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Plan and Prepare Healthier Meals

Involve the kids in family meal prep.


Getting a meal on the table at night can be a challenge, and you are more likely to look for short cuts. For some it is the difference between picking up meals at a drive-thru or prepared dishes from the grocery store deli section that saves you time.

On the downside of that, food that is more convenient, or less time-consuming, tends also to be more expensive. An example might be an already prepared container of pineapple versus a whole pineapple you have to prepare yourself. When you prepare it yourself, you are getting more pineapple for less money than with the prepared version.

Restaurant foods generally have lower nutritional quality and higher calories than grocery store foods. The same could be said for prepared foods from grocery stores when compared to home-prepared dishes. Spending on convenience foods, either from restaurants or grocery stores, can be bad for your diet.

A few steps can help you make easy, healthy family meals. Find time to plan and prepare healthier meals without resorting to take out.

Plan your family meals. Think about meals, snacks, and beverages you will serve throughout the week. Make a list of foods you need to prepare and keep the list in a wallet, purse, or on your mobile phone. Focus your budget on foods that are healthier for your family, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy, and protein foods.

Use your shopping list. Review coupons and sales to find less expensive foods. Look in newspapers or weekly store flyers to find sales for foods that you need. Sign up for email alerts to your area stores.

Join a store’s bonus or reward card program to receive more savings. Many have apps that will send you free items and discounted items straight to your phone. I do this with a store in our area and get free items frequently.

Choose foods that cost less all year long. Beans and eggs are low-cost healthy protein foods. Frozen vegetables like spinach and green beans are also low-cost options.

Stock your kitchen. Select foods that you can make and serve quickly on busy days. Think canned beans and fish, canned low-sodium vegetables or soups, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, and quick-cooking oats.

Store fresh foods right away to keep them fresh longer. Use fresh fruits, vegetables, and milk quickly to prevent them from spoiling.

Buy fruits and vegetables in season. Some fruits and vegetables, such as peaches or corn, are cheaper when you buy them in season. Look for sales in the grocery store and the farmers market for cheaper choices. The farmers market should be opening soon!

Prepare for the upcoming week. Make meals on the weekends when you have more time. Prepare extra and freeze some meals to use later in the week.

If your budget allows, look for shortcuts. Grated, chopped, or pre-washed foods cost more but save time in the kitchen. Look for sales on easy to prepare foods such as frozen veggies or mixed salads.

Prepare a meal that kids and adults will both enjoy. Don’t be a short order cook. If your child likes plain vegetables, meat, rice, or noodles, set some aside before you add other ingredients.

It’s ok to not cook every day. Serve no-cook meals. Make simple meals like salads with canned tuna and beans or cold sandwiches with lean meats and sliced vegetables.

I enjoy cooking and try to cook when I have more time. On the weekends, make soups, stews, or casseroles. Cook larger amounts of lean ground beef or turkey and use some for chili or spaghetti later in the week. Freeze some of your meals for hectic days.

Weeknights are not when you need to be a gourmet cook. Look for recipes with fewer ingredients that can be prepared quickly.

If you have kids at home, involve them in family meals. Let them help with washing fruits, choosing the veggies, setting the table, or measuring foods. Older kids can start dinner for you. It is ok to expect them to help; they are part of the family too. On busy weekdays, give everyone a task to help you get dinner on the table.

For more information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse. We're online at, on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at

By Carla Due
County Extension Agent - FCS
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Carla Due
County Extension Agent - FCS
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
400 Laurel Street, Suite 215 Texarkana AR 71854
(870) 779-3609


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