Sunny days bring beautiful fresh produce, the ripest berries, and the lushest greens, but it also brings days spent out exploring beaches and trails and not spent grocery shopping. So how do you make sure you and your family eat healthy while on the go? Especially during those gloriously unstructured lazy summer days? We spoke with food and nutrition expert, Patricia Chuey, to get her take on meal planning during the summer months. Arm yourself with her helpful tips, get planning and head out to the Farmers’ Market. Make sure you try her delicious crepe recipe too, it’s a real kid-pleaser!
yoyomama: Why is meal planning important?
Patricia Chuey: Meal planning helps in sticking to a food budget, reducing food waste, and ensuring a good, smart supply of food is on hand for the family each week. It also saves time. Even if you pre-plan just roughly 2-3 dinners that you’d like to have that week, it reduces that stressful time of the day when you have to ask the question “what should we have to eat tonight?” A couple of well-planned meals also typically results in some great leftovers that can be used in lunches or a secondary dinner the next night.
yymm: Are there any common mistakes people make when starting to meal plan?
PC: I don’t recommend laying out a detailed menu plan including breakfast, lunch, dinners, and snacks for the entire week or month as this is difficult to stick to. What tends to work very well for families is to keep a master list of lunch and dinner ideas on the fridge or counter – meals you know everyone likes. When struggling to think of what to include on your meal plan, you can refer to this list for inspiration.
yymm: What are your top tips for meal planning over the summer months, when schedules aren’t always as structured as the school year?
PC: Here are three easy things you can do for summer meal planning success:
- Plan to do one big grocery shop each week for the main items on your list and then head to the market for fresh fruit and vegetables once or twice in the week. That way you won’t be eating soggy strawberries or limp lettuce come the end of the week.
- Make big batches of vegetable-based meals, fruit salads, veggies and dip, even something like pancakes topped with fresh berries or crepes wrapped around fresh greens and mushrooms – all of these keep well for 3-4 days in the fridge making subsequent meal prep easier. Well-balanced pasta salads are great made in bulk and can last for 3-4 days in the fridge. Ensure there are more veggies than pasta in it and that it includes protein like chickpeas or lentils.
- When using the BBQ for steak, chicken, fish, or other meat, cook extra as leftovers can be kept in the fridge for a few days, chopped and added to salads and wraps for easy eating with minimal prep.
yymm: We are often out of the house with the kids over the summer, how can we make sure we are all eating well when we aren’t at home in our kitchen?
PC: You should invest in good coolers and ice packs so you can pack what you can to avoid relying on purchasing food at events. Remember to leave the house on a full stomach after a well-balanced breakfast, and pack good quality snacks in your cooler, such as: cut up watermelon chunks with the core removed, fresh garden carrots, cubes of ham and cheese, homemade mini muffins, boiled eggs, good quality or homemade trail mix, granola bars, pre-washed grapes, cherries, apricots or other seasonal fruit and veggies. These are all great options and having them on hand will stop the impromptu stop at the drive thru.
yymm: How can families get the most out of in season fresh produce?
PC: Make a fun event out of visiting a local Farmers’ Market. Get your kids to pick out a fruit or vegetable to include in dinner. Grow what you can, even if you just have space on your balcony, try growing cherry tomatoes. You’ll find you reach for them more if they are right outside your door. And take your kids to a U-pick berry farm. They’ll have a blast learning how blueberries grow and you’ll have bushels of fresh fruit to snack on in the coming week.
yymm: Do you have any final tips on meal planning and healthy eating over the summer?
PC: Just a few last tips to add:
- Food is fuel and summer is an active, outdoorsy time. Don’t get so busy hiking, swimming, waterpark playing, that you forget to eat enough
- Encourage good hydration, make sure to pack reusable water bottles whenever you leave the house
- Stock up on the nutritious, locally grown fruits and veggies and freeze while you can for later use in the fall and winter months when this is less available and more expensive
- Be portion-wise when enjoying the many sugar-laden classic treats of summer like ice cream cones, frozen drinks, popsicles, cotton candy,
It’s always great to have some simple, family-friendly recipes with creative ways to use fresh fruits and vegetables on hand. Patricia’s Flaxseed Crepe Brunch Bar recipe is one of her tried, tested and true recipes that she recommends for busy, on-the-go families looking for healthy, nutrition and in-season meal ideas.
As Patricia mentioned, one of the benefits of meal planning is less food waste. If you are only buying what you plan to eat in the week, less food ends up in the garbage – and that’s a good thing! If you’d like to learn more about lessening your food waste, check out Metro Vancouver’s Love Food Hate Waste program, it’s full of great meal planning tips, tricks as well as delicious recipes.
We hope you found Patricia’s tips as helpful as we did. If you are looking for more great meal ideas, we’ve got you covered:
By: Michelle Hughes