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Meal Planning Doesn’t Have to Be Invisible Labor – How to Get Started and Get the Whole Family Involved (with Jess Dang of Cook Smarts)

Meal planning

When I talk about stress mastery, I often share that the way we feel stress is all about our mental capacity, or load.

Some days I can’t even walk into the kitchen and prepare dinner because it feels like “too much,” and then other days I can handle 2 kids being sick and a very important meeting and 5 deadlines beating down my door…

If meal prep and decisions have often felt like a drain on your “mental load,” my guest today has just the solution!

Jess Dang, Chief Kitchen Cheerleader at Cook Smarts, joins us today to talk about how meal planning can be “invisible labor,” why that’s a problem, and how to get the rest of the family to see what we work so hard on.

Here’s what you can look forward to in the conversation:

  • Jess’s incredible story of grave illness and a decision to give back (which resulted in a risky move at age 30!)
  • Why meal planning really is world-changing
  • How to start a meal planning habit and stick to it (no magic pixie dust, just an acknowledgment that it IS hard work and how to keep yourself motivated)
  • Why meal planning is “invisible” so often and how to celebrate it more with your whole family
  • How to include your kids into the accountability part (and even the DOing part!)
How to stick with meal planning
  • Some examples from my own life about how meal planning sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t, and applying Jess’s strategies LIVE to figure out how to make it work more often!
  • One practical tip to implement TODAY that takes 5-10 minutes and could change your meal planning game (and mine) for good

Find Jess’s awesome program Cook Smarts here.

Can’t view this video? Watch it and learn about meal planning as invisible labor here on YouTube.

No time to watch the video? Here are the notes!

Meal Planning Video Timestamps

  • 0:20: Jess Dang and I are going to get super practical as we talk about meal planning today! Jess is the mom of three little ones and has founded Cook Smarts, a meal planning system to help busy moms get delicious and healthy meals on the table.
  • 1:45: Jess shares her story with us. Her health journey began about 20 years ago when she was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. Scary stuff!
  • 4:15: Jess quit her job and dove into Cook Smarts because she believes that meal planning is world-changing. There’s a huge mental load that comes with deciding meals on the fly and we can eliminate that by batching the job and planning meals for the week.
People don’t cook because the decision making part feels like too much. -Jess Dang

How do I Get Back Into Meal Planning?

  • 6:26: We start by talking to those who have meal planned before but fallen off the wagon and need some motivation to get back in their groove.
What didn't work before? How can I set myself up for success this time? -Jess Dang
  • 9:11: When you plan a day for take-out, it’s a treat, not a reason to feel guilty.
  • 10:01: I share something we did over our big summer trip that worked really well for meal planning.

How do I Stick With Meal Planning Long-Term?

  • 10:47: Jess shares some tips to help you stick with the habit once you start meal planning. Define your “why” and use that motivation.
We have to get out of the mindset that meal planning is a chore. -Jess Dang

The Mental Burden of Invisible Labor

  • 14:08: Jess calls meal planning “invisible labor.” She unpacks what that phrase means and how we can make it more visible to our families.
Getting the whole family involved reduces your stress and passes the skills on to your kids. -Jess Dang

Involving your Kids in Meal Planning

  • 15:46: It can feel like even more work to involve your family in meal planning, but the payoff is worth it. With little kids, you can start out by talking about the meals and the process of cooking so they understand that work goes into it. As kids get older they can actually help with the planning and cooking.
  • 18:01: My kids have started planning one meal a week. Mostly it’s a disaster so they’ve had many learning opportunities!
  • 20:23: We can’t stop with just teaching our kids how to cook. The next step is teaching them to plan and shop well.
I had no idea that meal planning was a skill! -Jess Dang
  • 21:09: I share a funny story from an article I read once that illustrates the concept of “invisible labor” perfectly.

A New Twist on Batch Cooking

Have you tried batch cooking? It’s one of my favorite kitchen hacks to save time while cooking real food, but my take may be slightly different than the ones you’ve seen before.

Instead of making large batches of food and saving them for later, I batch together kitchen tasks and link one night’s dinner to the next. Think of it as getting a head start on your next meal. The net result is time savings AND fresh dinners every night.

The current trend in meal prep seems to be focused on taking several hours on a weekend day to chop and prep veggies, cook meats, and then assemble the leftovers into a multitude of containers.

This is great if it works for you, but my family gets sick of eating leftovers all the time and I get tired of keeping track of all the containers in the fridge! Plus, spending 3-4 hours in the kitchen on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon is usually the last thing I want to do.

My Real Food Head Start 7 Day Dinner Plan provides a framework for incorporating my technique each day to save time on future meals and even start stocking your freezer if you want, while still making and serving a fresh dinner. The best part is, you use the time you are already in the kitchen – no extra prep day needed!

How Using a Meal Planning Service can Help You

  • 22:32: Cook Smarts is an incredible program. Jess shares some details about what exactly the program offers and how it can help ease the mental weight of meal planning for you.
Eating and cooking are communal. Having a community behind you really makes a difference. -Jess Dang
  • 25:25: Flexibility is super important when you’re choosing a meal planning service.
  • 25:51: Cook Smarts meal plans shouldn’t be another “to-do” on your list. It’s there to help you with recipes and plans when you need them. Their most successful members average trying 2 new meals a week. We talk about the mental block when trying something new that can get in the way of your meal planning.

Take This one Practical Step Today!

  • 30:22: We like to end each Healthy Parenting Connector episode with a super practical step that listeners can accomplish right away and feel a quick win. Jess shares her top meal planning tip to get started today!

Jess’s meal planning program, Cook Smarts, can be found here and you can use code KCRF25 for 25% off subscriptions and gifts. (valid through Feb. 15, 2020)

What tips do you have to make meal planning a successful habit?

More posts on Meal Planning:

Meal Planning Resources

Here are the meal planning services (in no particular order) that I endorse for you to pick based on you and your family’s needs!

Try out their freebies (some even have free trials) to see what fits your personality and preferences!

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

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