I have a few “mommy friends” who swear by meal planning, but I didn’t get what all the hype was about. Nor did I want to add another “to do” to my ever-growing list.
But there was no escaping it. Meal planning was popping up on Pinterest, Facebook, mommy blogs, etc. Everyone was meal planning and I was…struggling.
The FOMO (fear of missing out) kicked in. I wanted in on whatever miracles “meal planning” was bringing other moms.
I am (or was) that mom who planned meals on the fly. Frantically trying to decide what to make for Wednesday dinner on Wednesday morning. My challenge wasn’t necessary making the meal. It was the lack of a plan for those meals.
So I jumped on the Meal Planning bandwagon for a taste of what everyone else was raving about.
Meal Planning = Sanity Saving
Having a plan has been liberating. Especially when you have a little one who is a selective or picky eater.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of making the SAME few recipes over and over and over.
That’s when the “short-term phase” of picky eating can evolve into a “long-term problem”. Variety is crucial to their willingness to explore and try new foods. And so is our approach at mealtimes - which doesn’t include bribing, saying one more bite, or throwing on the iPad. All of the things I was guilty of doing in attempt to get Sienna to eat.
I wish I knew then, what I know now
My struggles with making meals were exacerbated because I was trying to get something…ANYTHING into my picky eater. I was doing it all wrong, and that’s why I created the Picky Eater Protocol. Because I now know through my research, studies, and experience - it DOES get better - with a different approach than we are led to believe.
I delve into this in my Free Webinar coming soon.
This might shock you but….
Our kids don’t want sandwiches for lunch, or pasta with butter for supper…every, single, day. They really do want to learn to like different foods. They just need our help.
So what we parents need are two things:
- Mealtime strategies to improve their eating (starting with this Free Webinar)
- A Meal Plan (starting with this post)
7 Steps to Meal Planning for Families (and Picky Eaters)
Step 1: Sit down
- Pick one day and block 30-40 minutes for meal planning (ideally before Sunday).
- Put the kids in bed. Put on some comfy clothes. Grab a cup of tea and a Black Bean Brownie. Smile (good things are about to happen!).
- Grab a few cookbooks or your computer.
PICKY EATING HACK:Know their favourites (all of them!)
Jot down ALL the foods your picky eater(s) will eat more than 50% of the time. Then categorize these foods as either Grains, Greens (veg or fruit), Proteins, and/or Fats as I describe here. Keep this list handy.
Step 2: Search
- Using your cookbook or the internet, search for recipes based on what foods are in your fridge, what’s on sale, etc.
- Flag or save any recipes YOU like (not just your kids). The more recipes you save/tag, the less searching you’ll need to do in future weeks.
- For one week of planning: select 3-4 dinner recipes (that can double as lunch) and 3 breakfast recipes.
- Use an online Meal Planner like “Meal Garden” to simplify your planning (they provide grocery lists, recipes, and the plan itself).
PICKY EATING HACK: Stretch their favourites
For your selective eater, search Pinterest for recipes based on the foods on their preferred list (from Step 1). If they like potato fries, try a simple and slight variation like parsnip fries or roasted baby potatoes. If they like pasta noodles try carrot noodles.
Step 3: Select
- Plan for meals that are balanced in nutrition as I talk about in this “Lunch Box Must-Haves” post. You can do that by including the following:
- a grain (or root veggies or beans) - about 25% of your meal
- a green (vegetables and fruit) - about 50% of your meal
- a protein (meat, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, etc) - about 25% of your meal
- some fat (avocado, oils, nuts, seeds, fish, etc) – add a handful to your meal & use oils for cooking/dressing
- You can have a few dishes to make that balanced meal (chicken + rice + broccoli) OR make a one-dish meal (i.e. a frittata made with veggies, sweet potatoes and eggs)
- Select at least one single-dish meal or crockpot meal to simplify your life.
PICKY EATING HACK: Balance their meal
Identify ~2 foods from each of the four categories above that your “picky eater” will likely eat. Note 1: some foods fall into multiple categories (i.e. fish sticks = protein + fat). Note 2: Even though you offer a food from each category chances are they will not eat from all categories at each meal. But over the course of a week, chances are they will get what they need.
Step 4: Schedule
- Using your calendar (whiteboard, electronic calendar, etc)…schedule the 3-4 dinners you selected on alternate days (Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun).
- Schedule leftovers for the same 3-4 dinners on the other days (Tues, Thurs, Sat).
- Schedule dinner leftovers for lunch the following day (for all 7 days).
- Do the same for the selected breakfasts.
PICKY EATING HACK: Include “something old” + “something new”
The goal is to have something OLD (a preferred food from step 1) + something NEW at each meal (a food they have not tried). Review your plan to ensure each meal has a food your little one likes plus a food that your little one doesn’t eat yet. Consistent exposure to new foods is critical to improving our children’s variety.
Step 5: Shop
- Jot down your grocery list, taking into consideration extras for leftovers.
- Organize your grocery list based on section of the store.
- Note: If you use a service like Meal Garden they do the shopping list for you. Woohoo!
PICKY EATING HACK: Take them shopping!
Have your little one help you pick out a new food to try each week. Let him/her touch it, smell it, bag it, and interact with it in any way possible. The more interaction, the more comfortable and interested they are to try it. Then get them involved or let them watch their choice of food transform during cooking, slicing, dicing, etc. Warning: they MAY try to eat it while prepping.
Step 6: Start
- Block a few hours on the weekend to prepare at least 2 meals.
- Block a few hours mid-week to prepare another 2 meals.
- Make-ahead any breakfasts you can (i.e. chia puddings, pancakes, yogurt parfaits, etc).
- Make extras and freeze any meals you can.
Step 7: Smile
- Research shows that meal planning saves the average family of four ~$1,400 a year and a few hours of time. Making family style meals is one of the most effective things parents can do to encourage better eating. So a little meal planning can go a long way…for your, your sanity, and your family’s health.
PICKY EATING HACK: Smile some more!
Babies and children can sense our stress and dissatisfaction with their eating. The result: their anxiety rises (because they know mom and dad aren’t happy with their eating), their adrenaline rises, and appetite drops. So take a deep breath and know that it does get better with the right strategies.
You’re in the right place for that too!