Easy Meal Planning Tips for Single Parents
Follow these tips to simplify your dinner routine
When Andrea suggested I write a blog post on meal planning for single parents, my first thought was “I could use that help myself”! Meal planning is, in and of itself, a difficult habit, that I have yet to master. When I became a single parent, that habit became even more challenging. With the never-ending lists of things to do, very little time to yourself and the added stress of everything else going on in your life, single parents are super heroes! SERIOUSLY!
To make your life even 10% easier, I want to provide you with some strategies and tips that I use myself. I am not claiming to have everything together, but by combining my dietitian knowledge and single parenting experience I know I have a few useful tools to share!
Meal Planning Basics
Before starting to meal plan it is important to remind ourselves of the basics when it comes to balancing our plates and ensuring good nutrition. These are the 3 things that I always think about when planning a meal or snack:
The meal needs to include: Protein, fiber (generally a grain source) and color (fruit or vegetables)
With my background in sports nutrition, I tend to start with the protein. Protein does not mean you need meat, but can be a dairy or soy product, beans/legumes, eggs, nuts/seeds or meat. Grains provide a great source of fiber and help to fill us up. And colorful fruits and veggies make the plate appealing and provide vitamins and minerals!
It needs to TASTE good!
Taste is what makes eating fun but also helps to satisfy. This is how we balance eating healthfully and soulfully (in the words of the amazing Andrea!).
Adaptable to Several Meals
I am all for a gourmet meal that includes unique ingredients, I just do not have time to do this very often. I want my ingredients to work for me. I want to be able to take a food and use it multiple different times and ways.
Time Saving Strategies
Time is ever so valuable as a parent. We do want to spend a little bit of time thinking about food and nutrition but this is just one of many important areas of your life that you are responsible for. I have to admit, giving myself permission and grace to be okay with ordering take out or turning to the box of macaroni took time. When I was pregnant, I aspired to be the mom who made everything from scratch, following my nutrition textbook ideals to a T yet I quickly learned that this was not realistic.
When I became a single parent, there were days I was living hour to hour, using all the energy I had to be present. I want you to know, this is completely normal and OK! It is not what you feed yourself and your family on these days that will make or break your health; remember, it is what we do over time. We can trust our body and know that your children will likely have a better relationship with food when they see you give yourself permission rather than restricting and feeling guilty.
With all this being said, here are some time-saving strategies that have helped me:
Go to the grocery store with a list
This will not only save you time later on, but it will also save you a ton of money. You will cut down on the last-minute trips to the store to get milk or eggs that you forgot to buy earlier.
Make meals that can be used more than once
My first meal may be a simple chicken, potato and vegetable dish, but then I will double up on the chicken when cooking it so that the next night I can make chicken tacos, pita pizzas or fajitas with the leftovers. Another example is making chili with rice one night then for the next night having baked potatoes with chili, cheese and broccoli where kids can pick their toppings.
Need recipe inspiration? Try this:
Have emergency food on hand
There are always going to be the days where time ends up fast forwarding on you and by the time you feel like you can catch your breath it is already 5:30pm and your kids are whining and asking for another snack. Find a go to emergency meal that you know takes very little time and can always be in the pantry or freezer. Here are some examples:
- Macaroni and cheese– add your own grated cheese, frozen vegetables and cut up some fresh vegetables to dip into hummus on the side
- Frozen black bean burgers (or meat burgers if you prefer) with a side of raw vegetables and whole wheat bread.
- Pasta salad – I will throw in whatever vegetables I have left in the fridge, with cheese and turkey bites or hard-boiled eggs and toss in a vinaigrette.
Here are some more ideas for meals that you can have on the table in a flash:
Remember, it is not about perfection! Be kind to yourself as you learn about what is going to work best for you and your family. I still have days where we end up having smoothies and eggs for supper and that is okay. Doing the best you can with the time and money you have is enough.
Looking for more simple meal planning tips and healthy recipes for a healthier lifestyle? Sign up for our weekly newsletter for a healthy recipe of the week (and nutrition articles and videos with a balanced living philosophy to help encourage healthy habits but still save room for your favorites). Our nutrition newsletter is written by the Online / Calgary Nutritionists on our team who each hold a professional Registered Dietitian license to ensure you are getting credible advice.