With Four Little Kids, Meal-Planning Is a Necessity

©. Jennifer H. (used with permission)

One busy mom explains how planning takes the stress out of what to make on weeknights, saves money, and wastes less food.

Welcome to the latest post in TreeHugger's series, "How to feed a family." Every week we talk to a different person about how they approach the never-ending challenge of feeding themselves and other household members. We get the inside scoop on how they grocery shop, meal plan, and food prep to make it go more smoothly.

Parents work so hard to feed their children and themselves, to put healthy meals on the table, to avoid spending a fortune at the grocery store, and to fit it all around busy work and school schedules. It's a feat worthy of more praise than it commonly gets, which is why we want to highlight it – and hopefully learn from it in the process. This week's conversation is with Jennifer, a naturopathic doctor with four young kids. She plans five dinners per week, with room for leftovers.

Names: Jennifer & Steve, kids Ewan (10), Cayden (6), Ivy (5), Crosby (18 months)

Location: Saugeen Shores, Ontario, Canada

Employment: Jennifer is a Naturopathic Doctor (part-time), online FASTer Way to Fat Loss coach (nutrition and exercise program), and Stella & Dot stylist (sells accessories and clothing). Steve is the owner of Dennison Homes (custom home building company) and Bruce County Custom Cabinetry.

Weekly grocery budget: CDN$200 (US$150) but it's hard to say because we buy our meat in bulk from the local butcher, so maybe a bit less.

Jenn's family

© Jennifer H. (used with permission)

1. What's a favourite or commonly prepared meal in your house?

Tacos (there is something for everyone to like), one-pan bakes (meat and roasted veggies), gluten-free pasta with meat sauce or pesto (to keep everyone happy)

2. How would you describe your diet?


3. How often do you shop for groceries?

Once a week. I meal plan, and then make my grocery list after looking at what is in the pantry, fridge and freezer. There are so many things we buy every week. Bananas, apples, strawberries, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, goat milk, Balkan yogurt are all staples.

4. What does your grocery shopping routine look like?

Answered above :) My most frequent shopping companion is our 18-month-old. My husband and I are at a divide-and-conquer stage for household chores. We don’t buy a lot of packaged food, and mostly shop the outside of the grocery store.

5. Do you meal plan?

Yes, I truly believe that success is in the planning! It makes it easier to spend less money on groceries, waste less food, and takes the stress out of what to make on busy weeknights. I usually pick 5 dinners and plan to make enough to eat leftovers for my lunch. I select one thing to bake to put in the kids’ lunches.

I practice carb-cycling with my workouts, so I pick one low carb breakfast for myself (usually egg-based) to have 2 days a week, and a regular/low macro breakfast (often overnight oats) for the other 5 days. I write all of these meals on a whiteboard on our fridge, and then select what we are going to have the night before so that meat can be defrosted (if required). That way it’s easy to remember what we have food left for.

various meals

© Jennifer H. (used with permission)

6. How much time do you spend cooking each day?

Hard to say – I try to meal prep on the weekends, and spend a couple hours one afternoon making the baked good for the week, a soup (or something else that can be made ahead of time), chopping raw veggies, and washing fruit (if applicable). During the week, it takes about an hour to make dinner and the next day’s lunches, less if we are defrosting something or using up leftovers.

The three older kids help out. We rotate weekly having them help make dinner, lunches, or setting the table (even our littlest likes to help with the last one!). It helps them take ownership in food prep, and makes them more likely to eat without complaining (although it still does happen).

Ivy cooking

© Jennifer H. (used with permission)

7. How do you handle leftovers?

I really dislike wasting food, so I am very creative with leftovers. Usually I have leftover dinner for lunch. Anything else gets mixed into another night’s dinner (i.e. roasted veggies into soups or stir fries).

8. How many dinners per week do you cook at home vs. eat out or take out?

We eat at home most nights. We eat out maybe 2 times a month.

various meals2

© Jennifer H. (used with permission)

9. What are the biggest challenges in feeding yourself and your family?

I really enjoy planning, shopping and making healthy food for myself and my family, and getting them involved in it. The biggest challenge is making food that everyone enjoys, and picking meals that fit the time constraints of the evening.

10. Any other information you’d like to add?

I personally practice intermittent fasting, carb cycling and macro counting, but I don’t make separate meals for me and my family. I adapt what we are eating, so if we have tacos on a low carb day, I will make a taco salad instead of having a wrap and I save pasta for regular carb days, etc. Everyone has to eat the same meal, but I will let the kids use up leftover meals in the fridge, and there are always raw veggies and hummus on the table if someone doesn’t like the cooked veggies. Meal times are often loud and a little crazy, but we really value sitting down together to enjoy the food that we have created.


© Jennifer H. (used with permission)

We want to hear from YOU! Please get in touch if you'd like to answer these same questions about your family's meal-prepping and grocery shopping habits. Even if you don't feel like you have it all together, that's OK. We're striving for a glimpse into different households and how everyone does feeds themselves. Send us a message on Instagram. For more stories in this series, see How to feed a family.