Busy mothers are always on the lookout for meals that are nutritious, affordable and kid-friendly. To achieve all these goals at once, meal planning is essential. When coming up with a week's worth of meals, look for recipes that offer high nutritional value and ease of preparation and that can also be fun to cook with your kids. Your ultimate aim is to come up with meals that are fast and nutritious, redefining fast food.
One of the advantages of meal planning is that you can prepare one meal — for example, grilled chicken breasts — and use the leftovers in another, such as a chicken salad or chicken pasta. When planning, also consider "one-pan" meals that can be cooked together, such as a pot roast or roast chicken with vegetables cooked in the same pan. If you make soup, chili, pasta sauce or any other item that can be made in large batches, make more than you need for a single meal and freeze the rest so you can include it in a future meal. It can also be fun to designate certain nights as "pizza night" or "burger night," allowing you to have those dinners planned well in advance.
The Importance of Breakfast
Both parents and children should start off the day with a healthy, balanced breakfast, which should also be the biggest, most substantial meal of the day. Plan breakfasts that incorporate protein from sources such as yogurt and meat, carbohydrates from whole-grain cereal or toast, and fiber from fruits. Designate one morning per week for breakfast smoothies; the night before, blend up a breakfast shake of yogurt, fresh fruit, wheat germ and a bit of protein powder and refrigerate overnight so it will be ready to go in the morning, providing your kids with maximum nutrients in minimum time.
If your school-age children pack a lunch, keep in mind that kids will easily become bored of the same old lunches, so think about ways to add variety. For example, if they're used to having a sandwich, instead pack a wrap with deli meat, fresh vegetables, creamy dressing and cheese wrapped in a whole-wheat tortilla. Plan to pack them a different type of fruit each day, such as apples, bananas or grapes, as well as snacks, such as nuts, sunflower seeds and yogurt tubes. Mix it up and keep school lunches from becoming boring.
When planning dinners, keep the focus on meals that are fast and nutritious, and try to use leftovers whenever possible. For example, leftover chicken can be combined with frozen vegetables and crushed tomatoes jazzed up with seasoning mix in a savory sauce for fresh pasta. Another option is to use a premade pizza crust and top it with chicken, vegetables and cheese; for a different variation, try goat cheese and substitute pesto for for tomato sauce. Another plan that's quick, easy and nutritious is a stir-fry, including thinly sliced meat, fresh vegetables and items such as scrambled eggs or cashews over a bed of rice. By the time the rice has finished cooking, your stir-fry will be ready to serve as well. Let kids wash and tear lettuce for crispy green salads, and allow them to choose from a variety of creamy dressings to put out for the family; they'll love having responsibility for "their part" of the meal.
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