Tag Archives: Meal Planning

Involve Children with Meal Planning

There are some very solid reasons to involve children with meal planning and preparation. The most common ones are:

  • You have a very fussy eater.
  • Your child loves “junk food” too much.
  • You need to keep your high-octane ball of energy busy and/or entertained.

Another very good reason is that research from the National Institute of Health shows that children are far more likely to eat healthy foods when they have helped prepare them.

If you decide to venture down this road, keep in mind:  children’s palates are not as finely developed as adult palates. 

The key is to be creative and encourage the child to be creative, as well.  It is a great opportunity to re-ignite your imagination!

Ten Tips to Ensure Successful Food Planning with Kids

  1. Listen to their ideas. Get their input as you are making your grocery list, and thank them for their help, even if their ideas sound less-than-appetizing to you!
  2. Have fun with the process. Your children will follow your lead. You will set the tone.  Make it an adventure. Have them make the list on a colorful note pad or special “Cooking” tablet.  Have them draw pictures, or make up funny names for common foods. Be sure to take him grocery shopping with you and let him find the items on the list.
  3. Dare to be different. Kids love “out-of-the-ordinary” things; so, be prepared to jump right in when your child suggests a combination that sounds unusual or strange. Be willing to experiment.
  4. Plan ahead. Shop around and buy two or three of the cookbooks designed and tested to appeal to children’s palates and imaginations. Start with one and let your child pick out a few recipes that appeal to him/her.  Go over the recipes, make your list and shop together.
  5. Think and buy in miniature. Children are often enchanted by anything that is more in scale with their tiny fingers than yours. Dolls’ tea sets, tiny drinking glasses, mini marshmallows, baby bananas or miniature knifes and forks all go a long way to making eating feel like play.
  6. Combine fruit and vegetables. Take your child shopping and allow him to pick a number of fruits and vegetables (set a limit, if you are on a budget!) Ask her to think up the most whacky combinations she can. Once you get home, take the time to prepare the foods you have chosen (don’t let the moment pass).  Add a healthy, yogurt dip (a hint of raspberry or pineapple juice or a little honey will enhance fruit and veggies alike). Then, watch your children eat raw foods with relish.
  7. Make or buy a special apron for your child. Nothing says, “It’s “cooking fun time” more than having a special apron to wear. It can be particularly exciting if the child helps you make the apron. (Great choice if sewing is your thing.) Ask him or her to choose the color, the fabric, and the trim. You could make a mini-BBQ apron or “Top Chef”, if you have a son.
  8. Have a cooking routine. Set aside a specific time during the week for planning, with specific days for food prep. Planning could be done on Monday after school, or Saturday mid-morning. Some choices that may be workable for preparation are: Saturday lunch, Friday dinner, Sunday morning brunch, and after-school snacks. Pick time slots for planning that go with your child’s natural rhythm. It would not be a good idea to try to generate enthusiasm about planning menus early Saturday morning, if s/he is not a morning person.
  9. Make your own “take-out.” There are some great recipes online for your child’s favorite “fast foods” such as:  Sliders, Chicken Nuggets, Chick-Fil-A, Pan Pizza, and more.  Check out BuzzFeed Life for ideas and start have fun creating healthier versions of your child’s favorite “take-out.” You can substitute lower-fat ingredients, use less salt and sugar, and avoid the harmful additives that are found in most fast foods.
  10. Prepare a picnic. Picnics add a festive air to any meal and you do not have to travel to have a picnic. They can be held on the back lawn, the front porch, the deck, or the local park. The menu can be anything from a simple lunch basket to a full-blown grilled dinner.  Be sure to include the “special” touches such as colorful plates and goofy utensils, your family’s picnic blanket, a checkered tablecloth (available at the  dollar store), or homemade toothpick people for eating your fruit salad.  In fact, let your child (children) plan the picnic.  Don’t forget the games.

The best advice I can give regarding how to get your children to eat healthy foods is to set the example!  This cannot be a “Do as I say – not as I do” scenario if you really want to be successful in your effort.  Stop deluding yourself into believing that you can convince them to choose fruit-and-veggie snacks when you continuously snack on potato chips and Ho-Ho’s.

Children may listen to your words, but they live what they see.  When they are involved in choosing and preparing what they eat on a regular basis, they learn that food is more than simply necessary nourishment for the body. They learn that the ritual around food can be a wonderful, pleasurable experience, as well.

Instead of recreating nostalgic memories of eating comforting fast food French fries, they will turn to whipping up a quick and easy batch of fresh, chocolate-dipped strawberries, fresh bananas in oatmeal, or tasty vegetable stir-fry during those difficult adult times when they need the solace of childhood memories to sustain them.

That is a priceless gift you can give to your child’s future self.



To Eat or Not to Eat Breakfast, of Course

Image by "with wind"
Image by “with wind”

When you live a very busy life, it is easy to over-look breakfast – a common practice in America today. Far too many people start their morning with a large cup of coffee, sometimes black and sometimes filled with cream and sugar – or a sweet, caffeinated soda and nothing else. Bad habit!

Breakfast means “break your fast.”  Your body has been resting and has received no nourishment for eight hours and needs fuel replenishment to start the day. When coffee or sugary drinks are all it is given, it cannot possible function effectively. I know you know this – most people do – and yet they do not eat breakfast. Why?

When asked, the answers usually fall into a couple of categories: 1) “I have too much to do in the morning, and not enough time.” Or – “I don’t really need breakfast. Coffee gives me the jump-start I need.” When you see those excuses in writing, they sound quite lame and yet people say such things (or think them) all the time.

Yes, it can be difficult to balance work and family responsibilities and the temptation to save time by not eating breakfast can be easily rationalized. In fact, people shudder at the thought of preparing a healthy breakfast even for themselves, let alone trying to prepare breakfast for an entire family.

My goal today is twofold:

  1. To re-emphasize that breakfast is definitely the most important meal of the day. (Better to skip dinner than breakfast.)
  2. To assure you that it can also be one of the easiest meals of the day to prepare.

Let’s start with the first point.

Most Important Meal of the Day

Many studies show that people who eat breakfast regularly are healthier. Any breakfast at all – a piece of fruit, a bowl of cereal, a banana, a piece of toast, etc., is better than no breakfast.

On the other hand, people who skip breakfast, often to cut calories, tend to weigh more than people who eat breakfast every day. Their strategy backfires on them. Skipping breakfast starves your body. Then, in the late morning it starts screaming, “Feed me.” Since you are most likely at work or school, you will probably look for something (anything) to munch on to quell the hunger pangs. As a rule, those quick grab snacks are empty calories filled with fat, salt and sugar and loaded with calories (which you tried to avoid by not eating breakfast).

This sets up a vicious, unhealthy cycle of starving and eating unhealthy foods that is extremely harmful to your body, especially for those prone to blood sugar issues like diabetes. Eating breakfast not only helps maintain a healthy weight, it helps your body maintain a stable blood-sugar level. Eating breakfast also helps with memory, concentration and productivity.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health completed several studies on the relationship between children who eat breakfast and children who do well in school. The studies show amazing correlations between a nutritious breakfast and the ability to succeed in difficult cognitive tasks. They also show how easily hunger affects mood and concentration.

Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital completed another study that showed students who ate breakfast actually had higher grades and less disciplinary issues than children who did not eat breakfast.

Other studies show the same type of correlation between adults who do not eat breakfast and those who complain of mood swings, fatigue and irritability, especially during the late morning and early afternoon hours of a workday.

Your Body Needs Fuel

It is impossible to drive a car without fuel in the tank. Why do people expect their bodies to run without fuel? Trying to get through the day without refueling your body in the morning is harmful and foolish.

Breakfast replenishes the body with nutrients that provide fuel to support your activities throughout the day. When you skip breakfast you create a nutritional hole in the day, which means that you cannot regain the vitamins and minerals you lose when you choose to NOT eat breakfast. It affects you in multiple ways – diminished energy, weakened ability to concentrate, and lower productivity; plus it can affect your mood, behavior, and outlook for the entire day.

Breakfast sets up your entire day. It is a small meal that provides huge benefits!

Eat Fruit

Fresh FruitBreakfast is the perfect time to eat fruit, which can be eaten in many forms: whole fruit, fruit salad, fruit smoothie, freshly-squeezed fruit juice, or waffles, pancakes, oatmeal, or yogurt topped with fruit – all of those can be the perfect start to a busy day.

If you have trouble eating enough fruit during the day, breakfast is a good time to make it happen. The nutrients in a fresh orange, apple or banana will stay with you over the course of the day.

Strange as it may seem, eating breakfast can be a money-saver. When you eat breakfast, it is much easier to control eating throughout the day. You don’t struggle with those terrible bouts of hunger that hit mid-morning and you satisfy with snacks from the company vending machine or the corner fast-food establishment. As a result, if you eat breakfast, you spend much less money on unhealthy snack foods during an average work day. Breakfast helps your body and your pocketbook.

Eating breakfast is important for every member of the family from the oldest to the youngest, but it is particularly important and beneficial for children. They will do better in school; they will be less likely to spend money on candy or soda during the school day; and they will be more active and more normal weight than children who do not eat breakfast.

Preparing Breakfast Is Easy

There are so many simple, yummy options for breakfast it is difficult to understand why people avoid it.  Breakfast is my favorite meal because there are so many delicious and nutritious foods and combinations of foods to eat.

Many breakfast foods fall into the category of “comfort foods” and/or favorite foods – everything from waffles to pancakes to omelets, so why not start your day with a favorite food?

Pancakes filled with blueberries, topped with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar or real maple syrup can be a wholesome start to the work week. French toast with raspberries or strawberries, or an omelet filled with onions and peppers topped with fresh salsa can be excellent options for the busy lifestyle. Add a piece or two of bacon or sausage for extra flavor. However, both are high in fat and should be eaten in moderation.

It is easy to pack breakfast with nutrients and ensure that you are getting enough of the important food groups. An omelet with vegetables, 2 slices of bacon, half a cantaloupe, and a piece of whole wheat toast covers all the basics. Such a meal is easy to prepare, fuels your body, and tastes great.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of why breakfast is the most important meal of the day – and how it can make a huge difference in your life.

To sum up – eating breakfast can lighten your mood, increase your concentration, and help you lose weight (and save you money). Breakfast is an enjoyable way to start each morning if you plan ahead, have the proper ingredients on hand, and set aside a little extra time to prepare this amazing meal.

Please join us on Monday; I will be sharing some ideas for healthy breakfasts to get you started. 

Photo Credit (Breakfast): IMG_1655 via photopin (license)

Meal Planning for Healthy Options

Now that people seem to be more concerned with healthy diets and exercise, meal planning for healthy options is becoming an important dietary tool.

Planning meals means much more than just making a grocery list. To ensure that your diet is both nutritious and delicious, it should include mapping meals and snack choices at least, a week at a time.

Find an App or Do It by Hand

Although this may seem like a chore, there are simple Apps available for smart phones and planners that are downloadable and free on the Internet to make meal planning much easier.

If you are technically challenged, as I am, you can do it the old-fashioned way with a pencil and piece of paper. That is all it takes to begin regular meal planning and to start making healthy food choices for you and your family.

In addition to facilitating healthier eating in general, planned meals and snacking options are especially helpful to anyone who needs to reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, manage diabetes or lose weight.

Even if your family is healthy and no one is struggling with disease or health issues, meal planning is necessary. It will help you provide your children with nutritious snack options that will support their rapid growth and active lives.

Most children will be happy with healthy snacks if that is what is available


Clean Out Your Pantry and Refrigerator

The first step to meal planning for healthy options is to do a complete inventory of your pantry and refrigerator.

Remove items that are past their expiration date, wilted, or unappetizing to create space for nutritious alternatives. Once those have been removed, start eliminating all snacks filled with sugar, fats, and additives. This includes most packaged snacks, cookies, candy, sodas, bottled juice, potato chips, etc.

With that first step you have started down the road to healthier bodies for everyone. Removing the bad food options makes it more difficult to slip back into unhealthy eating habits. If those foods are not available, you and the family cannot eat them.

Find and Use Healthy Recipes

Healthy Diet Cookbook Cover

Second step . . . search the Internet for recipes, cookbooks, and websites that offer nutritious meals. You will be astounded at how many healthy versions there are of well-loved recipes available for download or included in cookbooks. Check out my book, The Healthy Diet Cookbook as a place to start.

Begin collecting healthy recipes that appeal to you and that you think your family will enjoy. Use those recipes to plan your meals and snacks. The larger your collection, the more choices you have to feed your family well.

Start make healthy adaptations of your family favorites. A few small changes to recipes like spaghetti, meatloaf, and beef stroganoff can turn them into much healthier dishes.

Make It Easy on Yourself

In the beginning choose recipes that are easy to prepare and use ingredients you know the family likes. You can move out of the family’s comfort zone on occasion because trying new foods can be great fun. However, for your basic meal planning stay with tried and true recipes that have been changed slightly to healthier versions.

Begin to stock your pantry and refrigerator with healthy foods that you will enjoy . . . and remember to double up on the fruit and vegetables (organic, if at all possible).

Almost any type of fruit can make a wonderful snack, especially for those in the family with a sweet-tooth. Fresh oranges, melons, and crisp, juicy apples are great snacks that keep well in the refrigerator. Melons or berries topped with plain Greek yogurt and a little local honey make a tasty treat.  Sliced apples with chunks of real cheddar cheese are great after school snacks (and also excellent in a packed lunch for a mid-morning treat).

Vegetables like carrots and celery are perfect for a crunch snack and they also store well for up to a week in the fridge. Serve with hummus or almond butter to add a little protein.

Make It Easy to Choose Healthy Snacks

Healthy Fruit Snacks
Image by Christine

The most important thing to remember about keeping fruit and vegetables for snacks is to make them easy to eat by cutting them up into bite-sized servings.

Grapes are best when removed from their vines and washed thoroughly. After washing, dry them completely and put them into containers or baggies. Voila! You have snacks that are perfect for days when family members need to grab and go.

Cherries and grapes are also delicious when frozen – especially for hot and tired children when they come home from school.

For protein, buy lean, grain fed, free range beef if you can, and limit the amount of red meat in your meals. Focus more on poultry, fish and eggs. Lentils are another good source of protein to work into your meals.

Meal Planning Eases Your Budget

When you plan meals in advance, you know the exact quantity of each item to purchase, so budgeting is easier. Meal plans are perfect for the bargain shopper because they give you time to select foods that are on sale and in season.  Clip coupons to add to your savings. Coupons for fruits and vegetables may be difficult to find, so concentrate on the meat sales to save money on your weekly shopping budget.

As I mentioned earlier, selecting a software program or App to help with your meal planning is an excellent time-saver (if you are into technology). These work particularly well for people with careers AND families.

With busy schedules and multiple obligations they tend to be the worst at preparing and eating healthy meals. Using a smart phone or computer to help choose nutritious dinners is the perfect way to incorporate a time-saver with a health-saver!

Find a Good Meal Planning APP

Some Apps allow the user to select certain foods and then offer meals that can be created with those foods. This type of planning helps when you are pressed for time, especially for weekday dinner preparation. If you make lunches for your children to take to school, these programs can help with a large selection of healthy lunch options, as well.

Final Thoughts

Once again, I want to emphasize how planning meals and snacks in advance will be helpful for busy mothers and fathers. Without planning, you put yourself in the position of coming home from work and being forced to scramble to find the ingredients for a healthy dinner. This can be frustrating and stressful for the entire family and may result with the decision to order pizza just to fill the empty tummies.

Having the right ingredients on-hand so you can prepare quick and easy, nutritious meals is the perfect way to change your diet and the diet of your entire family.

Meal planning for healthy options is the ideal tool for busy families. Children can even be included in the planning process. Have fun with it and encourage them to find new foods that everyone may enjoy. It is a great way to get them interested in healthy eating and to build good habits for life.

Pay Attention to What You Eat

Photo of cans of drink on crushed ice.
Image by RTImages

It is important to pay attention to what you eat – ALL DAY LONG!  Your diet includes everything you eat not just what you eat at meals. Awareness of your eating habits can be the magic bullet that brings better health in a short period of time.


Busy people tend to overlook the number of beverages and the type of beverages they consume each day. You may be careful about making healthy choices for lunch, but add a large Coke for your beverage – big problem. There seems to be a complete lack of awareness about the dangers of caffeinated and carbonated sugary drinks (all sodas, plus the particularly insidious “energy drinks”).

Filtered Drinking Water
Image by ginasanders

Large glasses of soda may contain up to 20 teaspoons of sugar and 300 empty calories. That amount of sugar is physically harmful for anyone and especially bad for busy people. Replacing all sugary sodas with a bottle of fresh water (best choice), a glass of sparkling water or freshly-squeezed fruit or vegetable juice are much better choices and will help avoid the “sugar high” and “afternoon crash” that come from unhealthy, sugar-loaded drinks.

Eliminating sodas, heavily sweetened coffee and sweet tea and adding lots of fresh water to your daily diet is a great first step toward building a healthier, more nutritious diet.

What About Lunch?

Having a nutritious lunch is another important, but challenging issue for busy people. Instead of running out to a restaurant or the nearest fast-food establishment, packing lunch for your mid-day meal is much smarter. This not only saves time and ensures much healthier meals; it also alleviates a lot of stress. You can use the time to relax and enjoy your food.

Fast food meals and restaurant meals taste good because they are packed with sugars, fats, sodium, and many taste-enhancing additives – none of which contribute to good health. When you live a busy, stressful life, you need nutritious food to fuel your body. Restaurant meals and fast foods do not provide healthy fuel.

In addition to being unhealthy, the average fast-food or take-out lunch contains 350 (or more) calories, plus the drink, making the total around 800 calories. Imagine how much better off you would be if you dropped 400+ calories from your daily intake. It is much easier to do that than you may think. All you have to do is start with small steps like packing and eating healthy lunches.

Don’t start moaning and groaning as you envision yourself eating salads day after day. You have many other choices, such as: wraps made with lean meats and whole wheat tortillas – an excellent source of nutrition for the busy person. Baby carrots and other vegetables served with a yogurt dressing, humus, or almond butter are delicious and nutritious at the lunch table. Whole-grain bagels and low-fat cream cheese make a nutritious lunch that is also very filling.

Packing a healthy lunch is actually easier than running out to a fast-food restaurant; it just takes a little more planning and some smart shopping.

And Then There Is Dinner

Dinner is often another difficult time for busy people, but meal planning can take the hassle out of creating healthy meals. Writing out a loose meal plan each week can help you stick to eating healthier foods even when your schedule is hectic.

Meal planning is a great way to keep yourself and your family on the healthy-eating track each week without taking up too much of your time. A plan removes the guesswork in preparing healthy dinners for those with overly-crowded schedules. Meal planning and shopping lists also save time and money at the grocery store. (More about this in the next post.)

Plus, if you do it right, you will have yummy leftovers that can be packed for lunch the next day. Two birds with one stone . . .

In an earlier post, we discussed the importance of a healthy breakfast and now I have added the challenge of eating a healthy lunch and dinner. It may feel like an impossible task; but, I promise you eating well all day long is important and well worth the time and effort.

Without good nutrition, you will not be able to keep up with your busy schedule and also stay healthy. Eating “out” for lunch and/or dinner adds up. It puts a dent in your wallet and endangers your health.

Making the effort to eat nutritious meals pays dividends – more than you can imagine. You will sleep better and wake up feeling more rested. You will look better, feel better, and be more productive than you have ever been. Good nutrition gives you energy that lasts throughout the day and creates a healthy lifestyle that will serve you well in your busy world.