University of Missouri Extension health and nutrition specialist Melissa Bess has suggestions for ways to save money, time and stress by planning meals this school year.

Fall brings football games, 4-H meetings, dance classes, cheerleading, harvest and much more. Families sometimes struggle with how to avoid concession stands and fast food.

Bess will give tips on how busy families can eat on the go at an MU Extension agriculture business conference for women, Sept. 11 and 12 at Windermere Conference Center at the Lake of the Ozarks.

“Planning is the key to serving your family healthy meals,” Bess said. “Weekends or less busy evenings are a good time to plan. Plan menus for a few days or for a week ahead so that you have ingredients on hand. Use a shopping list and prep meals in advance by chopping vegetables, thawing or cooking parts of the meal.”

Slow cookers save busy families time, Bess said. “Add ingredients to the cooker’s crock portion the prior evening,” she said. “Then you only have to put the crock in the cooker and turn it on in the morning. This reduces morning stress and makes it more likely that you will follow through with your meal plans.”

Bess recommends cooking once and eating twice by doubling recipes and freezing half for later. Jazz up leftovers by adding spices, seasonings or sauces to change the flavor.

Fresh fruit is the original fast food, Bess said. “Keep fruit on hand for busy family members wanting something quick as they head out the door,” she said. “Keep extra vegetables on hand, too. If you have too many, put them in a freezer-safe container and freeze. Add more leftover vegetables each time you have them, and soon you will only have to add meat and grain for a quick soup.”

If you are headed to an out-of-town game, Bess suggests packing foods that do not need refrigeration such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, nuts, dried fruits, trail mix, 100 percent juice boxes, beef jerky or canned meat. “Uncut fruits and vegetables that do not require refrigeration, such as bananas, grapes, apples or grape tomatoes, are good options,” she said. “Store meat, poultry and eggs in a cooler with ice for a limited time. Keep the cooler in the shade if possible.”

Keep meal planning in perspective so you enjoy time with your family, Bess said.

“You don’t have to serve a big lunch or dinner every night,” she said. “Aim for three of the food groups – protein, dairy, fruits, veggies and grains – in every meal in simple ways.”

Sometimes it’s necessary to pay more for convenience, Bess said.

“Precooked, precut or ready-to-eat foods are more expensive but are great timesavers if they fit in your budget,” she said. “Avoid highly processed convenience items.”

Bess said MU Extension’s Seasonal and Simple smartphone app and Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters app are good sources for healthy and timesaving recipes. The free apps are available at and

For more information about the conference, log onto

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