Meal times are often the most challenging hours of a mother's day. The attempt to provide balanced nutrition to picky eaters can test the wits of even those who love to cook. The secret to keeping your wits is meal planning. Invest the time to create daily meal plans that will equip you with everything you need to satisfy the nutritional needs of your family.
Whether you write your meal plans on the pages of a spiral notebook, jot them in a daily planner or download a meal-planning program to use on the computer, the important thing is that the meal plan is easily created and readily accessible. The method you choose should provide a space for a daily listing of three meals, snacks and dessert. Fill in the blanks according to your family's favorite meals, nutritional requirements, budget and schedule. Save the meal plans that are most popular with your family to add to the rotation in future calendars.
Use a checklist based on the USDA's MyPlate guidelines to ensure each day's meals satisfies the nutritional recommendations for your family. Recommendations vary according to age and gender, but there are some tricks to incorporate selections from each food group into every menu. Introduce a fruit or vegetable at each meal. Start with bananas in cereal or a vegetable omelet for breakfast. Add sliced veggies to lunch sandwiches and serve fruit smoothies for dessert. Carrot and celery sticks served with a creamy dip are welcome in lunchboxes or set out on the coffee table as a snack. Stir pureed veggies into pasta sauces or casseroles for fussy kids who otherwise refuse to eat another vegetable. Mix unpopular vegetables with kid-friendly grains such as bread, rice or pasta. Use whole-grain varieties to boost nutritional value. With beans and eggs, meatless meals easily fulfill the protein recommendations. A glass of milk with meals satisfies suggested servings of dairy, but in the interest of variety consider other sources throughout the day, such as yogurt, cheese or pudding.
Your grocery shopping budget is a determining factor in the development of your meal plan. To save money or stay within your budget, review the supermarket circulars and use the sale items to inspire meal ideas. Fill in at least one week's worth of daily meal plans on your planner, and write a shopping list based on the completed menus. Planning in this manner saves time as well as money as it eliminates the need for midweek trips to the market and keeps you focused on getting only what you need.
Get the Kids Involved
Involve the kids in the meal planning. Assign each child a day on which to choose one of the meals. Rotate their choices each week to keep them interested. Grant them their selections, but serve them in a way that suits your guidelines. For instance, if they choose pizza, make a healthy version at home. Use whole-wheat crust and homemade sauce enriched with pureed vegetables and a seasoning mix for enticing flavor. Top with cheese. Serve your burgers with a side of sweet potato fries to check a serving of vegetables off your list. Allow treats in the meal plan. Ice cream can count as a serving of dairy, so it can be a better choice than a dessert that provides only sugar, for instance.
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