7 Meal-Planning Tips for the Busy School Season

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We’ve teamed up with Albertsons Companies to share our top grocery-shopping tips and tricks to get you through the busy school season—and beyond. Up first: smart ideas for simplifying breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between with help from FreshPass™, a handy grocery subscription program with perks like unlimited free delivery, a $5 monthly credit for annual subscribers, and a VIP customer service line you can reach any time. Want to give it a test run? Start your free 30-day trial right here.


The start of September always brings with it an element of excitement—and busy schedules. There’s the changing seasons, anticipation of the holidays to come, and for parents, it means that school is fully in swing. With the uncertainty of the last year and a half, this normally hectic time has an added layer of stress. The one thing that doesn’t have to be? Meal time.

Streamline your cooking routine—all while pulling together delicious, satisfying dishes the whole family will want to eat—with a few of these handy tips and tricks.

Photo by Rocky Luten

1. Give Grocery Delivery a Try

I’ve been a huge proponent of grocery delivery since my first job in a test kitchen. There were many days when there were just too many groceries for me to carry, and it wasn’t feasible to get everything I needed in a single trip. Having groceries delivered allowed me the ability to get more important tasks done, and to plan my week more effectively. Since then, I’ve incorporated grocery delivery into a regular part of my week. I like to use the FreshPass™ subscription program, which gives you unlimited free delivery (in as little as two hours in most areas, no less), an option to DriveUp & Go™ (aka have your groceries dropped off to your car), plus exclusive savings—all of which adds up to more time to get things done and money saved.

2. Make a Grocery Plan—But First, Take Stock of Your Pantry

Before getting started with a weekly grocery plan, do a pantry inventory to see what you already have on hand. Running low on olive oil, or only have one can of tuna left? This is the time to stock up on pantry essentials. Think about ingredients that are regularly used and can transform into more than one meal throughout the day, like oats, canned beans, nut butters, frozen berries, pasta, and whole grains.

3. Assess Your Storage Container Situation

While you’re scouring the pantry, don’t forget to take a look at your storage situation. What good is meal planning without storage, right? Twice a year I go through my storage container selection and make sure I have plenty of sets. I opt for glass, dishwasher-friendly containers in a variety of different sizes—not only are they a cinch to clean, but you can use them over and over again without tossing a single thing in the trash.

4. Load Up on Breakfast Essentials

We all know breakfast is the most important meal of the day—especially for kids—so lean into the perks of grocery delivery and plan on getting a variety of easy breakfast options like cereal, oats, and whole-grain waffles. It takes a little extra planning, but taking a few hours out of a Sunday to make a batch of freezer breakfast burritos or prepping overnight oats makes a huge difference in making busy mornings a little easier on the whole family.

5. Don’t Forget the Snacks

Any pro meal planner knows you’ve got to think beyond the standard three meals a day. While options like fresh fruit are always great to have on hand, this is the time to stock up on great non-perishable snacks like apple sauce, snack bars, trail mix, and various types of crackers. With a FreshPass™ subscription, you get 5% off O Organics® and Open Nature® products, making it even easier to buy family-friendly options in bulk (I always try to buy non-perishables in bulk when possible since it’s more cost-effective and ensures you never run out of options).

6. Keep Plenty of Condiments and Spreads On-Hand

There’s a good chance you already have the trio of mustard, mayo, and ketchup (classic kid favorites), but if you want to take your meal prep to the next level, start experimenting with other options. I love keeping a selection of hot sauce, chili crisp, Sriracha, teriyaki, ranch, and even salsa in my fridge to take meals in whatever direction I’m feeling. Grilled chicken becomes more exciting with a side of BBQ sauce, raw veggies are oh-so snack-able dunked in hummus, and I love having peanut sauce to twirl into soba noodles for a quick weeknight dinner (it also makes great leftovers).

7. Put Your Freezer to Work

While meal planning does take some foresight, there’s nothing better than not having to think about what you’re going to make for dinner (or lunch or breakfast). When looking for recipes to meal-prep, I think about making sure there’s a balance between choosing dishes I’ll be genuinely excited to eat weeks—even months—down the line and ones that are hearty and satisfying. Here are a couple of freezer-ready dinner recipes I like to keep in my regular rotation during the fall:

Pesto

Make the most of the last basil of the season by prepping big batches of pesto. You can, of course, twirl it with pasta, but you can also save it as a spread for sandwiches, spoon it over baked salmon, or even use it as a dip alongside some fresh-cut veggies. You can freeze it in an old ice-cube tray so you always have a tablespoon or two at the ready (without having to defrost a whole batch).

Ingredients to order: basil, pine nuts, salt, olive oil, garlic, Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano

Lentil & Sausage Soup with Kale

When the weather cools down, there’s nothing more comforting to me than lentil soup. This version is loaded with chicken sausage and kale, but you can swap in your favorite sausage and just about any hearty green. I like freezing batches of the soup in 32-ounce containers and transferring one to the fridge the morning I plan to eat it for dinner (it’ll be defrosted and ready to heat come evening).

Ingredients to order: olive oil, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, salt, green lentils, canned tomatoes, thyme, rosemary, chicken sausage, kale

Crockpot Beef Stew

Perhaps the greatest gift to meal preppers was the invention of the slow cooker. On Sunday mornings, I’ll just throw everything in the slow cooker and by dinnertime there’s a hearty beef stew on the table. I like to double—or even triple—the recipe so I can freeze the leftovers for those nights when I don’t feel like cooking.

Ingredients to order: beef chuck roast, salt, pepper, flour, olive oil, carrots, celery, pearl onions, garlic, cremini mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce, beef broth, parsley, rice, potatoes

Greek Chicken Meatballs

Mix up your usual meatballs with this Greek-inspired, chicken-based recipe. Meatballs are so versatile since you can pack them up for lunch or freeze a big batch. Serve them with pita, orzo, rice, roast vegetables—the possibilities are endless.

Ingredients to order: cooking spray, garlic, eggs, white onion, panko bread crumbs, dried oregano, dried mint, salt, ground chicken, yogurt, parsley, dill, black pepper

Chicken Fingers

Who doesn’t love chicken nuggets? This kid-friendly meal is equally exciting for adults. By making them yourself, you can ensure exactly what goes into them (in this case, only a handful of ingredients), and freeze any leftovers for later in the week.

Ingredients to order: flour, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, fresh oregano, eggs, vegetable oil, butter, boneless, skinless chicken thighs



What are your top meal-prep tips for the busy school season? Tell us in the comments below!

This school year, we’re simplifying our cooking routine with FreshPass™—a grocery delivery subscription program with sweet bonuses like unlimited free delivery, monthly exclusive Starbucks® perks, rewards that don’t expire, plus 5% savings on O Organics® and Open Nature® products. Ready to get started? Find your nearest store and sign up for a free 30-day trial here.



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