Meal Prep for Kids: Our Best Tips for Busy Parents

Parents are juggling more responsibilities than ever. At Workweek Lunch, we have so much respect for all the caregivers who are just doing the best that they can right now. Meal prep can be a lifesaver for busy families, which is why we have asked the amazing parents of our community to provide us with their best tips for meal prep for kids.

Whether you’re looking for kid-friendly meal prep dinner ideas or wondering how to get breakfast on the table every morning, we hope that these fantastic tips help you. 

What’s the best food hack you discovered that makes cooking for and feeding your family easier?

“Rotisserie chickens, bagged washed lettuce for salad, pre chopping veggies, repurposing ingredients (rotisserie chicken becomes nachos or wraps, salad kits become wraps, rice becomes stir fry or into soup).” Sally* from Canada

“Meal night – Monday = soup (made in batches on weekends), Tuesday = tacos (big surprise), Wednesday = pasta. I thought I’d hate the repetitive nature, but no way. It’s been a saver. We changed things up with the type of soup of the type of tacos. But the nightly allocation is always the same. Kids love the dependability.” Ali from Canada

“If something freezes well, double the meal and freeze to slowly build a freezer stash. I meal prep my own lunches in the traditional way but find the double and freeze method is way more efficient for family dinners. And of course meal planning in general is the key!” Becca from Canada

“I prep breakfast for the whole week. On Sunday I make the same basics: 9×13 egg bake (different add ins depending on what I have on hand), pancakes, sausage patties, a cottage cheese salad, and a type of muffin. I serve buffet style with fresh fruit and yogurt. Everyone self serves and cleaning up is quick and easy for a busy morning as a mom to 5.” Diana from Colorado

What systems have you found really work for you when it comes to feeding your family? 

I try to make things that can be used over multiple nights (i.e. taco filling for tacos and then taco salad the next night, or cooking a whole chicken and having it with potatoes and veggies and then making chicken noodle soup the next day) or prep some things ahead when I have more time (i.e. chop veggies or assemble casseroles while my husband is on a break from work so all I have to do later is stick it in the oven).” Marisa from Hamilton, Ontario

“Google Sheets [used for meal planning] that we copy and paste each week and just update sports, holidays, travel, etc. I always start cooking with an empty dishwasher and a sink full of hot soapy water. Makes clean up during prep and after the meal a breeze. When planning a menu, I make it a family event so that everyone can look forward to their favorites that week. One time we took a ‘trip around the world.’ My son chose a different country for every day and I found meals that were either authentic to that country or reminded us of it in some way.” Anonymous from Tampa, FL

“I have a dry erase board I update weekly to map out all meals. I write down any meals that I know I won’t need to prep – eating out/events. Also, I try to hand wash all my big pans right after using them. This helps keep my sink area clean and allows me to have more room to fill the dishwasher to max capacity. I almost never put big pots or pans in the dishwasher and it’s almost a habit now to hand wash right after using, so much more efficient!” Kim 

Schedule someone to cook for dinner every night. Does not matter what kind — frozen meal, home-cooked or to go. This has sort of turned into a competition for us!” Kristine from Olympia, WA

If you meal prep, what are some tips for making it work while having kids around? 

“Do it during naps! Or schedule a time for the other parent to be available to entertain.” Eliza from Vermont

“A big meal prep day doesn’t work for us, so I cook a couple of times a week planning out the meals. Having kids help cut things is great and have them set the table. And fostering independent play so you can cook. It’s not always feasible to have them cooking with me all the time for time’s sake, but as much as they can be involved helps.” Sally from Ann Arbor, MI.

“My meal prep consists of cooking extra at dinner time each night to make a few extra lunches. I work from home and my daughters are schooling virtual right now so this seems to work for us. If a meal is a favorite, I make at least 2-3 extra servings for lunches.” Katie from Georgia

“The ice cube game when she was around 2-3 years old. We would give her a whisk and a bowl of ice cubes and she had to trap as many ice cubes as possible in the whisk. This bought me at least 15 mins every time!” Anonymous 

How do you meal prep/cook when everyone has different tastes and preferences? 

Use a concept rather than a recipe. ‘Mexican for dinner’ can mean taco salad, tacos, quesadillas, a plate with all the ingredients separate. But essentially I can make all of the things with the same core ingredients.” Erin from Indiana

“I follow my pediatrician’s advice: it’s my job to provide the food, their job is to eat it. Nights I know they don’t love a meal, I provide other items like extra fruit, yogurt or PB toast but still encourage the main meal.” Elisa from Connecticut

“We each pick one meal for the week. Everyone is happy one night, we try new stuff, you eat as much as you want, but you must try it. If you choose not to eat it, you help clean up and when everything is done, you thank the person who prepared the meal and are free to make PB and J or grilled cheese. Nothing else. We don’t want to force anyone in our family to eat food they don’t enjoy, but we don’t want to offer too many choices because that creates chaos.” Susan from Southern California

“Try to pick meals everyone likes to eat. Find recipes with anything you can leave out while cooking that is easy to add in when you go to eat it. Or look for meals that have things that can be easily picked out. I’m a firm believer that by not giving in to all the little food demands, your kids become more adaptable and learn how to compromise better. And they just might end up liking something they hate!” Kyla from Arizona

peanut butter jelly sandwich pantry lunch

I have a toddler/I’m a mom to a newborn and can’t seem to make time for meal prep. What do I do?  

Concentrate on meals with a ‘set it and forget it; mentality. Really utilize your crockpot or Instant Pot or oven. THE FREEZER IS YOUR FRIEND.” Lucy from Los Angeles

“Have a bunch of friends get together and schedule a babysitter or make sure the spouse is free to spend time with the kiddo! Then bust out a bunch of meals and score girlfriend time!!” Sarah from Camas, WA 

“Break it up! Grocery shopping/order one day, make one meal per day or every other day. And don’t be afraid of takeout or pre-made freezer meals. Also, be flexible.  Sometimes the ingredients for a fancy meal get cooked one at a time and turned into three non-fancy meals instead. Just try to make sure you have good ingredients on hand for that magical moment when you have time to cook.” Henry* from Tempe 

“Do what you can when you have the energy. Say “yes” when folks offer help and don’t feel guilty saying you could use help with meal prep. Do as much before the baby comes as possible and fill the freezer. Premade or convenience foods are still foods. Splurge on the cut fruit and salad mixes if you can. Chicken nuggets are filling and a source of protein. The first few months are a guilt-free zone. As long as you and the kids eat, it’s all okay.” Mandy from Sacramento

Equipment, Food Products, and Memberships that Make Life Easier

We asked parents in the WWL community which equipment, food products, and memberships make feeding their littles easier. You all had so many great suggestions! Below are the top five most popular of each category. 

Equipment

Food Products

  • Rotisserie chicken 
  • Frozen veggies 
  • Pre chopped veggies and fruits
  • Bagged salad mixes
  • Microwavable rice packets
  • Annie’s Mac and Cheese 

Subscriptions 

IG Accounts and Blogs for Feeding a Family/Kids

We also asked which Instagram accounts and blogs were most helpful for planning meals for a family. Here are the five most popular answers!

Thanks to all the parents who took the time to send us your answers!

There was so much helpful advice. We hope this post helped make mealtimes a little easier for you and your family. Have any tricks we missed here? Let us know in the comments below!

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