Start meal planning with simple tips from the pros

(BPT) - Have you heard about meal planning and thought it sounded like a great idea, but think it's just too complicated for you to tackle? The truth is it's easier than you think if you know a few tips and tricks from the experts.

"Meal planning saves money, cuts stress, reduces food waste and encourages family time, all while putting nutritious foods on the table," says registered dietitian Sally Kuzemchak. "It can seem overwhelming to start, but if you follow a few simple strategies, you'll be meal planning like a pro in no time and enjoying all the benefits."

Kuzemchak is currently helping with Mission for Nutrition by philanthropically-based organization Produce for Kids. This effort encourages healthy eating habits for everyone, including nutritious foods for families of all shapes and sizes. She offers these simple meal planning tips so you can get started today:

Start slow: When you first try meal planning, start with one step you’re comfortable with and grow from there as you gain confidence. For example, try chopping up a week’s worth of produce so you’re ready for snacking and cooking. Or, buy bulk chicken and cook it all up so it’s ready for quick meals such as tacos or topping a salad.

Focus on the effective: Is there one meal you struggle with more than others? Maybe breakfasts are consistently chaotic or you know you work late every Tuesday and it’s tough to get dinner on the table. Select a meal you can make ahead for those times to feel the immediate benefits of meal planning. You’ll be proud your family is fed a nutritious meal and enjoy less stress.

Simplify shopping: To avoid overbuying as well as food spoiling, think about your meal planning before you head to the grocery store. Focus recipe selections on in-season ingredients to get the best flavor at the lowest prices.

Double favorites: No need to try complicated new recipes when beginning to meal prep. If you know your family loves a recipe, double it and eat one that day and freeze one for next week. As you expand your cooking, keep a list of family favorites that you can easily double for future meal rotations.

Use time-saving tools: Appliances like a slow cooker and food processor are great for whipping up dishes in no time. Having plenty of storage containers is key as well. From freezer bags and glassware to plastic containers with separate sections, these tools will save you time and make meal planning simpler.

Freeze smart: For freezer meals, use resealable freezer-friendly plastic bags for sauces and raw ingredients that can be thawed and used later. Aluminum pans are good for freezing whole meals like casseroles. Remember to always label and date items and keep a running list of what is in the freezer for easy reference.

Make it family fun: Kids love to help cook, and when they assist in the preparing of foods, they are more likely to try new flavors. Invite kids into the kitchen to help meal prep to hone their cooking skills. Youngsters can help wash produce and stir mixes while older kids can assist in reading recipes and measuring ingredients.

Looking for recipe inspiration to kick off your meal planning efforts? With just a few minutes of preparation, this delicious meal cooks all day in the slow cooker so you can come home to a tasty meal the whole family will love. For more recipe ideas and meal planning insight, visit www.produceforkids.com/mission-for-nutrition.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 small RealSweet sweet onions, sliced

1 pint Nature Fresh Farms TOMZ cherry tomatoes

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 package Eat Smart sweet kale salad

Directions:

Place chicken, onions and tomatoes in slow cooker.

Whisk garlic, soy sauce, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, olive oil and pepper in small bowl. Pour over chicken.

Cover slow cooker and cook on high 4 hours or low 6-8 hours.

Once done cooking, you can shred the chicken or leave as-is. It’s great to serve over rice, quinoa or cauliflower rice for a delicious dinner. To add a little more flavor, squeeze some fresh lemon over top!

Serve with salad.

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