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Planning the meals for a busy work week can be a daunting prospect — particularly for families that are trying to focus on maintaining a healthier diet. However, following a few simple guidelines will make the chore not only manageable, but pleasurable — in both the convenience and flavor departments. Read on for ideas on making your culinary week a delicious and stress-free experience.


Think beyond the recipe

Everyone has a go-to recipe or two that they like to fall back on. More often than not, they end up with a surplus of one necessary ingredient or another. Start with a favorite, and then find a way to incorporate the extras into a second or third dish. For example, if roast chicken sounds like the ideal Sunday-night dish, save the leftovers (or even roast a second bird, if necessary) to use for salad toppings or sandwich fillings.


Make protein a supporting character, not the star

It can be tempting for meat-eaters to use a particularly attractive protein — such as a big, juicy steak — to anchor a dish. Resist this urge, and instead fill the plate with seasonal produce and whole grains, using the meat as an accent rather than the main course. Once this becomes a habit, it’s an easy template to follow, particularly during grilling season.


Buy and prepare vegetables in bulk

Why is it always easier to grab takeout on the way home? Usually because whatever’s in the fridge seems too daunting to prepare. With a little advance preparation, this can be avoided. Buy a three-pack of romaine heads, chop and wash the leaves, and store them in the fridge for an easy salad base. To save even more time on prep, purchase pre-sliced veggies that can be tossed with olive oil and roasted for a largely hands-off, delicious, and healthful side dish.


Plan ahead

Not everyone is the list-making type. However, when it comes to stress-free meal planning, a good list is the first and most necessary step. Sketch out ideas for the week’s meals (lunch and dinner), make out a corresponding shopping list, and stick to the schedule. It’s far less stressful than running around and trying to decide what to put on the table at the last minute.