Healthy eating and meal planning for busy families

You rush home from work, race around to find your child’s sports uniform, your other child is late for piano lessons, when you notice your teen standing in front of the refrigerator, groaning, “There’s nothing to eat around here.” Or how about the ever-famous, “What’s for dinner?” Sound familiar? Preparing snacks and ingredients for meals increases the likelihood that families will consume nutritious foods, which yields significant health benefits and reduces stress during busy weeks.

Courtney Andrus, PA-C, RD, with University Pediatric Associates offers some tips for planning nutritious meals and snacks in an effort to save you time:

Making a grocery list:

  • Keep an ongoing grocery list on your phone or on the refrigerator. Every time you run out of an ingredient, write it on the list. 
  • Look at the family’s schedule for the upcoming week while making your grocery list. If there is a night where the family will be home late, choose to make a simpler, faster meal that night, such as a crock-pot meal or leftovers, or allow that to be your take-out night. 
  • When making your list, ask the kids what they want to eat this week. When everyone is involved in the meal decision process, they are more likely to eat what is served.
  • Choose ingredients that may be incorporated into several meals (cook several pounds of ground beef and use it for tacos, spaghetti sauce and pizza toppings). 
  • Organize spices and canned goods.

Keeping nutritious snacks easily available:

  • Cut produce and store it in clear containers in the refrigerator for snacks that are easy to see and easy to grab. 
  • Other nutritious, convenient snacks to keep available include cheese sticks, yogurt tubes, single-serve bags of mixed nuts or popcorn and baby carrots.
  • Keep a bowl of apples, oranges and bananas on the counter.


  • Assign everyone a task to help save time – adults make the entree, older kids make the side dishes and younger kids set the table.
  • Utilize kitchen gadgets such as a slow cooker or pressure cooker. 
  • One pan meals keep dirty dishes to a minimum. 
  • Clean as you go.
  • Prepare double batches of food when you are less rushed so you can cook once, eat twice. 
  • Prepare breakfast and school lunches a night ahead.

If your budget allows:

  • Use meal kit delivery services.
  • Purchase pre-cut produce and meats. 
  • Use grocery delivery services.

Remember, family mealtime doesn’t always have to imply having dinner together – breakfast or lunch together may work better for some families. Ultimately, be patient with yourself. Not everything can be planned all of the time. This means that you may end up eating fast food in the car, and that is okay. Use this as an opportunity to teach your kids about eating a balanced variety of foods – which includes the occasional fast-food meal. Enjoy these memories with your kids because, after all, that is what matters the most. 

Looking for a pediatrician? University Pediatric Associates is accepting new patients. Call 314-454-6400 to make an appointment.

Courtney Andrus, PA-C, RD

Rachel Shakofsky, MD

Kristine Williams, MD, MPH

St. Louis Children’s Specialty Care Center
13001 North Outer Forty Road, Suite 310
Town and Country, MO 63017