- Schedule: Review your family’s schedule for the week ahead to plan when the entire family can gather around the table. It can be any meal – breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack. Even one more family meal per week can have a positive impact. However, research shows three meals per week specifically improves weight and eating patterns.
- Brainstorming: Plan themed meals each week. This helps adjust for varying dietary practices in the family, ensures nutritional variety, and helps ease the burden of coming up with new meal ideas. Here is an example week of themed meals.
• Meatless Monday
• Taco Tuesday
• Wednesday: Pasta night
• Thursday: Breakfast for dinner
• Fry-day: Burger and Fries-day
• Saturday: Pizza night
• Sunday: Leftover day
- Create a shopping list. This way you will remember everything for the weekly menu and decrease the likelihood of impulse buying. Take inventory of what foods you have. Keep a running list on the refrigerator and add to the list as you run out of items. You can even make this a family activity. Have everyone contribute by adding missing items to the grocery list.
- Meal Prep: Set some time aside to meal prep. Whether that be cooking protein foods like chicken or ground beef, boiling rice or noodles, or cutting vegetables and fruit for the week, the more you can do in advance, the less time it will take to prepare meals during the week.
- Get kids involved: You can involve your kids in every aspect of the meal preparation process. They can help set the table, cut fruit with a kid friendly knife, stir, build side dishes or snacks, or partake in a clean-up assembly line. Involving kids in the kitchen helps save time, increases the likelihood of mealtime participation, encourages them to try new foods, teaches new hands-on skills, and gets them interested in food and nutrition.
- Ready-to-eat meals: There is no need to spend hours in the kitchen to experience the benefits of family meals. If you don’t have time to cook, heat up frozen meals, pick up a rotisserie chicken, or make something out of leftovers like chicken salad sandwiches, wraps, or taco salad with leftover taco meat.
- Building the plate: When planning the meal, ask yourself, “Do I have an item from each food group?” Start planning the protein source first, then choose the vegetables, fruits, and grains to compliment the protein.
- Stretch the food: Make double batches to eat later in the week or freeze for later. You can also get creative with leftovers. For example, use the leftover rice or protein to prepare a salad, stir-fry or casserole.
- Make it a game: Get an index card box and document one meal per card. Have the box divided into different meals. Then let the cards choose! Have members of your family pick a card without looking to create your meal plan of family meals. This is a fun way to keep meal planning interesting, easy, and make the whole family feel included. Plus, you don’t have to deal with your kids complaining about the food again… it’s in the cards!
Deanna Scheid: Regional Health & Wellness Specialist
Deanna is a Registered Dietitian who believes in empowering every individual to make nutritious food choices to support a healthy lifestyle. She believes in the power of food as medicine and loves sharing about nutrition with others.