Planning a menu for a whole day in advance can help you organize ingredients on hand and plan your shopping needs. On a busy day, your menu plan tells you exactly what to make for each meal, so you can also organize your time, whether you'll be at your job, carpooling the kids or doing household chores. Although the food options for menus are countless, your family needs three balanced meals a day plus a morning and afternoon snack.
Eating breakfast helps jump-start your metabolism and provides energy for the morning hours. A well-rounded breakfast should include grains, fruits and dairy, plus maybe some additional protein. One kid-friendly idea is an egg taco, with scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese folded in a soft tortilla and served with fresh fruit on the side. Add a dollop of creamy salad dressing in the taco for a zesty kick. A classic healthy breakfast is whole-grain cereal with milk and fresh fruit, whether berries, banana or peaches. For a weekend breakfast, when you have more time, serve pancakes with fruit baked into them plus scrambled or fried eggs and a glass of milk.
Keep lunch simple with sandwiches, wraps or pita pockets. This makes it easy to get the protein, vegetables and grains all together. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich with carrots and a glass of milk hits the major food groups. Help kids keep chicken or tuna salad confined by putting it in a pita pocket with lettuce and tomato. Add zip to the pita filling by making the tuna or chicken salad with creamy ranch dressing instead of mayonnaise. Serve the pita pocket with fruit and yogurt. If kids are at home, have them help make open-faced personal pizzas by spreading tomato sauce, cheese and their favorite toppings on English muffins. Serve with fruit or vegetables on the side.
On the dinner plate, focus on dividing the plate almost equally between lean protein, grains and vegetables. For example, make lasagna with ground turkey and a side of steamed green beans. Assemble the lasagna when you have a chance, refrigerate it for up to a day, and bake it for one hour before dinner. Serve with a lettuce salad and creamy dressing. For a 20-minute meal, make an Asian-inspired stir fry with mixed vegetables and strips of beef or chicken, all served over rice. Rather than serving fruit with dinner, wait at least a half hour and serve it as dessert. Sliced strawberries, canned pineapple and orange wedges all have enough natural sweetness to serve in place of dessert, and they are quick and easy to prepare.
Many people, especially growing kids, get hungry between meals and need a snack to keep them going until the next meal. Offer snacks with some protein for a more filling option. A small bowl of yogurt with fruit is a simple snack that kids can often prepare themselves. Another idea is to serve an apple or banana with peanut butter to dip it in. Keep prepared raw vegetables handy, such as carrots, celery, bell peppers and broccoli, and serve them with creamy salad dressing for dipping. Cheese with crackers or a half grilled cheese sandwich is another option.