Even though the school year is finished, we know that the plans and activities don't end there- so why let your routine slip away with the start of summer? Meal planning can be an important tool and a way of assuring your family gets a fresh and healthy meal each day when schedules get busy.

Start your summer off on the healthy track and resolve to tackle and conquer meal planning once and for all. Save your family money, time, and stress with these easy tips to get you started.

1. Examine your family's weekly routine and be realistic.
Plan your meals around your schedule- on the nights where you are at home and have more time, plan to cook a meal. Barely at home in the evening? Make use of leftovers or buy ingredients for a quick meal, like veggie burgers or sandwiches.

2. Start small
Practice meal planning for 3-4 meals during the week and work your way up. Make a list of your family's favorite go-to meals, such as spaghetti and meatballs, turkey tacos, baked chicken or fish and start your meal planning with their favorites. Experiment with different recipes or ideas when time allows for the week.

3. Make a list…and check it twice.
Using a shopping list may seem like a no brainer, but how many times have you run into the store thinking you know what you need to get for a meal, only come to find out you forgot to buy the main ingredient? Creating a shopping list can help you organize your weekly meals and prevent those impulse buys, saving you money at the store. Organize your list by food group to help you see what you need. Before you leave, check your cabinets and the fridge to see what ingredients you can use up before they go bad.

4. Shop, prep, and even cook ahead of time.
Use the weekend to food shop and prep a few meals all at once to save time throughout the week. Bake or grill chicken breasts for dinners or even lunches. Make a large salad for the next day or two, and seal in an airtight container for freshness. Bonus tip: Wash, cut, and prepare fruits and veggies ahead of time to encourage healthful snacking. Fruits such as pineapple or melon keep well throughout the week, as do carrot and celery sticks.

5. Plan for leftovers
Turn your family into leftover lovers. Whether it's using leftover chicken from dinner in a wrap or over salad the next day for lunch, meal planning can help you make use of extras while saving you time and energy on a busy night. Food safety tip: Most leftovers will keep safely for 3-4 days. Past that, it's time to throw them out to prevent foodborne illness.

Try out this weekly menu that uses key ingredients in different meals and makes maximum use of leftovers.

Weekly Menu

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