Healthy Meal Planning for Busy Moms

As we head into back to school time, mamas everywhere are thinking about what to pack in their kids’ lunchboxes. Some of our own CMB mamas have written awesome posts about what they’re feeding their kiddos, and I’ve taken some of their advice for my own kids when we have lunches away from home.

But, mama, what are YOU eating for lunch?

Typical lunch day at my house:

Kids eat sandwiches, fruit, veggies straws or popcorn, and drink milk or water.

Mama eats crust of one kid’s sandwich, veggie straws the toddler throws on the floor, and the “yucky” parts of the fruit. Sometimes I add in the cold coffee that has sat untouched on the counter since breakfast. By 4pm I turn into an evil dragon monster because women cannot live on bread crust and kid castoffs.

Sound familiar? The good news is that eating healthy is not complicated; it just takes a little planning and preparation. I’ll start with the easiest and cheapest:

Always in my pantry/fridge: 

  • Advocare Meal Replacement Shakes (full disclosure: I am an Advocare advisor.) This is my absolute favorite breakfast! Even when I workout early (like 5:15am early) one of these bad boys will keep me satiated until I can grab a mid-morning snack. They are full of vitamins and have a great balance of carbs and protein, so if the rest of the day goes south, at least I know my breakfast was a good one. I can fix the kids eggs, or cereal, or pancakes and not worry about being hungry or not having time to eat once I feed them
  • A quality protein powder. I like several protein powders, so I typically shop around and just find one of my faves at a good price. Right now it’s Muscle Milk via Amazon! A simple protein shake is a great snack if you’re on the go or just forgot to pack something solid.
  • PB2 or PBFit. I know, powdered peanut butter sounds weird, but trust me on this one. I can mix a bit into a protein shake, spread some on a wrap, or use it as an apple dip. These powders have less fat and the same amount of protein as traditional peanut butter and, while I’m not anti-fat, if I am snacking on nuts during the day, I try not to add fatty nut butters on top of that.
  • Tuna pouches. Tuna is an excellent source of protein and omegas, is low in fat, and these pouches are so easy to toss in your bag. I have even started mixing my tuna with cottage cheese instead of mayo for a little tuna salad (hello, protein!). Keep some crackers on-hand (I like Blue Diamond Flax Crackers) for a quick lunch or snack.
  • “Granola” bars. I hesitate to say “granola bars” because that term brings to mind the glorified candy bars in the cereal aisle. Kind Bars, RX Bars, Caveman Bars, or Luna Bars are all great options. Read those labels, make sure you can pronounce all the ingredients, and watch out for sugar. I keep some sort of bar in my purse at all times because I am frequently guilty of getting “hangry.”
  • Portable fruit. Apples, bananas, oranges, pears — anything you can grab quickly and eat with minimal prep.
  • Portable veggies. Baby carrots are my absolute favorite because they are so easy to eat on the run. Cauliflower and broccoli are also good options, and you can get them pre-sliced in the salad section at the grocery store.
  • Nuts. Right now I’m loving Thai Curry Cashews from the Fresh Market, but any sort of quality nut is fine (think: something better than those cocktail peanuts we always used to see at bridal showers).
  • Boom Chicka Pop or Skinny Pop. I’m not a monster, y’all. I know we really want a crunchy little treat and popcorn is significantly better than a bag of Doritos. Easier and less chemical-ridden than microwave popcorn, there are some awesome “light” popcorn options at the store. Just make sure you’re reading that label because not all popcorn is created equal.
  • Some sort of “bread.” Again, I’m not a monster. While super healthy sprouted grain bread is your best bet, I know first-hand that watching my kids eat the equivalent of Wonderbread while I choke down bread speckled with unidentifiable seeds is a special kind of torture. If I’m feeling super motivated, Ezekial bread is amazing. If I’m slightly motivated, I go for Flat Out wraps. If all motivation is out the window, I pick up a loaf of freshly sliced brioche and remember that putting a little tuna and cottage cheese on a slice of brioche is better than bread crust and toddler cast-offs.

These items make breakfast, lunch, and snacks super easy. You don’t even have to cook!

So what about dinner? Or if you need to take a lunch to work? Pre-cooking and portioning out your lunches and/or dinners on the weekend is the way to go.

The good news is that all you need is lean protein, veggies, portable containers, and a couple of hours in the kitchen.

Protein options:

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • Ground turkey
  • Lean ground beef
  • Tofu? I’m really at lost for this one. I like meat.

Veggies:

  • Whatever is in season! Avoid starchy veggies like white potatoes and corn — those are carb heavy and fine, but use them as a carb and not a veggie.

Carb:

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Sweet potatoes

All you have to do is cook your meat with a little seasoning and do the same with your veggies and carbs. Divide it up into containers and refrigerate. So. Easy. I keep a bottle of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” in the fridge if things start tasting a little bland. Three days in the fridge is ideal, so if you’re prepping for the week, throw a couple in the freezer. When lunch time rolls around, pop the container in the microwave while you’re fixing your kids’ pb&js and you are set!

My lunches are prepped for the week!

Truth be told, I don’t have the time or energy to do this every week, and my basic cooking gets boring after a while. Lucky for us, we live in a city that is health-conscious and options abound!

A friend recommended a Chattanooga-based company called Vibrant Meals, so I decided to try them out.

There are three basic options when you choose your meals: Weight Loss (lower calories, less food), Everyday (a portion for your average person), and Athlete (extra protein and larger portions). The weight loss portion isn’t enough food for me, but I am significantly more active than average. The everyday portion is perfect for lighter workout days, and the athlete portion is good for those days that I’m teaching a ton of classes.

The process is super simple: click on over to Vibrant Meals, make your selections, check out, and pick up your food at your selected time and location. Right now pickup is Monday and Wednesday at two locations in the North Shore, or for an extra charge you can have your meals delivered. Everything comes in a handy reusable bag, all your meals are pre-portioned, and labeled with nutrition info and reheating instructions.

There wasn’t a single meal I didn’t like, but I did find a couple of favorites (the Zoodles with Ground Turkey Marinara had me licking the container — I wish I was kidding), and they’ve added a few new items over the last couple of weeks! With these sorts of delicious options, I really have no excuses for eating junk or nothing at all.

Amazingly delicious meals that are healthy and I don’t have to cook them? Sold.

These meals will definitely cost more than prepping at home, but they are cheaper than eating out and much more delicious than anything I whip up! The lovely owners have graciously offered a 10% discount off your first order to CMB readers, so check out their site and enter “VM-CMB10” at checkout!

No matter your time constraints or budget, there is a way to make sure you are fueling your body while taking care of your little ones. Take just a little time to plan and you won’t find yourself munching on Goldfish Crackers at noon because you forgot your lunch!

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