Guide to Meal Planning for Busy Families: 8 Quick, Easy, Healthy Dinner Ideas for Your Family

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Meal planning is a way to guarantee that your busy family will be able to easily gather to eat a healthy, delicious meal every night. Quick, easy family meals that are healthy and kid-friendly can be a challenge to create. Let this guide help you discover tips and recipes that inspire a family meal plan that is quick, easy, and nutritious.

Why You Should Meal Plan

Meal planning can save you money and time. Plus, meal planning can help your family reduce food waste and make it easier for a greater variety of nutritious foods to end up on your plates.

Guide to Successful Family Meal Planning
  • Start small if you’re new to meal planning – start with two to three meals a week.
  • Create a list of the ingredients you’ll need to make the recipes planned for that week.
  • Take stock of what food you have already, to reduce food waste and over-purchasing.
  • Create a grocery list of what you need.

As for preparing those meals, take a look at your recipes. Some meals can be made in bulk on the weekend and stored in portioned containers in the fridge or freezer. Recipes cooked in an Instapot or crockpot can be prepared the night before. For quick meals later in the workweek, look to your freezer: frozen vegetables and fish require no prior preparation and can be ready to eat in about a half-hour. As for other freezer items, try setting an alarm on your smartphone calendar as a reminder to take them out so they defrost in time.

Quick, Easy, Healthy Dinner Ideas for Your Family

It can feel daunting to get a healthy meal on the table for your family quickly, leading many families to try meal planning. Having the ingredients ready for a few quick, healthy meals on hand can make a busy family weeknight more relaxing. Pan sheet meals are a great example. Another option is to plan for meals you prepare in advance, such as on a weekend or the night before. Sometimes, simply having parts of the meal prepared ahead of time can make it easier to put a healthy meal on the family dinner table. Here are some ideas that may help:

8 Quick, Easy, Healthy Dinner Ideas for Your Family:
  1. Cook in BulkSoups, stews, curries, or a Plant-based Pumpkin Chili are great examples of family meals that can be cooked in bulk, stored in portioned containers, or frozen for a convenient meal later in the week.
  2. Consider Beans – Lentils and beans create beautiful salads that can be enjoyed for days, as does this Herb and Garlic Grilled Potato Salad.
  3. Breakfast for Dinner – Egg frittatas are a vegetable-packed meal that can be made in a few minutes, while Banana Protein Pancakes are a quick, easy, kid-friendly family meal.
  4. Cook Once, Eat Twice – Consider making extra of your dinner so there are leftovers that create great lunches the next day. Thermos meals work best, such as tacos (fresh ingredients in a separate container), soups, chilis, or pasta with Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce.
  5. Prep vegetables – Chop vegetables for the week and store them in the fridge in containers (store carrots, celery, and radishes in cold water), to create a quick vegetable plate with hummus as a pre-dinner snack or kid-friendly addition to any meal.
  6. Buy Prepared – If preparing vegetables is a hurdle, preventing vegetables from playing a larger part in your family meals, consider buying prepared vegetables or salads.
  7. Leftover Night – Take a night off and enjoy all of your leftovers. It’s a fun way to let family members enjoy a second night of their favourite meal.
  8. Sheet Pan Meal – Roast cruciferous and starchy vegetables (Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, beets, potatoes), with a protein of choice (tofu, chicken, fish) on a sheet pan for a fast weekday family meal. Add herbs for a tasty twist.

Easy, Kid-friendly, Healthy Family Meal Ideas

The best way to create a family meal plan that is kid-friendly is to involve the kids! Ask for their input on what kinds of meals will be part of your family menu. They don’t need to become the head chef and choose every meal. By allowing each family member to choose a meal on the family menu it can help reduce complaints about what’s being served for dinner – it’s helpful for kids to know that their favourite is in the menu mix.

When kids are involved in cooking and preparing the foods they are excited to eat them. Just think of their excitement, “Look what I made!”. In every recipe, there is a cooking activity appropriate for every age, from toddlers helping spray water over the produce in the colander in the sink to adolescents chopping and measuring ingredients for a soup. Here are some delicious kid-friendly family meals that are healthy and easy to make:

Do Family Meals Really Make a Difference?

Science has been telling us family meals are important. According to a systematic review study, frequent family meals are associated with lower rates of eating disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, violent behaviour, and feelings of depression in adolescents. This led many news media channels to speak of the “magic” of family meals, putting pressure on some busy families, with challenging work schedules to feel pressure to carve out more time at the dinner table together.

Yet, do family meals really make a difference? Another study suggests the so-called “magic” of family mealtime may have been over-stated. After removing potential factors from the data, researchers suggest benefits likely exist, but are lesser than may have been endorsed. For example, researchers noted that families who eat more frequently together, may also do other activities together and be more socially connected. University of Montreal researchers noted that eating with adults provides children with first-hand social interactions: experiencing positive forms of communication may help children engage with others outside their family. Interestingly, the study also reported potential nutritional benefits to family meals: when the family meal environment quality was better at age 6, by the time the children were 10 they had higher levels of general fitness, and lower levels of soft-drink consumption.

Whether frequent family meals are the magical solution to raising healthy children or not, it is still up for debate in the research. However, either way, there are advantages to sitting down and eating meals mindfully. It is a lifestyle habit that can help any family member improve their ability to hear their hunger cues, ultimately developing better long-term eating habits.

Family Meals on a Budget

Do you struggle to eat on a budget while still including healthy foods in your family meal plan? You are not alone. Many Canadian families struggle to eat healthy on a budget. Luckily, plant-based meals are typically more budget-friendly than animal-based diets, plus sustainable eating is very nutritious. Beans are inexpensive and one of 15 nutritious foods featured in our How to Eat Healthy on a Budget blog.

How to Create a Healthy Family Meal Plan

You’re unique and so are your nutritional and lifestyle needs – that’s why Registered Holistic Nutritionists (RHN) are so helpful. Registered Holistic Nutritionists help families create meal plans that include a variety of nutritious foods that fit into their lifestyles. For more information about the Natural Nutrition Program and how to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, visit the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.


Systematic review of the effects of family meal frequency on psychosocial outcomes in youth. Can Fam Physician 2015 Feb; 61(2): e96-e106.

Family meals and child academic and behavioural outcomes. Child Dev 2012 Nov; 83(6): 2104-2120.

Contributed by Allison Tannis