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Published Apr 21, 2024 ⦁ 15 min read
Easy Family Meal Prep Ideas for Busy Weeknights

Easy Family Meal Prep Ideas for Busy Weeknights

Looking for easy family meal prep ideas for busy weeknights? You're in the right place! Meal prepping can save time, ensure healthy eating, and make family dinners enjoyable even on the busiest days. Here's how to get started:

  • Plan Ahead: Spend some time on weekends planning and prepping meals.
  • Involve the Family: Get everyone involved in the process for a fun and engaging activity.
  • Use Simple Ingredients: Stick to easy-to-cook grains, proteins, and veggies.
  • Batch Cook: Prepare large quantities of proteins and grains to use throughout the week.
  • Store Properly: Keep prepped meals in the fridge or freezer in airtight containers.

Whether it's making a big batch of chili for Meatless Mondays or assembling ingredients for Taco Tuesdays, these strategies can help simplify your mealtime routine. Let's dive into some specific ideas and tips to make your weeknight dinners a breeze.

Saves Time

  • Getting things like veggies cut up, rice cooked, or meat ready ahead of time means you don't have to do it every evening.
  • Putting meals together is quicker because you've got everything ready to go.
  • It's easier because you've already figured out what you're going to eat during the week.

Eat Healthier

  • Planning ahead lets you pick healthier food instead of just grabbing something quick but not so good for you.
  • You can make sure everyone gets the right amount of food by preparing individual portions.
  • Having veggies ready to use means you'll probably eat more of them.

Enjoy Family Time

  • Spending less time cooking means more time hanging out with your family.
  • Getting the kids to help with prep teaches them how to cook.
  • You get to sit down and enjoy meals together that you made with care.

More Variety

  • You can make different meals each night with prepped grains and proteins.
  • You can make sure there's something everyone likes by preparing different options.
  • It's easier to try new recipes when you don't have to start from scratch on a busy night.

Save Money

  • Buying in bulk and making several meals at once can save you money.
  • Using leftovers in new ways means less food goes to waste.
  • Making lunch with things you've already prepped saves on buying lunch out.

Prepping meals ahead of time is a smart move for families who are always running around but still want to sit down to healthy dinners. Just a little bit of prep work can make your weeknights much easier.

Getting Started with Meal Prep

Meal prepping might seem like a big task if you're new to it. Here are some simple steps to help you begin without feeling overwhelmed:

Set Aside Planning Time

  • Take 30-60 minutes over the weekend to decide what you'll eat during the week and write a shopping list. This helps you avoid buying things you don't need.
  • Look at your week ahead. Busy nights? Pick quick dinners for those evenings.
  • Ask your family what they'd like to eat. This way, everyone looks forward to meal times.

Keep the First Week Simple

  • Start with just a few easy meals. Don't stress about making lots of different dishes.
  • Choose ingredients like rice, pasta, and beans that you can use in many meals.
  • Cook extra when making favorites like chili or casseroles. Leftovers can be a lifesaver.

Get the Family Involved

  • Kids can help with easy tasks like mixing or adding ingredients. It's a good way to spend time together.
  • Older kids can take on more, like cutting veggies or even picking recipes.
  • Share the work. Maybe one person cooks while another cleans. Switch it up to keep things fair.
  • Put on some music to make the prep time more fun.

Starting slow and keeping it simple is the best way to get into meal prepping. With a little practice, it'll get easier, and soon you'll have a bunch of go-to recipes that are easy to make on busy nights.

Essential Tools and Ingredients

When you're getting ready to make meals ahead of time, having the right tools and some key ingredients can really help. This way, you can quickly put together meals on busy nights without a lot of fuss.

Helpful Tools

Here are some tools that make meal prep easier and faster:

  • Good knives - A sharp chef's knife and a smaller paring knife can make cutting veggies and meats much simpler.
  • Cutting boards - Use different boards for raw meat and for fruits or vegetables to keep things clean. You can choose between plastic (easy to clean) or wood (looks nice but needs more care).
  • Mixing bowls - You'll need these for mixing ingredients together. Bowls that fit into each other save space.
  • Measuring cups and spoons - These help you make sure you're using the right amounts of ingredients.
  • Food storage containers - To keep your prepped food fresh, use containers. Glass or BPA-free plastic ones are good choices.
  • Sheet pans and casserole dishes - These are great for making veggies or casseroles that you can heat up quickly during the week.
  • Immersion blender - This tool is handy for making smooth sauces or soups directly in the pot.
  • Slow cooker - Just put in your ingredients and let them cook slowly. It's great for making things like chicken, stews, or chili without much work.

Handy Pantry Items

Having these items in your kitchen means you can whip up a variety of meals easily:

  • Grains - Things like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat pasta are good to have for making sides or adding to salads.
  • Canned beans and tomatoes - These are useful for making quick chili, tacos, or pasta dishes. Choose options with less salt if you can.
  • Broths and stocks - These liquids add flavor to soups, stews, and other dishes. Again, lower sodium is better.
  • Herbs and spices - Simple spices like onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, cumin, and oregano can add a lot of taste to your meals.
  • Hearty greens - Greens like kale, spinach, and chard are full of nutrients and can be used fresh or frozen.
  • Oils and vinegars - Olive oil, canola oil, wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar are good for cooking and making dressings.
  • Nuts and seeds - These add crunch and nutrition to salads and pasta dishes. Try almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, or chia seeds.
  • Garlic and onions - These add flavor to almost any dish. You can buy them fresh, or get onions already chopped and frozen for convenience.

With these tools and pantry staples, you're all set to make meal prep easier. This way, you can have quick, tasty dinners ready even when you're short on time.

Family-Friendly Meal Prep Ideas

Making dinner for the family doesn't have to be a big deal if you've got some meals ready to go. These recipes are great for kids because they taste good, can be made ahead of time, and are easy to warm up.

1. Honey Sesame Chicken

Kids love this sweet and tasty chicken. You can keep it in the fridge and then serve it with rice and broccoli for a quick, healthy meal.

2. One-Pot Sausage and Sun Dried Tomato Pasta

This easy pasta dish is a hit with both kids and adults. Cook the sausage, add pasta and tomatoes, and cook until ready. It's also easy to clean up afterward.

3. Easy Crock Pot Sloppy Joes

Kids always enjoy sloppy joes. With this slow cooker recipe, you can make the meat ahead of time and just warm it up to put on buns for a quick dinner or lunch.

4. 20-Minute Tuscan Pasta


This quick meal uses store-bought pesto and can be ready in under 20 minutes. It's great for those super busy days.

5. Pesto Chicken Pizza Rolls

Kids can have fun helping to make these pizza rolls. They're easy to eat with your hands, and making them is a breeze.

6. Hawaiian Sweet Roll Sliders

These mini sandwiches are great for a snack after school or a fast dinner. Kids enjoy making their own sliders.


Thematic Meal Prep Ideas

Having special dinner themes for each night can make mealtime more fun and help you plan ahead. Here are some ideas for themed nights that can make meal prep easier and more exciting:

Meatless Mondays

Eating no meat once a week is good for you and the Earth. Here are some easy meat-free meals:

  • Veggie chili - Cook a big pot on the weekend, and you have a quick dinner ready for Monday. Add cheese and cornbread on the side.
  • Eggplant or mushroom Parmesan - Prep the veggies by breading and frying them ahead of time. On Monday, just add sauce and cheese and bake.
  • Bean and cheese quesadillas - Have beans cooked and cheese shredded so you can quickly make and cook the quesadillas.
  • Pasta primavera - Cut up vegetables in advance so you can quickly toss them with pasta for a fresh meal.

Taco Tuesdays

Create a taco bar with prepped ingredients so everyone can make their own tacos:

  • Shredded chicken - Cook a lot of chicken in the slow cooker to use in tacos during the week.
  • Beef barbacoa - Cook chuck roast in a tasty sauce until it's easy to shred for taco meat.
  • Spiced black beans - Make canned beans tastier by cooking them with onions, garlic, and spices. Great for filling tacos.
  • Chopped veggies - Prepare lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and lime in advance for easy taco toppings.

Breakfast for Dinner Wednesdays

Prep breakfast foods to enjoy for dinner, like:

  • Scrambled egg muffins - Mix eggs and milk, add veggies and cheese, and bake in muffin tins. Easy to heat up when you want them.
  • Pre-cooked sausage and bacon - Cook lots at the start of the week to use in meals later.
  • Overnight oatmeal - Put together oats, milk, yogurt, and fruit the night before for a quick breakfast.

Choosing weekly themes can help you prep important ingredients ahead of time. It also makes everyone excited to come together for quick, healthy family dinners.

Tips for Efficient Meal Prep

Meal prepping can make your life a lot easier during busy weeks, but it helps to have a plan. Here are some straightforward tips to make meal prep quicker and more effective:

Batch Cook Proteins and Grains

  • Cook lots of chicken, beef, beans, quinoa, or rice at once. Then, divide them into portions and put them in the fridge or freezer.
  • Boil a bunch of eggs at the same time. They're great for a quick snack or to add to salads.

Prep Produce in Advance

  • Get your fruits and veggies ready by washing, cutting, and storing them. This way, they're all set to add to any meal.

Make Use of Your Freezer

  • Your freezer is great for storing pre-portioned meats, cooked grains, cut-up fruits and veggies, and even meals like casseroles or soups. Just thaw and heat them up when you're ready.
  • Soups and chilis freeze really well and are easy to reheat for a quick dinner.

Cook Once, Eat Twice

  • Make extra when you're cooking dinner, and save the leftovers. This works great for dishes like casseroles and lasagnas.

Prep Ingredients, Not Full Meals

  • It's easier to mix and match meals during the week if you have ingredients ready to go instead of full meals.

By planning your meal prep, you can make sure your family enjoys healthy dinners without spending too much time in the kitchen.

Storing and Reheating Meals

Keeping your meals safe and tasty after you've prepped them means storing and warming them up the right way. Here's how to do it without fuss.

Use Proper Storage Containers

  • Choose glass or BPA-free plastic boxes with lids that fit snugly. These keep your food fresh and don't let any bad stuff get into your food.
  • Check that your containers can go in the microwave if you plan to reheat food in them.
  • Write what's inside and the date on your containers. This helps you remember how long they've been in the fridge or freezer.

Store at Correct Temperatures

  • Put things like meat, dairy, and cut fruits and veggies in the fridge set at 40°F or cooler.
  • For the freezer, keep meats, cooked grains, or full meals at 0°F.
  • Make sure there's enough space for air to move around in your fridge or freezer.

Follow Food Safety Rules

  • Throw away fridge leftovers after 3-4 days.
  • In the freezer, cooked meats and casseroles last up to 6 months; fruits and veggies can go 8-12 months.
  • Always thaw frozen food in the fridge, not on the counter.
  • Heat food to 165°F inside to make sure it's safe to eat.

Reheat Mindfully

  • Use the oven or toaster oven for things that should stay crispy. Heat at 350°F until warm.
  • When microwaving liquids, do it on a lower setting and stir now and then.
  • Put a wet paper towel over food in the microwave to keep it moist.
  • Add a bit of broth or water to rice and pasta when reheating them.

By storing and reheating your meals right, you make sure they stay good to eat. This way, you can quickly serve healthy dinners to your family, even when you're all rushed.


Meal prep might seem like a big task, especially when you're busy with work and family. But, with a little planning and some simple steps, you can make sure your family has healthy, homemade meals all week without too much stress.

Start with something easy. Pick a couple of simple meals to prepare on the weekend. Get your kids to help out so they can learn to cook and enjoy being part of mealtime. Prep basics like grains and proteins ahead of time to make putting together a quick dinner during the week easier. And remember, it's okay to use shortcuts, like pre-cut veggies or canned beans, to save time.

As you get used to meal prepping, you can try more recipes, prepare a wider variety of foods, and cook extra for leftovers. The more you practice, the faster and better you'll get at it. Soon, you'll have a list of favorite meals and prepped ingredients that make cooking a quick and healthy dinner easy, even on busy nights.

In short, spending a bit of time on the weekend to get ready for the week makes a big difference. It helps make dinner time during the week quicker, healthier, and easier for everyone. So, give meal prep a try this weekend. You'll be thankful you did when you find yourself with more time and less stress on busy weeknights.## Related Questions

How do you meal prep for a busy family?

Here are 5 simple steps to get meal prep done for a busy family:

  • Shop for groceries on a different day than you prep to take advantage of sales and seasonal items.
  • Use the same ingredients in different meals. For example, chicken can go into salads, sandwiches, and pasta.
  • Make a plan so everyone eats the same thing or uses most of the same ingredients. This helps if someone has food allergies.
  • Keep chopped ingredients and meals in tight-sealing containers in the fridge or freezer.
  • Warm up meals on the stove instead of the microwave to keep them tasting better.

How do you meal prep on a busy schedule?

Here are 6 tips for meal prepping when you're really busy:

  1. Start simple - focus on prepping key ingredients instead of planning every meal.
  2. Cook ingredients like chicken or beans that you can use in many dishes.
  3. Chop veggies and cook grains and proteins ahead of time.
  4. Have basics like oils, spices, and canned goods ready in your pantry.
  5. Freeze ingredients in portions for easy use later.
  6. Do what fits your time - any prep is better than none!

How do I plan a weekly menu for my family?

Follow these steps to plan your family's weekly menu:

  1. Keep a list of meals your family likes and add new ones you find.
  2. Make a menu for 2 weeks with breakfast, lunch, and dinner options.
  3. Offer different choices for meals to keep everyone happy.
  4. Plan meals that use some of the same ingredients to make shopping easier.
  5. Share meal planning with family members based on who's available.

How do you simplify weeknight dinners?

Here are 5 ways to make weeknight dinners easier:

  1. Cook meals in one pot like soups or casseroles to cut down on cleaning.
  2. Eat more meals with veggies and beans - they're quick to prepare.
  3. Set a schedule for who cooks on which night.
  4. Prep proteins and veggies on the weekend to use throughout the week.
  5. Keep an easy meal in the freezer for really busy nights.

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