Meal planning is a way to guarantee that your busy family will be able to easily gather to eat a healthy, delicious meal every night. Quick, easy family meals that are healthy and kid-friendly can be a challenge to create. Let this guide help you discover tips and recipes that inspire a family meal plan that is quick, easy, and nutritious.
Meal planning can save you money and time. Plus, meal planning can help your family reduce food waste and make it easier for a greater variety of nutritious foods to end up on your plates.
As for preparing those meals, take a look at your recipes. Some meals can be made in bulk on the weekend and stored in portioned containers in the fridge or freezer. Recipes cooked in an Instapot or crockpot can be prepared the night before. For quick meals later in the workweek, look to your freezer: frozen vegetables and fish require no prior preparation and can be ready to eat in about a half-hour. As for other freezer items, try setting an alarm on your smartphone calendar as a reminder to take them out so they defrost in time.
It can feel daunting to get a healthy meal on the table for your family quickly, leading many families to try meal planning. Having the ingredients ready for a few quick, healthy meals on hand can make a busy family weeknight more relaxing. Pan sheet meals are a great example. Another option is to plan for meals you prepare in advance, such as on a weekend or the night before. Sometimes, simply having parts of the meal prepared ahead of time can make it easier to put a healthy meal on the family dinner table. Here are some ideas that may help:
The best way to create a family meal plan that is kid-friendly is to involve the kids! Ask for their input on what kinds of meals will be part of your family menu. They don’t need to become the headchef and choose every meal. By allowing each family member to choose a meal on the family menu it can help reduce complaints about what’s being served for dinner – it’s helpful for kids to know that their favourite is in the menu mix.
When kids are involved in cooking and preparing the foods they are excited to eat them. Just think of their excitement, “Look what I made!”. In every recipe, there is a cooking activity appropriate for every age, from toddlers helping spray water over the produce in the colander in the sink to adolescents chopping and measuring ingredients for a soup. Here are some delicious kid-friendly family meals that are healthy and easy to make:
Science has been telling us family meals are important. According to a systematic review study, frequent family meals are associated with lower rates of eating disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, violent behaviour, and feelings of depression in adolescents. This led many news media channels to speak of the “magic” of family meals, putting pressure on some busy families, with challenging work schedules to feel pressure to carve out more time at the dinner table together.
Yet, do family meals really make a difference? Another study suggests the so-called “magic” of family mealtime may have been over-stated. After removing potential factors from the data, researchers suggest benefits likely exist, but are lesser than may have been endorsed. For example, researchers noted that families who eat more frequently together, may also do other activities together and be more socially connected. University of Montreal researchers noted that eating with adults provides children with first-hand social interactions: experiencing positive forms of communication may help children engage with others outside their family. Interestingly, the study also reported potential nutritional benefits to family meals: when the family meal environment quality was better at age 6, by the time the children were 10 they had higher levels of general fitness, and lower levels of soft-drink consumption.
Whether frequent family meals are the magical solution to raising healthy children or not, it is still up for debate in the research. However, either way, there are advantages to sitting down and eating meals mindfully. It is a lifestyle habit that can help any family member improve their ability to hear their hunger cues, ultimately developing better long-term eating habits.
Do you struggle to eat on a budget while still including healthy foods in your family meal plan? You are not alone. Many Canadian families struggle to eat healthy on a budget. Luckily, plant-based meals are typically more budget-friendly than animal-based diets, plus sustainable eating is very nutritious. Beans are inexpensive and one of 15 nutritious foods featured in our How to Eat Healthy on a Budget blog.
You’re unique and so are your nutritional and lifestyle needs – that’s why Registered Holistic Nutritionists (RHN) are so helpful. Registered Holistic Nutritionists help families create meal plans that include a variety of nutritious foods that fit into their lifestyles. For more information about finding an RHN near you, or how to study to become an RHN, visit the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.
Systematic review of the effects of family meal frequency on psychosocial outcomes in youth. Can Fam Physician 2015 Feb; 61(2): e96-e106.
Family meals and child academic and behavioural outcomes. Child Dev 2012 Nov; 83(6): 2104-2120.
Contributed by Allison Tannis
Known for her deliciously geeky words, Allison’s articles and books are read around the world by those curious about where to find the most delicious (and nutritious) places to stick their forks. More at allisontannis.com. Follow @deliciouslygeeky.