One thing I feel I do a pretty good job at is letting my kids help in the kitchen. Even though it takes a little more time and there are a few more messes, it is fun and I know my kids are learning important skills. On the other hand, one area I don’t take the time to get them involved in is meal planning. Once in a while I will ask them to pick between a couple of choices but that’s about it. Meal planning is definitely a skill I want my children to have as adults, so now is the time!
Just like with cooking, getting kids involved in meal planning may mean it takes more time but it’s time you can spend together and your kids will learn valuable skills, including how to plan a balanced meal. And since they are helping to plan the meal, they may be more likely to eat what is served.
Want to give this a try with me? Here are some tips you and I can both use to get our kids involved with meal planning.
1. Download our 5-Day Meal Planning Worksheet. I like our worksheet because it has the food groups listed at the bottom so you can make sure you include a variety of food groups in your meals. As you plan your meals, have your kids tell you which foods are part of which food group.
2. Make a list of options. If you have younger kids, make a list of options based on what you have on hand and what items are on sale at the store. Then they can choose between options such as spaghetti or lasagna, broccoli or carrots. If your kids are older, they may want to help think of the dishes to make. Another option would be to plan the main dishes and have your kids choose which fruits and vegetables to have.
3. Have a kid’s night. If planning a week’s worth of meals with your kids sounds too overwhelming, choose one night that they can plan the meal. You can provide guidelines such as they need to include foods from three different food groups.
If your kids help you plan a whole week’s worth of meals or just one night, they will learn skills that they can use for a lifetime. Next week I’ll share some tips for how to get kids involved with grocery shopping.
Last week Justine shared with you how she does meal planning for her family. I use a similar strategy for my family of four. If you are new to meal planning or starting as a new years’ resolution, we have just the thing for you, a sample three-week meal plan. It includes ideas for meals and snacks as well as links to recipes!
Our sample is a place to start and can be adapted for your family’s needs based on what they like, how many snacks they need each day, and family activities. When creating a meal plan, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Plan for leftovers – To help keep food costs low and reduce food waste, make leftovers a part of your meal plan. You will see in the sample meal plan that we planned to have leftovers from supper the next day for lunch occasionally. Depending on the size of your family, you may need to increase the size of the recipe if you want to have leftovers to use at another meal.
- Prepare extra – To maximize the benefit of your time in the kitchen, plan recipes that use similar ingredients so you can cook extra of an ingredient to use in a recipe another day. For example, if you make Chicken Alfredo Pasta one night, cook extra chicken to use in Chicken Club Salad the next day for lunch. This will also help with food costs and food waste. For food safety purposes, you should use extra cooked meat in a recipe within a day or two of it being cooked.
- Keep variety in mind – Even though we recommend using leftovers and preparing extra ingredients to use in multiple recipes, it’s also a good idea to include variety in your menu plans. This helps keep meals exciting and makes sure you get a variety of vitamins and minerals. Use a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables. Try different kinds of protein like beef, chicken, or fish and non-meat sources like eggs, beans and nuts. Use different grains like whole grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread.
- Plan the fruits and vegetables – Many times the main meal is planned, which is often a source of protein, but not the side dishes. Be sure to plan what fruits and vegetables will be a part of the meals and snacks. This helps to be sure they are included in meals and snacks and are part of your shopping list. Use different kinds of fruits and vegetables including fresh, canned, frozen, and dried.
Meal planning may take a little time when you first get started, but it saves time when it comes to getting a meal on the table. No extra tips to the grocery store and stressing about what you are going to have for supper.
Here at Spend Smart. Eat Smart. we talk about planning meals a lot. This is because it is easier to save money and make healthy food choices when you have a plan. I know that on the weeks that I do not have a plan, or on the weeks when my plan goes wrong, I end up making more trips to the store, spending more money, and making less healthy choices.
My colleagues have written many great blogs about meal planning here, here, here, and here. If you want more information about meal planning, take some time to read this helpful information. Today, I am going to tell you about how meal planning works for my family of five.
I do a lot of cooking on the weekend, so I usually plan out my meals and write my grocery list on Friday. First, I look at what I have on hand and think of what meals I can make to use up these foods before they go bad. Then, I write down all of the meals I am going to make that week. Our 5-Day Meal Planning Worksheet can be helpful for this step. Finally, I write my grocery list and go shopping.
Now it is time for a confession, I rarely stick to my meal plan as written. We are an active family and things come up, so I give myself a break here. If it is 5:30 on Monday night and everyone is hungry but I have not even started supper, I will pull out Sunday’s leftovers and re-heat them. This pushes Monday’s meal to another night, but that is ok. Just remember, if you have raw meat in your refrigerator, it is only good for 3-4 days, so stick it in the freezer if you will not be using it soon.
Meal planning is a great way to get your healthy new year’s resolutions off to the right start. So, give meal planning a try!
‘I don’t like that’ is heard more often than I’d like in my kitchen! Often my children tell me they don’t like what I’ve made for supper, even before they’ve tried it. It’s normal for young children to prefer foods they are familiar with and to have periods of time where they may only want to eat 1 or 2 different foods. However, there are ways you can help your child try new foods.
- Offer choices. Instead of asking, ‘Do you want broccoli for supper?” ask “Would you like broccoli or cauliflower for supper?”
- Name a food your child helps make. Make a big deal of serving “Paige’s Sweet Potatoes” or “Kenny’s Super Salad” for supper.
- Offer only one new food at a time. Serve something that you know your child likes along with the new food.
- Offer small portions of new foods. Let your child try small portions of new foods that you enjoy. Give them a small taste at first and be patient with them. The first few times the child might just smell the food, than they might lick the food. This helps the child become more familiar with the food. It may take up to a dozen tries for a child to accept a new food.
- Be a good role model. Try new foods yourself. Describe their taste, texture, and smell to your child.
To help children develop positive eating habits, offer the same foods for the whole family. It is okay for your child to eat more at some meals and less at others. Lastly, make eating family meals together fun. If meals are time for family arguments, your child may learn unhealthy attitudes towards food. Talk about fun activities family members did during the day. Or use our Mealtime Conversation Cards to get the conversation going.
I love using my slow cooker for many reasons. Right now, the main reason I love my slow cooker is the timing. There are usually two or three nights each week when someone in our family needs to be somewhere by 6 or 6:30. It is really hard for me to make a meal, feed everyone, and then get three children out the door on time. These are the nights when I rely on my slow cooker. I can do the prep for a meal the night before, load the slow cooker in the morning, and then have a great meal ready in the evening.
Over the years, I have gradually converted some of my family’s favorite stove top recipes into slow cooker recipes. It can take some trial and error, especially with the cooking time, but it is worth it in the end. Here are some pointers for converting your own recipes into slow cooker recipes:
- Choose recipes that simmer on the stove top or roast in the oven.
- Reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 1/3 to 1/2. You need to do this because the slow cooker creates its own liquid.
- Adjust the cooking time. This website has a convenient conversion chart.
If you have questions or concerns about your slow cooker, contact AnswerLine. They are a great resource for your home and family questions.
Good luck converting some of your favorites into slow cooker recipes!
Our weather in Iowa has really warmed up lately and I’ve been firing up the grill a couple of times each week. The outdoor grill is a great tool for eating healthy and if you plan well, you can also save time and money. Here are a couple of tips for using your grill the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. way!
- Make the most of a hot grill. Every time you heat up your grill, you’re using fuel, either charcoal or propane. Make the most of that fuel by filling the grill, not just cooking one or two things. I like to fill one side of my grill with meat like chicken, hamburgers or pork chops. I put veggies on the other side. Zucchini (cut in half the long way), asparagus, sliced onions and large pieces of pepper grill very well. I pack up any leftovers for future meals. If I won’t get to them within 4 days, I freeze them in freezer bags. If I know I have tasty grilled meals in my fridge or freezer, I am far less likely to grab take out on the way home from work.
- Stretch meat by mixing with other foods. Grilling doesn’t have to be all about meat. The most expensive ingredient in a lot of meals is the meat. You can cut down on this cost by mixing the meat with whole grains like brown rice and additional protein sources like black beans. I love to season grilled chicken with spices like chili powder and cumin and then mix them with brown rice, black beans, grilled peppers and onions. I sprinkle a little hot sauce and shredded cheese on top and I’ve got a delicious, healthy meal!
I hope these tips will help you make your grill work a little harder for you!
Last month I wrote a blog about how I plan my meals ahead and how easy it is. Well, I have a confession to make. The past couple of weeks I have not done a good job of planning meals. Between my son’s soccer practices and games and just wanting to be outside in the nice weather as much as I can, I haven’t been as committed to getting my meals planned. I feel like I’ve been in a rut making many of the same recipes for the last few months. Therefore, I am excited to have discovered a new resource from Utah State University that is all about making your own meals based on what you have on hand.
The Create Series has taught me how to prepare a variety of dishes, like casseroles, sandwiches, soups, and skillet meals without a recipe or having to run to the store. By understanding how some ingredients go together, you can mix and match a variety of ingredients to make your desired dish.
For example, to create a casserole, choose an item from each category below and follow the directions on the handout:
- Choose a starch, such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, potatoes, or whole grain tortilla.
- Choose a protein such as 1 can beans such as pinto, black, or white.
- Choose one to three vegetables like broccoli, carrots, corn, or green beans.
- Choose one sauce like a can of cream soup or a can of diced tomatoes with juice.
- Choose one or more flavors like chopped onion, green pepper, garlic, or salt and pepper.
- Choose one or more toppings such as breadcrumbs, grated parmesan cheese, or grated cheddar cheese.
The Good Foods to Have on Hand handout is also really helpful. By keeping your pantry and fridge stocked with these items, you can make a variety of things to eat in a short time, even if you haven’t planned ahead.
It is very helpful to plan your meals ahead of time but when that isn’t done, use the Create Series to help you get tasty, nutritious meals on the table.
It’s the time of year when many of us have family visiting and special get-togethers that involve food. You can save a lot of money by having holiday parties at home rather than in a restaurant and it is usually more fun too. I have friends coming for dinner this month as well as a neighborhood cookie swap at my house.
These are all fun things to do, but I’ll have a lot more fun if I get organized and I know that my kitchen is ready for the extra “traffic”. Here are some things that I do to make sure my kitchen is organized for holiday entertaining.
- I go through my seasonings and spices to make sure I know what I have so that I don’t end up buying unnecessary duplicates.
- I look carefully at what is in my freezer and make a point of getting things used up to clear out space.
- I go through the bottles and jars in my fridge and make sure everything is in date. If it is expired I throw it out.
- I review the recipes that I want to make and create a meal plan as well as a grocery list. This will keep me from being tempted by all of the tasty things at the grocery store that I really don’t need. As I’m doing this, I think about what I’ll ask guests to bring if they offer to provide a dish.
- Parties can mean some extra sweets and rich holiday recipes so I balance those extra calories by eating really well when it’s not party day. I stock up on easy-to-eat fruits and veggies that I can keep in the fridge for a quick snack or side dish.
I hope these tips help make your holiday entertaining stress free and please share your ideas with us on Spend Smart. Eat Smart’s. Facebook page!
Recently when making supper for my family, I realized part way through making the pizza that I did not have any pizza sauce! I thought I had some, so didn’t check to make sure before I started making the pizza. So supper got put on hold while I sent my husband to the store to get the pizza sauce. If I would have practiced ‘mise en place’, I would have known before I started that I didn’t have any sauce and could have run to get it before starting to cook or went to Plan B.
Mise en place is a French phrase that means to put in place. This means that before you begin preparing a dish, you gather all the items you need and prep what needs to be done ahead of time, such as chop onions. Mise en place allows food professionals to be efficient in the kitchen so they can get food prepared quickly and out to waiting customers. This handout from ISU Extension and Outreach gives you a visual explanation of mise en place.
However, you don’t need to be a professional chef to practice mise en place.
If you are preparing the Thanksgiving meal this week, practicing mise en place will help you be more efficient in the kitchen and less stressed about getting everything on the table on time! Looking at the recipes you are making will tell you what ingredients you need and what steps you need to complete. If you neglect to practice mise en place, you run the risk of not having all the ingredients on hand (like me!) or your food might burn or overcook as you rush to measure ingredients that need to be added to the dish.
I plan to start practicing mise en place more regularly to help make my time in the kitchen more efficient and enjoyable. I have a 3-year-old son, Parker. Therefore, it’s important that I get supper on the table quickly at night before he gets too hungry and wants to snack. Since I’m busy with work and other activities during the week, I try to prepare some items on the weekend so it’s easy to put supper together when I get home. I cut up veggies and put in the refrigerator and cook some meat ahead of time so it is ready when I need it. This is part of mise en place as well. A little planning and prep ahead of time saves me time (and a headache!) in the long run!
Even if you did not make a resolution, I would bet many of you are thinking about spending less or eating healthier. The best way to do both at the same time is to use a menu and a shopping list.
I know planning menus sounds complicated, but it isn’t bad if you keep it simple. There are many ways to plan meals, so just experiment to see what works for you.
Here is an easy way to get started creating some menus:
1. On index cards or sheets of notepaper write down the main dish for meals you currently eat. Involve as many members of your household as you can in this step.
2. Go back and add foods you usually have with that main dish. Check to see if you have something from each food group (protein, fruits, vegetables, grain, dairy) If not, fill in and make adjustments.If you have seven or more meals using this process, that is great. You have enough for a week of planned meals and you can now create a shopping list. If you did not have 7 meals think what you would like to have. Remember, keep it simple. This is not the time to start paging through cookbooks, magazines or surfing the internet. What about making extra one night and using it for another meal (like cooking 2 # of ground beef one night and making chili from half of it and then using the other half or homemade pizza or sloppy joes; using your crockpot, making a meatless meal, or breakfast for dinner.
3. Save your menu cards and add to them as you go. Then thinking of what to have will not be such a chore.
Next week: the grocery list
Here are some other resources and methods for menu planning with more details: