Every day parents have to make good choices to put meals on the table, it is an important aspect of quality family life.
Providing food for a family requires juggling with nutritious meals, time, budget, special diets, family preferences, dislikes and your own experience in meal planning.
At times there are so much to deal with that you can easily get off-track. But thankfully with meal planning you can get things back in control.
We’ve all been off-course from time to time, so don’t let that discourages you from planning your meals.
Planning meals is important for single and couples, but it is essential for families.
With meal planning, families can plan and prepare healthy meals at home, but with families getting busier and busier we all need a bit of help, so here we are sharing a few simple but practical meal planning guidelines for a family that you can follow.
These meal planning guidelines for a family gives you the direction you need to plan healthy meals suitable for both parents and children.
When planning your meals include all the five groups of food, this is very important if you want a healthy diet. The five food groups you need to consider are dairy, vegetables, fruits, grains and proteins.
Start simple, the idea is to balance the intake of these five food groups. And here is how you can include them in your meals and snacks.
Include fruits, dairy and grains at breakfast. Make a nice yogurt with fresh or dried fruits, for example, you could mix banana, apple and low-fat yogurt, you can also prepare a tasty milkshake with your favorite berries. Accompany those yogurts or milkshakes with whole-grain oats, cereal or bread.
Rotate the fruits, dairy and grains, make the most of fruit seasonality.
Combine vegetables, proteins and grains. Fish and lean meats are a great source of proteins, ensure you complement it with a good portion of salad. Salads are great options to consume vegetables.
Make your salads with fresh or steamed vegetable such as steamed carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans or any vegetable of your like.
Similar to lunch but a smaller serve, you can have vegetables, proteins and grains. Grilled chicken with lentil salad or chicken soup with carrots.
Not all families are used to snacks but if your family is, then this is a great way to complement your meals with fruit and grains.
Plan your snacks between breakfast and dinner, in that way you ensure you have healthy food available in between meals. You can have apples, carrots, muesli bars, cashews, a healthy snack will give you energy during the day.
But of course each family is unique, and if you want to take it a step further, The United States Department of Agriculture has an online resource where you can find out how much of each food group to eat based on your age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level.
Plan the number of servings per meal, consider small servings for young children. Planning your servings helps you to accurately estimate the quantity of ingredients you need for your meals. This prevents you from buying more than the necessary but also helps you cook the right amount of meals for your family and keep you from throwing away food.
Set a budget and keep a track of your family food expenses. Have a realistic goal you can track against. It’ll surprise you how much money you can save by buying just the necessary for your meal plan.
Start with a goal you think you can achieve. Your goal could be a weekly budget or savings. For example, if you already know much you are spending in food, your goal could be spending less than that. Whatever your goal is, keep in mind it can change based on circumstances.
Once you set your goal, check how you are tracking towards it. You can do this after grocery shopping by comparing how much you really spent or saved versus your initial goal.
Adjust your goal if necessary, don’t be discourage if you do not achieve your goal in the first weeks, planning is also about learning. Check areas where you need to act, those could be better determining all the ingredient and their quantities but also setting a more realistic goal.
To be more efficient in planning meals for your family, set times during the week to plan and to shop your grocery. You will make the most if you set a part few minutes to decide which meals you want to cook and which day you need to shop the groceries.
Make the most of your time by planning in advance as many days as possible. Preferable plan on a weekly basis, for example, you could plan every Friday or the day before you shop your groceries.
Once you feel confident with planning a week, start planning two weeks in advance and test if that is something that works for you and your family.
Create a list of all the ingredients you need for your weekly meal plans, remember to consider the number of servings per meals. Always check your pantry and fridge to prevent you from buying groceries you might already have.
Set a time in the week when you plan to shop the groceries. You may decide to shop weekly even though you plan your meals for two weeks, that will depend if you prefer fresh ingredients on a weekly basis. Keep in mind the less you’ll visit the shop the more time you’ll save and the less money you’ll spend.
Once you create the plan, share it with a family member who can help you with shopping, meal preparation or cooking. If you anticipate a busy week, you can also decide in advance how to share the workload within the family.
Create your diet plan following the advice of a doctor or registered dietitian. Plan in advance, keep in mind that most diets fails because of poor planning.
Create a list of foods aligned with your diet for breakfast, lunch and dinner including snacks. To create the list of foods, you will need to learn about the food macronutrient profiles such as fat, calorie, protein and carbohydrate numbers.
Once you create the list of foods, you need to create your list of groceries. Meal planning does not have to be complicated, you can start with this meal planning template we’ve created or our online meal planner that will simplify the meal planning for you.
We all have our favorite meals but also meals we do not like much. This is particularly noticeable in toddlers because they are starting to develop their own preferences for food.
Just keep planning meals and try not to get frustrated, instead follow these guidelines that can help you with picky eaters.
Involve the whole family, including children, in meal planning to understand the likes and dislikes. Keep in mind that tastes can change overtime especially for toddlers, so you will need to check and adjust your plan from time to time.
Keep making healthy food choices and offering a variety of flavors using spices and herbs to do this. Remember to offer a balance of the five food groups as the core of your meals.
Try new recipes, using the ingredients the whole family like. This gives you a fresh spin of your old favorites. For example, if your family likes broccoli, you can try broccoli cream, baked broccoli and corn, macaroni and cheese with broccoli, crisp bacon and broccoli salad.
Gradually introduce new ingredients in meals you know the family already likes.
There are certain ingredients that just taste better with others. Follow your own intuition based on what your family likes and introducing one or two new ingredients at a time.
And if you need extra help there is a list of food pairing here that you can find it useful.
Let your kids know what you’ve prepared for them or go a step further and ask them for their favorite food, even if you know them. Create a lunch box plan for the week and share it with them.
Children love a good variety of small and tasty food they can easily bite. Include a wide range of healthy food, from fruits, dairy, vegetables, grains and proteins, mix it up to avoid routine but also to create balanced foods. Prepare them in small sizes to make it easier for them to eat.
Avoid sugars in their drinks and foods.
Experiment with new recipes from time to time. Plan a day when you want to try a new recipe, start with recipes that share similar cooking methods than recipes you already know.
Create a list of at least twenty meals your family likes, so you can rotate the meals in the week.
Try not to repeat the meals in a week, plan your number of serving per meals to avoid food waste.
Just because you are not used to meal planning, don’t give up. Keep planning your meals, it takes times to become a routine, but once you are used to it, you and your family will reap its benefits.
Keep it simple and remember the meal planning guidelines.