10 Healthy Meal Planning Tips For The Whole Family

family-friendly and healthy meal planning tips

Guest Post by Peter Minkoff

Whether you’re looking to eat healthier as a family, or just avoid going on a shopping binge every time you walk into a grocery store, meal planning can go a long way in helping you cut your costs, save time, and stay healthy. Let’s see what you can do to keep the process as simple as possible and check at least this one parental worry off your list!

Plan to plan

Much can go wrong if you constantly keep your meal-planning time flexible. Make a commitment to spend an hour or two at a specific time during the week and stick to your little family appointment. For example, Saturday at noon should be reserved for planning your next week of meals, later that day, at 5pm, you can go grocery shopping, and Sunday morning can be reserved for making the meals ahead.

Make your little cookbook

No matter the size of your family, every member has their own favorite dish. You’ll want to make a list of meals they love, and then see how many of them you can make your main meals. Categorize them according to the type of recipe and the complexity of ingredients, so that you can swap and mix when the need arises.

Think seasonal thoughts

A significant part of keeping your meals as healthy as possible is using fresh, locally-grown ingredients that are available during the year. Your yearly meal-planning can be focused on dishes that contain items currently in season, so there’s another idea as to how you can make your family cookbook even more organized! Also, you probably don’t want to spend your summers next to a hot stove, so you can keep your recipes practical and weather-friendly, as well.

Ready-to-eat options

No, this has nothing to do with those canned meals and microwave dinners, on the contrary, the idea of meal planning serves to help you use as little processed food as possible, and go for fresh, whole food to make your own meals. However, if you don’t have the time or the know-how to make brilliant dishes, you can use ready-made healthy meal plans put together by people who specialize in healthy nutrition and can create a plan perfect for you and your family.

Get organized

If your kitchen is a mess, you won’t be able to put your plan into action. Get rid of all expired products, and items you’d like to banish from your diet, such as those candy bars, chips, and soda. Instead, use the first grocery day to supply your kitchen with fresh produce and go-to essentials, such as spices, healthy snacks, and containers in which you can store and freeze your meals.

No meal left behind

For families that often end up throwing out leftover dinners and lunches, it’s time to use your meal-planning to make the most of your cooking. Make one evening each week a “leftover” night, when you’ll repurpose, eat, or freeze the meals that would otherwise go bad and end up in the trash.

Plan around your life

As the famous saying goes, life is what happens to us while we’re making other plans – take this into account even for this simple aspect of your life. Some weeks at work will be more hectic than others, while your kids might be away for a school trip for a few days on some other week. Make your meal plans work for you, and schedule, prep, and cook based on your availability and the rest of your schedule.

All meals matter

It’s too easy to skip breakfast when you’re in a hurry to prepare for a job interview or drive your kids to school, but planning ahead should help you keep track of all main meals of the day. When there’s no time to make breakfast, there should be some Greek yogurt, dried fruit, nuts and seeds waiting, so it only takes a few stirs and your breakfast is ready. Using leftovers will also help, since you can repurpose meals from the day before for your next day’s dinner.

Delegate

Even if you’re the foodie expert in your family, that’s no excuse for the rest of the gang not to take part in the process, especially when it’s time to pitch new ideas, keep track of the food calendar, and thaw the food when the schedule says its time.

Plan your snacks

These sneaky little buggers are often the key culprit of weight gain and various health issues, but you can prevent them by always having some healthy options at hand. Fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit are always better than a sugar-loaded muffin from the store.

 

With a diverse menu on your hands and some practice, you’ll quickly master the art of meal planning and make your cooking sessions a much easier process both on your time and your wallet.

 

Peter is a frugal living and lifestyle writer for Voice Boks magazine. Follow Peter on Twitter for more tips.

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family-friendly and healthy meal planning tips

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Urban Gardening Wish List

I am a firm believer that “to grow your own food is to print your own money.” Imagine the amount of money that would immediately open up to you if your grocery budget was significantly decreased! Thanks to the Urban Gardening movement, it is now completely possible to grow your own food, even in small spaces.

I’ve been combing through Amazon, putting together my wish list of urban gardening supplies. We are renting, so even though we have a small front yard (no back yard), I doubt my landlord would be too thrilled if I tore up the grass to plant a garden. Some precious friends with a huge farm have graciously offered to let us use a portion of their land for a garden, and I am equal parts humbled and thrilled, which is a very difficult mix of emotions to convey through words. Picture me jumping up and down squealing but also flabbergasted, and that would probably be pretty accurate.

I know many people are in the same sort of renting living situation, so I wanted to share this list and show you how possible it is to have a garden in small spaces, or without the whole plowing and tilling process. Here are some great products that will help you create the urban farm of your dreams:

1. Envirocycle compact compost bin

These are created with small spaces in mind. It comes in two sizes, the 35-gallon (pictured) and the 16-gallon. They sit on the ground and spin easily. Every garden should have at least two (since you need one to fill while the other one “brews” for 6 weeks or so). These guys are even BPA-free! I think they look like snails.

2. Tower Garden

I can’t say enough about these powerhouse growing systems. They are aeroponic growing systems, self-watering, and grow tons of food in 5 weeks or less. No weeding. It’s planting and harvesting, and that’s about it. You can purchase one at a time or a family pack in sets of 3. These can even be brought inside and continue your harvest year-round! To grow in here: lettuce, kale, spinach, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, cucumber, strawberries, and possibly a melon or two.

3. 20 gallon fabric growing pots

Sometimes, you just need dirt. These pots are made of a sturdy fabric to allow for better drainage and easier air flow to the roots. To grow in these: sweet potatoes (check out this post on growing sweet potatoes in buckets), beets, garlic, and raspberries.

Other items on my wish list for our garden:

Urban apple trees (they are a hybrid that can stay planted in pots!)

Kitchen compost bin.This particular bin is great for under the counter storage. I used to have a countertop storage system and even though I kept up with it, it had an odor. With this, I can lock the  container closed and keep it under a cabinet. Less odor = happier family.

Harvesting Bushel Tote bag – to bring in all your delicious fresh produce!

Miracle-Gro AeroGarden – Absolutely, positively cramped for space? This little guy can even fit anywhere!

I am so excited to get my garden this year!

Want even more tips for gardening and DIY? Get access to ebooks, webinars, printables, and more with the  Ultimate Herbs and Essential Oils

Thank you for reading! If this post has helped you, please share and download your free copy of my ebook, Dirt Cheap Nutrition!

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Eat Healthy Food for Less

Feeding a family on a budget is difficult enough. But add in specialty diets and it can be pretty impossible depending on where you live. We are pretty lucky because we live in a rather ritzy college town (which seems so silly, a ritzy college smack dab in the middle of Iowa, but whatever, I’ll go with it), so there is a small family-owned grocery store that carries more organic and otherwise healthy options. Apparently the college has a lot of vegetarians and vegans, so they have a good place to shop.

But food deserts are a reality and many people don’t have the access to quality foods that we have. So for you (and in case you were curious about good places to shop), here’s a run-down of some places that I have personally shopped at and recommend:

Thrive Market

Thrive Market is the online convenience of Amazon, featuring Whole Foods products at Aldi prices with a Costco membership. Make sense? I love that I can order hemp hearts and sprouted quinoa, as well as the basic healthier foods and good dark chocolate. Plus, my membership fee pays for two memberships: on for me, and one for a qualifying low-income family. Shipping is always free with orders of $50 or more. Oh, and did I mention they almost always have a free gift with purchase? Try Thrive Market for free and enjoy the amazing deals – like 20% off your first 3 purchases!

Zaycon Fresh

This is basically a co-op for farm-fresh meat products. The meats are sold in bulk by the case, so either go in with a friend or enjoy stocking up on meats for up to 25% off grocery store prices. Since the meat comes straight from the processor, the taste is amazing compared to store-bough meat.

Azure Standard

The only thing I don’t like about Azure Standard is the minimum of $50 order. They are a bulk co-op in several cities, and you have to coordinate with a drop manager to know when your order will be delivered. When we lived in St. Louis, our drop was a K-Mart parking lot, and there were a good 50 families participating. This was where I first bought a gallon of coconut oil, and another time I purchased a 22 pound bag of sea salt (I’m pretty sure we will be using that salt for the next 10 years. It’s been two years already and it looks like we’ve barely touched it). Azure Standard is awesome for bulk purchases, especially for harder-to-find things like organic wheat berries for my friends who have enough time to grind their own wheat for their homemade bread. You can’t see prices unless you’re a member, but it’s free to join.

Tropical Traditions

Known for being the best coconut oil in the world (and truly, it’s delicious), this stuff is worth the investment. It goes on sale pretty regularly and there are deals for buying multiples, so go halvsies with a friend or two for the best savings. Or do what I did and buy a 5 gallon bucket.

Amazon

Not everyone knows about the best (in my opinion) feature of having an Amazon Prime membership: the Prime Pantry. Basically, you fill a box with whatever food/household items your little heart desires for the flat shipping rate of $5.99/box. These are BIG boxes, friends. One time we got a $50 gift card for participating in a survey and we were able to stock up on groceries and a 24-count package of toilet paper. Not only do they have plenty of organic or health-conscious items, and if you happen to like Seventh Generation or Mrs. Meyers cleaning products, I would recommend using this feature (sign up for Amazon Prime here if you don’t have an account yet).

I do a lot of our shopping online. Now that we have a more flexible food budget (and I have found creative ways to supplement it), I’ve been able to slowly transition. One of my goals for 2016 is to make about 95% of our non-perishable purchases online with money I’ve earned through writing articles or swagbucks gift cards and getting to use our grocery money on fresh produce. The more I can provide quality nutrition for myself and my men, the happier I am!

Have you ever shopped at any of these places? What do you think?

For more tips on how to eat a healthy diet on a budget, grab my ebook, Dirt Cheap Nutrition, for free!

 

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Allergy-Friendly Vegan Peanut Butter Smoothie

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We are out of chocolate and I’ve really been trying to tame my incredible sweet tooth recently, and I’m a bit obsessed with my new favorite peanut butter smoothie!

I have tried making this smoothie with several tweaks, and it is a very versatile recipe. To make it allergy-friendly for those who can’t have peanuts or almonds, swapping out the nut butter for sunflower butter is an easy solution. For those allergic to almond or cashew milk, I recommend either hemp or oat milk. d

Peanut Butter Smoothie

3 ice cubes

1 large banana

1/8 cup (give or take) cashew milk (my new favorite nut milk!)

2 scoops vanilla protein powder of choice (can be vegan – I prefer this brand or this, or may add a few scoops of collagen powder for a non-vegan option)

2 big scoops peanut butter (probably around 1/4 cup) – can also use almond butter or sunflower butter for a nut-free option.

Blend until smooth. I have never had a more delicious peanut butter treat in all my years of loving peanut butter. If you like your smoothies on the thicker size, you can freeze the banana prior to blending and it will have a milkshake thickness.

Enjoy!!


Thrive Market sells your favorite organic and non-gmo brands for up to 50% off retail.

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How Much can you Earn with Swagbucks?

Can you earn free gift cards with Swagbucks?

Each month I will recap my progress with earning Swagbucks and using them to supplement our food budget.

I will admit that in January I really wasn’t very proactive in earning bucks. I know, bad me! It’s only the first of the year and I’m already slacking. Anyway…

I ended January with 2,061 Swagbucks and another 518 pending. This was earned almost entirely by using the “shop and earn” feature. Any time I needed to order something online (and I need to order lots of supplies for work frequently) I log into swagbucks first and use that link to go to the Amazon account. It costs absolutely nothing and I can earn points! The pending 518 is because I purchased a Groupon to get an eye exam and some contacts (after two years in glasses, I’m finally starting to feel like myself again!). Those will be deposited in 30 days or so.

Plans for my gift cards:

I’ve decided I’m going to save up to $50 in either a paypal or a Visa gift card this time and make my first purchase from Thrive Market. Try it for free and enjoy their amazing prices! I’ve just really been anxious to try them out because I’ve heard wonderful things. I want olive oil, cacao nibs, coconut, collagen….all the things to improve pieces of our diet that are usually pretty expensive are so cheap on Thrive Market I had a hard time finding what ELSE we would want to get that would get us to free shipping! Yes, I have my cart filled, I’m just waiting for 2,500 more points first so it can truly be a budget supplement instead of an excuse to buy extra health food because it’s “discounted.”

Things to keep in mind:
  1.  When doing the shop and earn rewards and it says Amazon is up to 7 Swagbucks per $1 spent, the “up to” is important. I was a little disappointed after all the things I ordered when what I purchased didn’t actually qualify for the full 7 Swagbucks/$1 special. Just keep that in mind. I didn’t have any trouble with my groupon converting easily though.
  2. Sometimes it takes forever for the points to show up as pending. And when that happens, the customer support team is ready and happy to help you, you just have to email them.

In Februrary I’m going to be better about answering the daily polls and the “No Obligation Special Offers” and setting up my phone to play the videos to earn more points at a faster rate. I don’t really have time to play the games for possible points that I used to, and they got rid of mahjong so I don’t really care for the games anymore anyway. However, if I am consistent with the videos, NOSOs, and the polls each day I will be adding a daily 39 points, plus a few bonuses here and there. That’s more than enough points for a $10 gift card every month! Add your online orders to that and it adds up!

Do you use Swagbucks? What gift card would you want if you were to consistently earn $10 a month just by searching and answering questions?

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