Given today's busy lifestyles, meal planning is a must for many moms; having a week's worth of nutritious, delicious meals planned out in advance takes the guesswork out of meal preparation. When planning meals, however, it can be easy to get stuck in a routine, so it's important to look for creative meal-planning ideas that will keep kids from getting bored with the same old thing.
When planning five days' worth of meals, mothers should promote the idea that breakfast should be the biggest meal of the day. A healthy, balanced breakfast should ideally contain a low-fat source of protein, complex carbohydrates such as those found in whole grains, and plenty of fiber. With this in mind, fruits such as strawberries, bananas and grapefruit are great choices. Other foods that can be included in a big breakfast include oatmeal or other whole-grain cereal, whole-grain toast with peanut butter, eggs, bacon and sausage. Low-fat yogurt should also be part of some of the five morning meals. On extra-busy mornings, consider making a fruit smoothie containing yogurt, wheat-germ powder, fresh fruit and skim milk.
Lunches can easily become routine, especially if you pack a lunch for your child to eat at school. When planning five meals, think of ways to add variety; for example, lunch can include such items as a sandwich or wrap containing deli meat and fresh vegetables, a bowl of hearty turkey chili, either canned or homemade chicken noodle soup, a fresh garden salad with chunks of leftover chicken or shrimp and fat-free creamy salad dressing, homemade pizza bagels with tomato sauce and cheese, or a serving of pasta tossed with light olive oil, grated Parmesan cheese and snow peas. For dessert, offer kids a fruit salad or a piece of their favorite fruit. As with breakfast, try to lean toward foods that are low in fats and refined sugar; a good rule of thumb is to always choose fresh food over processed food when at all possible.
By dinnertime, kids will be ready for something hearty, which offers a great opportunity to introduce them to new foods. By planning five meals in advance, you'll be able to come up with thoughtfully designed dinners that contain the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, fiber and fat. For example, lean ground beef can be used to make meatloaf or tomato-meat sauce for baked lasagna, spaghetti or sloppy Joes. Fatty fish such as salmon or halibut offer great taste and omega-3 fatty acids. Include broiled or steamed vegetables or a side salad with creamy dressing with each meal; in fact, one day you can toss together a mixture of baby greens, raw crunchy veggies and some diced meat or seafood and have a big salad for dinner. For kids' added enjoyment, let them help you prepare the salad and then pick their favorite type of creamy dressing.
When planning meals, don't forget to factor in healthy snacks. Preschoolers are apt to snack throughout the day, while older kids will be craving snacks when they get home from school. It's important that there are a variety of healthy choices from which they can choose when they look for snacks. Nutritious snacks include yogurt tubes, nuts, baked pretzels, oatmeal-raisin cookies and cheese cubes. It's a good idea to have raw, cut veggies ready for snacking, such as carrot and celery sticks, broccoli and cauliflower florets and others, along with their favorite creamy salad dressing for dipping.
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