Eons ago (OK, just five years) we did a post on family meal planning. In fact, it was one of the very first things we blogged about here at Mommy Poppins. But a lot's changed since then, and the rise of smartphones, social networks and a gazillion new websites gives us many new options to chew on when it comes to making meals.
You can't overestimate the importance of sitting down to family meals. Studies show that eating as a family benefits everyone, especially children, who are then less likely to become obese, fall into substance abuse or have low self-esteem. Of course preparing dinner (and breakfast and brunch and lunch) isn't always easy to pull off. Happily, there are a slew of online meal-planning sites, mobile apps and meal swapping tools to help get healthy, budget-friendly meals on your table. Here are some of our current favorites.
These online meal helpers provide weekly dinner plans complete with seasonal recipes and shopping lists. Many have special diet options, like vegetarian, gluten-free or plain old kid-friendly. There are a few free services, but most are subscriptions that charge around $10 per month, like , Six O'Clock Scramble and Relish. The two I find most helpful are:
The Fresh 20
For $10 a month, you receive a meal plan with five family-friendly dinners every Friday. Here's the cool part: Those meals are made from just 20 ingredients, which really keeps the process simple and affordable. Shopping lists include only fresh ingredients, no processed or frozen foods.
Once A Month Mom
This website is a great resource for anyone interested in "Once a Month Cooking" or "Freezer Cooking", when you set aside one day to do a ton of cooking for the rest of the month. The site provides menus, instructions and tips, grocery lists, printable labels for freezing and serving instructions starting at $10 a month. There are monthly menus for different dietary needs (even baby food), and a mini-plan for those not ready to cook all their meals in one go.
Plan your dinner on your ride home or last minute in the grocery store with handy apps you download to your smartphone. There are lots of free ones (although usually they also offer full versions you need to pay for). I've heard from friends that Martha Stewart's Everyday Food app ($.99) is good. Real Simple also has a No Time to Cook app ($5) and Cook's Illustrated has a cool sounding one that includes video instructions and a built-in timer set to the recipe. And it's free.
You can set up your own meal swap with friends by using a free online calendar and sharing organizer such as Mealbaby.com.
Many of the yummy recipes I try come from the people I follow on Pinterest. The site allows you to create a virtual pinboard of things you search and find online. Food and recipes are very popular topics, so if you're searching for new food ideas, you can certainly find them "pinned" here. Once you've got your own board, you can pin all of your online favorites there, even Mommy Poppins articles.
For more back to school meal ideas, click here.
This post originally published in January 2012.