Meal Planning Tips for a Healthy Family
Feeding an active family a nutritious menu is never easy, especially when time is short and picky eaters abound.
The following strategies for each meal plus snacks will help you nourish your brood, without the drama.
Breaking for Breakfast
It’s hard to overstate the importance of a healthy breakfast, and it’s even more critical for kids. A few things to consider:
- Studies have shown that children who regularly eat breakfast are more likely to meet their recommended dietary intake for vitamins and minerals.
- When children skip breakfast, they do not typically make up the lost nutrients at other meals of the day.
- Children who skip breakfast also tend to fill up on nutrient-poor snacks at school and are less likely to consume the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.
- Research indicates that eating a healthy breakfast positively affects cognitive function and academic performance in children.
- Evidence also seems to suggest that eating breakfast is associated with less likelihood of being overweight.
- A good breakfast not only contributes to physical health, it also supports emotional stability and mental alertness.
- Breakfast also helps promote regular meal patterns and consistent energy intake
Okay, so breakfast is important. But what kind is best?
The ideal breakfast should have lots of fiber and whole grains, some protein and good fat, and as little added sugar as possible.
Many typical breakfasts fall short on protein, so consider the following protein-rich foods to give you the wakeup you need:
Video: Make a Green SmoothieCatherine McCord of Weelicious creates a healthy smoothie your kids will love.
- Eggs, cooked any way you like them (hard-boiled eggs are easy to have around for a quick protein boost)
- Unsweetened yogurt or cottage cheese with berries
- Refried beans spread on whole grain toast or tortillas
- Nut butters
- Burritos with eggs or beans and cheese on whole grain tortillas
- All types of natural meat, such as breakfast steaks, lean pork chops, or turkey bacon
- Hummus on whole grain or corn tortillas
- Yogurt, hot cereal, or cold cereal with nuts
- Scrambled tofu
- Unsweetened kefir
- Cheese sticks with fruit
- Cream cheese on whole grain crackers
But how do you get them to eat it?
The best ideas are useless if you can’t get your family to try them. How do you encourage everyone in the house to actually eat a good breakfast?
Start by setting aside enough time – just an extra 10 minutes can make a big difference. If your kids are addicted to empty-calorie food like donuts or pastries, offer them their favorite non-breakfast foods, such as pizza, smoothies or any leftovers. To wean your family off sugary cereals, try mixing in increasing amounts of unsweetened cereals until their taste buds have adjusted.
Need breakfast on the run? Here are a few that are fun.
- Smoothie + a dollop of their favorite nut or seed butter
- Hard-boiled eggs + whole grain crackers + fresh fruit
- Whole grain toast + cream cheese + sliced strawberries
Fun and Healthy Lunches
A kid-friendly lunch doesn't have to be peanut butter and jelly. Not only can foods like fruit kabobs, pizza quesadillas and noodle bowls be just as easy to make as a sandwich, you may be surprised by how much kids love these healthier choices.
Ideas for spreading the lunch love:
- Give kids something they can assemble themselves. Kids are crazy for dipping, stacking and rolling up their food into fun treats.
- For kids, anything "mini" equals fun. Serve them food in miniature, like mini whole grain bagels, potstickers or cheese cubes.
- Make food into fun shapes: colorful or interestingly shaped pasta, sandwiches cut into shapes with cookie cutters, or fruit carved into triangles, circles and squares.
- Try to expose your children to at least one new flavor each week. This could be an item they've never eaten before or one they haven't had in a while.
- Include a special note, cartoon, or joke in the lunchbox. Like the ideal breakfast, lunch should have lots of fiber and whole grains, some protein and healthy fat, a veggie, and just a bit of natural sugar, like a piece of fresh fruit.
Try these ideas for a little something different:
Video: The Fun FactorCatherine McCord of Weelicious shows you how to make kid-friendly meals more fun!
- Whole wheat tortillas spread with peanut butter, sprinkled with raisins or dried cherries, rolled up and cut in two
- Baked corn chips, black beans, cheese wedges and fresh pico de gallo
- Tuna salad with grated carrots, served with crackers or in a pita
- Cheese triangles with pepperoni and whole wheat crackers for stacking
- Whole wheat crackers served with roasted turkey, hard-boiled eggs and pickle spears
- Vegetarian brown rice sushi rolls with soy or ponzu sauce
- Hummus and spinach wrap, cherry tomatoes, string cheese and any bite-sized fruit
- Smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumbers on mini bagels
- Chocolate almond butter with graham crackers
To give kids a sense of control and a vested interest in eating their lunches, involve them in the prep work and decision making about what goes in the lunchbox. Best to do this on the weekend or the night before to avoid the dreaded morning meltdowns.
Eat dinner as a family whenever possible! The studies are in and it’s clear that eating family dinners provide benefits beyond nutritional requirements. Children who eat meals with their parents have healthier eating habits than those who don't. Families who eat together at home tend to consume less fast food and more fruits and vegetables, and preparing meals at home gives parents control over both the quality and quantity of food. Plus, it’s a great way for families to regroup and relax together.
With childhood obesity on the rise in the United States, many experts recommend:
- Serving sensible portion sizes so kids know that "supersized" isn't normal.
- Helping kids understand how to eat until they are comfortably satisfied, but not stuffed.
- Letting children serve themselves as early as age 5 so they begin to regulate portions themselves.
- Not pressuring kids to clear their plates; encourage them to judge fullness by physical rather than visual cues.
Tips for making dinner a group effort:
Video: Mac & CheeseCatherine McCord of Weelicious cooks up a delicious batch of mac and cheese with a healthy twist!
- Allow each family member to choose the menu on a regular rotation.
- Have family members check out cookbooks or online recipe collections and choose a few new recipes to try out.
- Set specific days of the week and times for family meals and stick to it. If something comes up, make it into a family event so you still end up sharing a meal. For example, if your daughter's soccer game is scheduled on a family dinner night, everyone goes to the game and eats together afterward.
- Take pride in your table. Set the table more elaborately, or have one of the kids set it for the whole family. Add cloth napkins, placemats or flowers.
- Learn to cook with a pressure cooker or slow cooker to make meal prep easier on everyone's schedule. You'll return at the end of the day to a dinner that's ready to serve.
- Cook several meals over the weekend and refrigerate or freeze them to be reheated later in the week.
- Mix store-prepared and homemade foods to save time and still provide complete nutrition.
- Turn off the phone, television and other distractions. Play soothing music or light if you choose.