Meal Prep Made Easy: How to Make Cooking at Home Easier, Healthier and More Fun for Kids

By Stacy Chandna, MS, CIP, and Haley Duscha, RDN, CDN

Prevent the last minute scramble! With a little preparation, you can take the stress out of cooking – and put extra family time back into your day.

Haley Duscha, a pediatric dietitian in the Division of Obesity & Weight Management, and Stacy Chandna, co-director of Kohl’s Start Childhood Off Right program, join the blog with tips.

Meal Prep as a Healthy Habit

Meal “prep” – preparing meals ahead of time, partially or fully – goes hand-in-hand with meal planning. Together, these healthy habits are a great way to provide your family with the healthy meals they need to thrive and grow.

  • Focusing on balanced meals helps your kids develop healthy relationships with food now – so down the line, they’ll make their own good decisions.
  • Along with meal planning, meal prepping is often a time and money saver: It limits the time and dollars you spend at the store and in the kitchen, and limits the money you’d otherwise spend eating at restaurants or ordering takeout.

> Want to make the most of meal prep? Make sure you’re planning meals well, too. Here are tips.

4 Methods for Meal Prep

  • Full meal prep: Make a meal from start to finish and save it for later. Consider storing premade meal options in the fridge or freezer for easy meals to grab. This can be as simple as making an extra pan of lasagna, wrapping it in plastic and putting in freezer for another day. Or try making a “meal kit”: Cook the meat, vegetables, and grain/starch separately ahead of time, and store in the fridge for several days to just reheat later.
  • Partial meal prep: Don’t have time to completely prepare a meal? Even just chopping, cleaning or doing some partial prep ahead of time can be the way to go. You can choose to do these things right when the food comes home from the store or just ahead of meal time; that way, the ingredients can go straight into a recipe. Partial prep includes:
    • Chopping vegetables
    • Clean, cut, or marinate meat – you could even cook the meat ahead of time and divide it into separate meals or recipes
    • Cleaning lettuce or salad mix
    • Measuring out ingredients
  • Snack prep: Prepping snacks ahead of time can help provide healthy, appropriately portioned options and limit your family from relying on pre-packaged snacks. Try bagging things up ahead of time, cutting up fruits and veggies, and pairing items together, like celery and peanut butter. Here’s one of our favorite healthy snack prep recipes: frozen watermelon “popsicles.”
  • Drink prep: Meal Prepping doesn’t need to stop with food. It can be helpful to think about your family’s drinks, and work toward limiting sugar-sweetened beverages. Try diluting juice ahead of time, making sugar-free lemonade or tea to keep in the fridge, or making a smoothie with only natural sweetness. Place ready-to-go drinks in the fridge or freezer when thirst strikes. Looking for a healthy smoothie to make with kids? Try this recipe. For additional healthy beverage guidelines, visit healthydrinkshealthykids.org.

> Get your kids involved every step of the way! Here are cooking tasks for children, broken down by age.

4 Tips for Meal Prep

  • Make sure to use your grocery list. Having a running grocery list can be super helpful and prevent over- or under-buying of foods.
  • Stock your pantry and fridge with the essentials. Having certain ingredients at the ready is a great way to make meal prep easy. Ingredients such as whole wheat pasta, brown rice, tomato sauce, canned tuna, canned or frozen fruit and vegetables, and frozen meats are all great things to consider having at home on a regular basis.
  • Have storage options handy for your prepped meals and snacks. Think: containers, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, reusable baggies and more!
  • Include your kids in the planning and prepping process – it can get them more excited about eating healthy!

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