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Easy ways to make menu planning fun for the whole family

October 26, 2015

How often do you hear “What’s for dinner?” or “Why are we having that again?” from your family because you have no idea what to cook?

With a little extra planning, mealtime can be less complicated and stressful. You may be wondering how exactly you can make mealtime more enjoyable. The answer is menu planning!

In the simplest terms, menu planning means organizing a day, week or month’s worth of menus for your family. It can be as simple as writing down a dinner menu on a kitchen chalkboard or calendar or doing prep work for upcoming meals. Some families enjoy spending a Sunday afternoon together planning menus for the upcoming week.

No need to plan or cook by yourself; invite your family to help too. They are sure to enjoy it!

Why is it important to plan menus for my family?

  1. Helps meet nutrient needs: Planning gives us an opportunity to organize a balanced meal that includes fruit, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and protein foods. When rushed we often choose unbalanced quick foods such as pizza, greasy hamburgers or sweets. Help your kids meet their nutritional needs for proper growth and development by planning meals in advance.
  2. Saves money: Reduces trips to the supermarket, which decreases impulse buying. Plus early planning gives us a chance to search for coupons or discounts.
  3. More family time: How often do you make a frantic run to the grocery store and spend much longer there than expected? Those extra minutes or even hours can be spent with your family preparing a healthy dinner.
  4. Encourages new foods: Instead of preparing the same meals over and over again, try to add one new recipe a week.

Things to remember when menu planning

  1. Bring a shopping list: Bring a detailed list with you every shopping trip to keep yourself on track. Without a shopping list, we often forget important ingredients.
  2. Use a calendar/menu board: Purchase a calendar or a menu board just for menu planning. Keep it visible so your family will never have to guess what is on the menu for that night. The easy access prevents the unexpected “Oh no, I forgot to thaw the chicken” moment on the morning of chicken parmesan night.
  3. Search for recipes: - Search online for recipes or go through cookbooks you already have. Remember ingredients can always be switched out in a recipe to cater to your family’s preferences.

How do I involve my kids in menu planning?

Educating kids on the importance of healthy eating sometimes might not be enough. We have to get hands-on and provide them with valuable experience. Involving your kids does not mean you give them all the control. It is a great opportunity to encourage individuality and help improve self-confidence. Start with a small task and built up to more responsibility.
  1. This or that? – Encourage kids to make simple choices such as, carrots or broccoli? Brown rice or baked potato? Baked chicken or grilled chicken? Kids enjoy taking ownership and providing them with some important dinner options might make meal time run more smoothly.
  2. Exposure – How many times have you set a dinner plate down and your child says “NO!” to everything on it? Did your child know what was for dinner beforehand or was it a surprise? We all like to know what to expect before a meal is placed in front of us. Present them with a menu before dinner. Make it fun; have them believe they are eating at a fancy restaurant.
  3. Shopping Adventure–Take a trip to the produce aisle and encourage kids to choose between different vegetables for dinner, such as asparagus or zucchini. Go through each of the shopping list items and show them how different these items look in the grocery store then they do on a plate. A head of broccoli or cauliflower looks a bit different in the store than it does on a dinner plate.
  4. Change it up –Steamed, baked, grilled, broiled, or sautéed, there are so many options out there. Once your child chooses a side dish, ask them how they would like it prepared. Should we steam it or sauté it in a delicious stir-fry? Should we make homemade potato wedges or have a baked potato? The taste and texture of foods can easily be changed just by how we prepare them. If carrots are too crunchy for a young child with a loose tooth, steaming will soften them up nicely.
  5. Let’s get cooking – During meal prep, invite children into the kitchen to wash vegetables, wrap foil around potatoes, place frozen vegetables in the microwave, add pasta to water, peel vegetables, or carefully slice fruit. They would love to be your own private sous chef. Set up a separate work space to prevent any accidents or run-ins with the cook.

What happens if something unexpected occurs and I cannot follow my menu plan?

Having a back-up plan is the key to successful menu planning. Keep dinner staples in the house such as frozen vegetables, whole grain pasta, canned low-sodium beans, brown rice, frozen chicken breasts etc. This way you will always have a quick meal available anytime. Whole grain pasta, assorted vegetables and sliced baked chicken is an easy, nutritious and satisfying dinner. Leftovers are another great option if you are in a time crunch. Preparing extra food the night before and then freezing, will assure you will never be without a home cooked meal.

Try menu planning for the next week or so and see what you come up with. Include your family in the fun and see how much they enjoy it. Menu planning is a great way to help free up your time for more important things, like your family and their health.