Post by Adrienne of Susie Makes Supper
“Mom, what’s for dinner?” used to be the question that I loathed most in the world. I knew that regular meal planning could save me sixteen unnecessary trips to the grocery store each week. Even so, the thought of actually sitting down and creating a meal plan remained overwhelming.
The sheer volume of writing about meal planning does not make the actual planning any easier. Most often, meal planning is a pretty solitary experience. Gather your recipes. Make a list. Make a schedule. I know very few meal planners who engage their families in the process of meal planning. The truth? It is amazing how much easier meal planning is (and how many fewer meal time battles you will suffer) when everyone is included in the process. This does not mean resigning yourself to hot dogs and mac and cheese every night. Believe it or not, you can feed your family healthy, simple meals by planning them together.
Let me let you in on a little secret. Kids love the kitchen. Do you know what else they love? Kids love to eat whatever it is that they cook. The same enthusiasm is true of meals that kids plan. Here are a few great ways to get started meal planning with kids:
- Develop a meal planning template specific to your family. You don’t need to cook something different every night. There is a reason that Meatless Monday and Taco Tuesday are both popular things on the Internet. Who doesn’t love a taco? It is perfectly ok to jump on the theme night bandwagon for a few easier planning options. Better yet, pick a category of cooking for each weeknight that works for your family. Sports practice on Wednesday nights? Try making Wednesday your slow cooker day. Tend to lose your steam in the kitchen by Thursday? That makes Thursday an excellent night for leftovers. You can chose a theme that is as simple as a single ingredient (chicken or pasta) that everyone in the family likes.
- Make a “Family Favorites” recipe list. Over dinner one night, ask each member of your family to identify their favorite meals. Make a list (or better yet, a binder) of all of those favorite recipes to keep handy. Once or twice a week, you can incorporate a family favorite into your meal plan. (Friday Family Favorite Night? I think yes.)
- Incorporate Kid Choice Night. This can be as simple as letting one of your kids chose a vegetable, side, or main dish for your meal. Even better, let them chose the whole meal. This is a great way to teach your kids the practice of a balanced plate. Multiple kids? Great. Every Monday night, one of them gets to pick the menu. Four kids? Perfect. You’ve got a month of Monday nights covered.
- Breakfast for dinner is a thing. And it is very good. I haven’t met a kid yet who won’t scarf down eggs and bacon and French toast when served for dinner. Serve breakfast for dinner with a fruit (and spinach) smoothie and you are on your way to Mom of the Year.
- Head to the library. Kid-focused cookbooks come in all types. The best way to start with kids’ cookbooks is to borrow them from the library to get a feel for whether your kids like the concept and whether you like the recipes. Most recently published kid-centered cookbooks are good at including meals that are both healthy and kid-friendly. Many kid-focused magazines (also available at the library) also include recipes geared towards kids. Kid cookbooks and magazines are an excellent way to introduce new types of food.
- Order from your local CSA. The scary thing about ordering a produce box from your local CSA is that you never know what is going to be in it. The fun thing about ordering a produce box from your local CSA is that you never know what is going to be in it. Order that your produce box then create a family challenge to use the ingredients.
- Hand your kid a cookbook and a pad of sticky notes. When all else fails, hand your kid any cookbook in your kitchen or even a food magazine with a pile of sticky notes. We have tried more recipes than I can count using this method with our teens, and some of those recipes are now on our family favorites list.
Meal planning with kids can be stressful but it can also be fun. The successes can be huge when kids are involved in the kitchen and the failures can be memorable. Most important? Have fun. Enjoy the meal as a family from start to finish.
Have any more great ideas to get kids engaged in the kitchen? I’d love to hear them!
Adrienne is a compulsive list-maker with a very busy family and a not very clean house. She’s also a planner and a recovering perfectionist. Adrienne blogs at Susie Makes Supper, where she gives weekly meal plans and shows her successes and failures in the kitchen.