Do you experience meal-time stress? Does it feel like you are constantly running around trying to prepare everything for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, only to end up resorting to packaged meals more often than you’d like? Time often feels rushed with kids, especially when there are activities to get to, homework to finish, and bedtimes to uphold.

Panic and stress around meal-prep is not inevitable, though—even with all of the demands of family life. There are tips and strategies you can incorporate to help calm the chaos and bring more peace to your daily life through preparation, planning and short-cuts.

Meal Prep
1. Pick a day and time to plan meals for the week. For example, Saturday afternoon. Get the family involved and allow your children to select at least one healthy meal option for the week.

2. Make a larger serving of grain so a dinner meal can be transformed into a salad or breakfast for the next day.

3. Make a list of healthy meals you can make in 30 minutes for when you have limited time.

Some examples:
• whole grain pasta with chickpeas, tuna or canned salmon and vegetables
• quinoa stir-fry with tofu, chicken, eggs or a peanut sauce
• bean tacos
• taco salad
• protein salad (add canned beans, lentils or chickpeas for easy protein)
• hummous wraps
• protein wraps
• baked or fried fish with vegetables and brown rice (made the day before) or on a salad
• Scrambled eggs with veggies, and cheese cubes or tofu. Serve with bread, rice, or quinoa or make it into a wrap with salsa.

Grocery Shopping:
1. If you have young children, try to choose a store with a fun cart for them to sit in, child carts they can push around, or get them involved in finding or picking out items to put into the cart. Or have one parent do the shopping alone.

2. Make grocery shopping easy and fast by ordering groceries online and having them delivered, or ready for pick-up at the store.

3. Press the easy button and purchase prepared salad greens or pre-cut veggies to help speed up food prep. It is worth the extra cost if this removes some stress or enables you to incorporate salads and veggies in your diet. Plus, it may even save you money, if this helps you to bring your lunch rather than eating out or purchasing pre-made meals.

Breakfasts:
1. Plan your breakfasts so you don’t have to think about what to make or have each day.

For example:
• Monday: oatmeal with fruit and nuts
• Tuesday: eggs scrambled with veggies on wholegrain toast
• Wednesday: seed pudding (chia, hemp, flax) with dried fruit and/or blueberries, and non-dairy milk
• Thursday: smoothie with wholegrain toast and nut butter
• Friday: yogurt bowl with fruit, nuts and seeds or quinoa porridge with fruit and nuts/seeds

2. Make a large batch of muffins or healthy granola on the weekend for an easy, quick option for breakfast in the morning.

3. Try overnight oatmeal: mix together oats, water, sweetener, dried fruit or berries, nuts, and a pinch of salt and leave overnight. It can be eaten as-is in the morning, or quickly warmed in the microwave for a cooked version.

Lunch:
1. Do meal prep on Sunday for lunches during the week:
• Cut up vegetables for snacks.
• Cook a large batch of rice, quinoa or other grain (for example, kamut, oat groats) to make into salads for the week.
• Pack green salads into several containers for the week.
• Add greens, shredded carrot and beets, zucchini cubes, seeds (hemp, sunflower, pumpkin).
• The day before you plan to eat the salad, add: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and protein: beans, chickpeas, tofu, tuna, salmon, chicken, beef. (Add your dressing in the morning or bring in a separate container. )

2. Marinate and cook chicken breasts or tofu to use for several lunches: add to salads, wraps, or rice/quinoa bowls.

3. Get your kids to help pack and plan their lunches. Involve them in food prep and give them a few healthy options for what to include in their lunch.

Dinner:
1. Look up recipes for slow-cooker meals that cook while you work so you come home to a ready-made dinner.

2. Make a large batch of soup, stew, or chili on Sunday so you have leftovers for several days or freeze for a quick meal on a busy day.

3. Get kids involved in meal prep; they can wash and cut up veggies, mix ingredients for patties/burgers, scramble eggs, or mix dough for a tart.

4. Prep a portion of the meal the night before. For example, cut-up veggies for a stir-fry, make a dressing or sauce, mix patty/burger ingredients in a bowl, or make dough for a pot-pie, quiche or tart.

5. Choose one day a week when you don’t make dinner and opt for a healthy take-out or prepared meal you can pick up on your way home.
• Ideas: Grocery store deli and salad bar, brown rice sushi, wholegrain pizza, make brown rice or quinoa at home and pick up a thai meal, Indian curry, or other Asian dish.

6. Schedule kitchen clean-up duty, so everyone is involved in cleaning the kitchen and doing the dishes.

And finally, when it all starts to feel like too much, take a moment to de-stress and relax. It only takes a few minutes to feel more relaxed and focused on the tasks at hand.
• Do a few deep breathing exercises: breathe in for five seconds, hold for two to three seconds, and let out for seven seconds.
Use this as a menu of options: try what appeals to you – and try one thing at a time, so you can accomplish it, and then layer on more ideas, if you want.

Happy planning and prepping, and may you be more relaxed and organized than ever.

Sonja Yli-Kahila is a mom of two young girls, and a Certified Health Coach & Nutritionist at Rejuvenize Health Coaching & Nutrition. Sonja@Rejuvenizehealthcoaching.com.