Planning a Balanced Diet for Your Entire Family – Make Each Meal Count

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Busy schedules, picky eaters and dietary restrictions make meal planning difficult for even the most well-intentioned parents. Daily fruit and vegetables recommendations go out the window when there are only five minutes to scarf something down before soccer practice, or when your toddler throws the broccoli back at you for the third night in a row and you just want him to eat something. However, eating a nutritious, balanced diet is possible, especially when employing the following strategies.

Balanced Diet for Your Entire Family

 

  • Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan! This cannot be overstated enough. At the beginning of each week sit down with a calendar and map out your family’s activities and responsibilities so that you will know what nights you need a quick meal and what nights you have a little bit longer to enjoy each other around the dinner table. Once you have all of your activities down, start planning your meals, even the ones you plan to eat out.
  • Experts have long agreed that breakfast is the most important meal of the day – studies have shown that kids who eat breakfast are more likely to meet their nutrient needs for the day and function better cognitively and behaviorally throughout the day. To keep things simply, plan a few standard breakfasts that are easy to put together before school; ideally breakfast should include fiber, whole grains and a balance of protein and fat. Avoid added sugar as much as possible. Scrambled eggs and whole wheat toast, yogurt with granola and berries, hearty oatmeal and breakfast burritos on whole-grain tortillas are all good options. Smoothies made with yogurt, spinach, bananas and berries and hardboiled eggs are great options for breakfasts-on-the-go.
  • The standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich is not a bad option for lunchtime, as long as you use whole grain bread and natural peanut butter and jelly with no added sugars, but that is not the only kid-friendly lunch that your children will enjoy. Like breakfast, a balanced lunch should include fiber, whole grains, protein and healthy fats with little added sugar. Lunch is also a good time to make sure your kids get a serving of fruit and vegetables, so including a piece of fruit along with carrots or celery sticks is always a good idea. Some fun options include:
    • Whole wheat tortillas rolled with different fillings – nut butters and jelly, cream cheese and lean deli meats, hummus and veggies, butter lettuce and chicken or tuna salad
    • Lettuce wraps can be substituted for kids with a gluten-intolerance
    • Cold pasta with vegetables and sliced chicken sausage
    • Mini whole grain bagels with mozzarella cheese, pepperoni and tomatoes
  • Eat dinner together as a family as much as possible! It can be very difficult to get everyone together around the dinner table, but studies show that families who eat together at home make healthier choices than those who rely on fast food.
  • With dietary restrictions in mind, plan each dinner and make sure to include lean meats, vegetables and whole grains. Focus the meal around the vegetables rather than the grain or meat to keep things balanced.
  • Get your family involved! Allow one meal each week to be a fun “experiment” meal – maybe a new one to your family or one that your children have chosen and help you prepare.
  • Utilize your slow cooker and freezer meals for quick dinners on busy nights.
  • Remember to keep an overall view when looking at your family’s diet – your week should be balanced, not necessarily each day. As long as your kids are meeting their weekly nutritional goals, don’t stress about going through the drive thru every once and a while or eating an extra cookie for desert. Moderation is an important part of teaching your children about healthy eating and nutrition.

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