Coming up with well-balanced, nutritious weeknight dinners for your family does not have to take a lot of time or be boring and bland. These tips will help you to create a weeknight menu full of nutritious meals that are quick, easy, and delicious. I’ve also included a FREE sample printable Weeknight Clean Eating Menu with some of my most popular recipes from the blog.
How many times have you found yourself spinning your wheels at 5:00 pm trying to come up with a healthy dinner plan for your family? Or maybe you came up with a last-minute plan and discovered that you were missing half of the ingredients you thought you had on hand. Despite your best efforts, you end up in the nearest drive-thru window feeling defeated and guilty.
Today I’m going to help you put an end to the dinner time dash with my tried-and-true tips for planning well-balanced nutrient-dense meal plans for your family!
What Does A Well-Balanced Meal Look Like?
Non-Starchy Veggies + Whole Grains/Starch Veggies + Protein + Healthy Fats = Well-Balanced Meal.
Aim for 1/2 of your meal to contain non-starchy veggies and fruit. The other half of your meal should consist of about 1/4 whole grains/starchy veggies and 1/4 protein, along with a small amount of healthy fats. I’ve included some examples for each category.
Non-Starchy Vegetables – salad greens, broccoli, cauliflower, all varieties of peppers, onions, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, zucchini
Whole Grains/Starchy Vegetables – barley, quinoa, brown rice, bulgur, millet, oats, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, peas, corn, beets
Proteins – meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds
Healthy Fats – unrefined oils, grass-fed butter, avocado, nuts, seeds, fatty fish
This is a guide and the formula I follow when I’m coming up with meals for my family. When creating my weekly menu, I try to include as many plants in each meal as possible. Eating the RAINBOW is so important for getting a wide variety of nutrients into our bodies throughout the week.
I’m not about measuring everything, but I try to include all of the components of the formula in most meals. You have to do what works best for you and your family. Making small changes over time instead of overhauling everything at once will create sustainability and be much less overwhelming.
6 Tips for Creating Well-Balanced Family Meal Plans
Coming up with healthy menus/meal plans for busy weeknights can be overwhelming, especially if you are just starting out. I encourage my clients to start with planning 2-3 meals per week for the first few weeks.
1. Use What You Already Have – Check your fridge for produce and leftovers and plan meals around what you already have on hand.
2. Eat What’s in Season – Choose recipes that include seasonal produce. Foods grown and consumed when they are in season have more nutrients and taste better. This is because they are harvested at the peak of ripeness. It’s also less expensive because seasonal produce is more abundant. Check out the Seasonal Food Guide website to see what’s in season in your area.
3. Keep it Simple – Creating well-balanced meal plans does not have to be complicated. Slow cooker, Instant Pot, and sheet pan meals are so easy to put together and require very little cleanup. They are also a great way to get in a variety of veggies.
You do not have to make multiple meals to please all of the palates in your family, nor should you. Make one meal and be sure to serve at least one thing you know your selective eaters will eat. My Small Steps to Big Nutrition course has a Fueling Your Family section that covers this topic. You can also read this post my daughter wrote for tips on how she tackles cooking without making multiple meals.
4. Cook Once, Eat Twice! This is my favorite tip! If you are already cooking, you might as well double it! Double a recipe for another meal in the same week or freeze a portion for another time. You can also double things like ground beef and use a portion for tacos one night and slow cooker chili another night. A whole chicken cooked in the slow cooker or instant pot can be used for multiple dishes like soup, salads, paninis, pizza, and/or tacos.
5. Theme Nights – One of the easiest ways to come up with a variety of easy meals is to assign each night a theme. This post contains 20 theme night dinner ideas with recipes.
6. Get the Family Involved – Have your kids help plan, shop, and cook. Kids are more likely to eat a meal if they take part in it. Getting them involved will ease your workload and teach them important life skills.
When my kids were growing up, they took turns planning one of our weekly meals. They were in charge of coming up with the menu, shopping for the ingredients, and cooking the meal. We of course, helped when they were little, but as they got older they needed less and less assistance. They are all grown up and all three of them are excellent cooks.
Once you have your plan and you’ve done your shopping, I highly recommend doing a little prep on the weekend. You can check out my Meal Prep Like a Boss post for all of my tips on meal prep.
Free Clean Eating Weeknight Menu
I created this Clean Eating Weeknight Menu to help you on your journey to building your own healthy weeknight meal plans.
This plan includes:
- 5 Main Dinner Recipes
- Suggestions for Side Dishes and Bonus Recipes
- Shopping List
- Meal Prep Suggestions
- Menu Planning Tips
- Meal Planning Checklist
By using some of the ideas and tips found in this menu plan and post, you will eliminate the 5:00 pm chaos and guilt and create your own yummy, nutritious weeknight menus in no time.