather than being an added stress in it. 

I have a big and somewhat sad announcement, that the planned prepped and productive podcast will be going on a hiatus until further notice.  In recognizing the changing seasons in our lives, I am realizing that in this season I don’t have the time and energy to commit to the podcast and continue to commit to other goals and projects in both my business and in my personal life.  I am still working on a large program/system that will hopefully launch within the next year and will provide more personal and hands-on help to those of you who need it.  I will also maintain my email list once/week and continue to post on instagram and facebook about once a week as well.  The facebook group will be archived, so the best ways to keep in touch will be to stay on my email list (link if you’re not signed up) or to follow me on instagram and facebook.  

Thanks so much for the support, I will definitely miss popping into your headphones every week.  It’s been a pleasure and I hope that you’ve had some added peace in your meal times thanks to the planned, prepped, and productive podcast! 

Until next time, happy planning! 

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