Fall. I sure do love fall but it means a lot more weeknight and weekend commitments hit my calendar (hello sports). This time of year it's helpful to rely on strategies and habits that will help you to be successful regardless of the level of chaos on your calendar!
Have a plan without sticking to a meal plan. Make a list of the meals you will cook during the week. You can assign nights but be flexible. Rarely do my meals occur on the nights I think they will but because I've got everything on hand to make them changing the order is easy! If you're not in the mood for something one night you have the chance to switch gears while staying on track.
Keep it simple. Don't make the busiest time of year when you start experimenting with new recipes and cooking different dishes. Stick to meals you and your family enjoy, that are easy to prep, and that keep well as leftovers (or better yet can be batch cooked...see number 7). I tend to opt for main protein, a carb dense side (rice/pasta/beans/grains/potatoes) and lots of veggies. That way I can combine those components into a "dish" or serve them separately. Simple for the win.
Take shortcuts from the store. Think pre-cut and washed fresh veggies from the produce department. Frozen veggies and fruit are picked at the height of ripeness and flash frozen, so they're great (and affordable) options to have on hand. If you go with canned just make sure what you choose is canned in water. I always have frozen and canned options on hand so if I run out fresh produce I still have options!
Stock up on pantry essentials. In my family these are rice, pasta, tomato sauce, canned beans, corn, green beans, and carrots, canned tomatoes, taco seasoning, packet gravy mixes, and canned fruit in water. I also always have sauces/marinades/seasonings in my pantry! That way if something falls apart you can still make a dish work and eat at home.
Chop everything at once. When you get home from the store chop up all the veggies for your week. Keep them in ziplock bags or glass containers and just pull from them for recipes and snacks as needed. Note that if you need a certain amount for recipes you should keep them separate so they don't disappear on you! But if it's chopped and ready to go it'll save you time on weeknights and you'll have healthy snack options ready to go.
Prep ingredients in advance. By prep I mean cook or at least get ready to cook. If that means pounding out chicken, do it and keep it in a ziplock to throw on the grill. If you can pre-cook proteins or carbs (like rice/pasta/grains/potatoes) and then reheat, do that so you save even more time on weeknights! It also makes deviating from the plan more difficult because you've already got things ready to go.
Batch cook and freeze. This is a huge time saver! If you're putting together a casserole or soup make extra and throw it in the freezer! It's nearly as easy to make one dish of something as it is to double it, and then you have dinner ready to go for another week. The easiest way to thaw is to fill the sink with cold water and set the frozen dish in for a few hours. Batch cooking is super helpful!
Prep breakfast the night before. There's something to be said about getting started on the right food. So whatever you can do to set yourself up for a successful start to the day, do it! Program the coffee maker and put together some overnight oats or set out a breakfast sandwich from the freezer. Have a plan and take steps needed to execute!
Carry snacks with you. With sports and other events going on this time of year, time can get away from us and schedules can be negatively impacted. There's a lot to be said for having nutritious options in your bag or car to grab if you're out and about and don't have options for food. Having a snack in the car and eating when you get home is ALWAYS a better option than grabbing something on the fly. I love RX Bars, Built Bars, GoMacro Bars, Cliff Bars, Raw Crunch Bars, and a few varieties of Epic Bars. If they have kids size choose those! But these all travel relatively well and are fairly balanced options that will tide you over until you get home to eat.
There you go. These aren't magic and require effort but they do help to ensure that you stay on track with your goals regardless of the fullness of your calendar. Give them a go and let me know if you found them helpful!