Do you struggle to get your kids to eat healthy meals? Do you have picky eaters and wish you could find a way to expand their palates? Are you looking for a kid friendly meal planning strategy to help reduce overwhelm?
If yes, you are not alone, and this article is here to help.
In my experience, much of the stress over feeding a family real food can be eliminated by being prepared, planning ahead, and managing decision overload.
In this post, we’ll take a look at my top ten tips for meal planning WITH kids, and the multitude of benefits this brings.
I also provide family friendly meal ideas to help get you started on your meal planning journey!
Tips for meal planning with kids
My number one piece of advice for making a weekly meal plan successful is to actually include your children in the process! This may sound slightly short of torturous, but I promise, it’ll be worth it once you settle into a routine.
Here are some tips for establishing a routine that will work for your family.
Get out your calendar
Actually SEEING the week in front of you, by pulling out the calendar (physical or digital), helps the whole family align with expectations.
Pick a day before the new week begins (Friday or Saturday) and add individual and family commitments to the calendar — school events, lessons, practices, recitals, games, meetings, travel, and more.
This will help you visualize the days that you will have more time for cooking, and the days that would be best suited for leftovers, slow cooker meals, or quick fix options.
Check out my 7 Day Family Meal Plan for some ideas.
Gather your resources & create a pattern
When it comes time to plug meals into your meal planner, you’ll want to have plenty of ideas to choose from.
- Make a list of your family’s favorite healthy meals for breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner.
- Have your favorite recipe books, or blogs, nearby for new inspiration.
Consider establishing a weekly meal pattern to keep meal planning for kids fun. You may want to pick a theme for each day of the week, such as Meatball Monday and Taco Tuesday, or pair each day with an ingredient, such as Turkey Thursday and Fishy Friday.
We have found a meal pattern and our favorite dishes that fit within it to truly simplify our meal planning process — and the kids love the routine.
Keep it simple
Both the planning, and the meals can and should be kept simple. Remember that when we emphasize real food for kids, along with fresh and seasonal ingredients, we don’t need complex recipes to pull together a delicious dish.
Reawakening your senses to appreciate wholesome ingredients connects us to our food and helps us feel our best!
A healthy meal plan for kids should seek a balance of colorful vegetables and fruits, quality meats, and healthy fats. Use fresh herbs and spices to change flavor profiles, and let the food speak for itself.
Use a chart
Once you have a good feel for your week’s schedule, and the healthy meals your family wants to eat, it’s time to plug the details into a meal plan chart printable!
Keep the plan realistic with what’s on your calendar and start simple. Have your kids help select what meal goes where and what veggie sides they want to include. Kids can also select a new recipe they want to try on a day when you have more time to cook.
Hang the completed meal planner on the fridge, or a bulletin board near the kitchen so that everyone knows what to expect.
Use your completed meal plan to create your shopping list. Having a detailed list as you enter the store or visit the farmer’s market will:
- Keep you focused on the essentials
- Save you time and money
- Help you avoid overly processed packaged foods
- Decrease food waste
Setting aside time each week for a little food prep is one of the best steps to reducing meal time overwhelm. But, the benefit I’ve found most awesome, is that when I have healthy foods ready to grab from the fridge and pantry, my kids make better choices.
With carrot sticks and guacamole in plain sight, the boys reach for nourishing options.
Having veggies sliced, eggs hard boiled, snack bites rolled, and dressings made certainly simplifies meal time. Plus, having kids help you with the prep will further connect them to the textures, smells, and beauty of real food.
Planning for the use of leftovers is one of the most efficient strategies for putting healthy food on the table throughout the week.
If you are already cooking, why not make a double batch for an easy kids’ lunch idea on a subsequent day, a freezer-friendly meal, or to recreate the leftovers in a new dish?
Show your kids the benefits of using leftovers in the meal planning process. Ask them if there are pieces of a planned dinner that they would like in their lunch the next day.
Involve the whole family
When the whole family is involved in at least some aspects of meal planning and cooking, your kids learn that:
- Healthy eating is a valued part of your weekly routine.
- Time enjoyed together is important.
- Many hands make light work.
Get kids to buy-in
Get your kids in the kitchen! Giving kids a voice, a little responsibility, and the opportunity to connect to the food they will be eating results in a whole lot more buy-in! I’ve witnessed it many times!
Kids, of course, need guidance, and they need to be taught the basics of nutrition, but when they are given some autonomy, they are much more open-minded and willing to try new things.
Many power struggles over food can be avoided by giving them choices in the meal planning process, and approaching food (including meal planning) in a fun, curious way.
My homeschool cooking curriculum post has a list of resources you can use to start getting your kids involved in the kitchen.
Meal planning with picky eaters
Not only does involving kids in the meal planning process increase their buy-in, but it is one of the best tools for decreasing picky eating.
Start with the foods they love. Have them help you pick a place on the meal planner, shop for the ingredients by your side, and cook the food with you. Then challenge them to broaden their horizons by selecting a new real food to add to the menu each week.
When kids help prepare it, and are proud of their contributions, they are much more likely to eat it!
Support your active kids
Kid friendly meal plans should also consider your child’s individual needs.
- Do you need to incorporate nutrition for an active teen?
- Do you need to think about what your kids should eat before a soccer game?
- Are you looking for allergy friendly school safe snacks?
- Maybe you want healthy crockpot ideas for picky eaters.
Whatever needs your family has, there are plenty of nourishing ideas that can be organized into a simple system for your busy week.
Family friendly meals to help build your meal plan
Here are some of our favorite kid friendly family meals. With breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner recipes, we have plenty of suggestions to get you started.
Healthy breakfast ideas
When it comes to meal planning with kids, including a healthy breakfast is a must! Beginning their day with nutrient-rich foods for happy taste buds and satisfied bellies sets them up for success.
Healthy lunch ideas
Whether your kids are eating at home or packing a lunch for school, planning ahead will ensure a healthy lunch that they’ll actually eat.
Skewers with Pesto Dip
Healthy snack ideas
Growing bodies often need a between meal pick-me-up! These ideas are perfect for a healthy afterschool snack, or a mid-morning recharge.
Healthy dinner ideas
Dinners that every member of the family is excited about may seem impossible. But give these recipes a try to satisfy parents and kids alike.
Shannon’s Meatballs over spaghetti squash
Start planning your healthy kid-friendly meal plans
You now have my strategy, and plenty of recipes, for settling into a kid friendly meal planning routine.
- Get out the calendar
- Gather your resources
- Keep it simple
- Download your meal plan printable
- Prep ahead
- Utilize leftovers
- And involve the whole family!
When you include your kids and give them a voice in meal planning and cooking, they buy-in, try new things, and gain confidence along the way.
If you are still feeling stuck and want more guidance on healthy meals that the whole family can enjoy, be sure to check out my 4 Weeks of Real Food program.