Home Menu-planning Strategies for the New Year


You may not enjoy menu planning and cooking because coming up with new ideas is sometimes exhausting, and of course, the clean up . . . especially if you aren’t sure if your kiddos are going to eat what you make!  We also know that getting the family (the whole family) involved in menu planning and food prep makes a big difference at dinner time and takes some of the stress away from the menu planner. According to Susan Moores, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association ,“. . . cooking with your kids can help them get interested in trying healthy foods they might normally turn their noses up at . . .”  She goes on to talk about the additional benefits of families cooking and planning together as it helps children feel like they have a say.

In the Anderson home, we have the 80/20 rule.   If Vivian is eating healthy and balanced 80% of the time, then I don’t worry as much about the 20% when she may snack on less desirable foods, enjoy treats from parties or when we occasionally indulge on pizza/burgers.  We eliminate the guilt and really just enjoy having treats as much as we enjoy how we feel by eating healthy.

Half Pint Hints:

* Use a menu board (like this!)with the menu posted for the week, posted for the whole family to see.
* Allow each member to pick a meal or parts of each meal.
* Keep in mind the weekly events and plan meals around your family’s schedule.  On busy nights with activities or meetings, plan ahead and have something ready to heat.  (If you are making pasta on Sunday, make extra sauce and noodles and make a casserole that you can heat and eat with a salad or steamed veggies.)  Label foods that are intended to be used later in the week so they don’t get eaten as a snack.
* Give smaller children choices (“Vivian, do you want steamed carrots or broccoli with garlic?”)
* Make a grocery list (like this!) after doing a brief inventory of your fridge, freezer and pantry.  I try to keep my “inventory” constantly moving, and every now and then I pull everything out of the freezer and re-organize.  I usually find something that needs to be used or something I froze and forgot about and get a bonus meal.  (chili, left over turkey, etc.)

* Use a variety of proteins including beans, nuts, seeds, and cheeses in menus and recipes to keep the menu from getting boring and keep the costs down.  Many times I use just a few ounces of meat for flavor in a dish.  Remember that wild and brown rice, as well as quinoa, contain a good amount of protein as well as fiber.
* Offer a “tapas” style menu occasionally: hummus, veggies, cured meats and cheese, nuts, roasted veggies or pickles and potatoes or salads.  It’s fun to pick and snack and make a picnic on the living room floor while watching a show or movie.  It is also less clean up.
* Mix up a classic like tacos and make them global using lettuce leaves, unique slaws, cheeses (like feta), pickles, fruit salsas, fresh herbs and tortillas.
* Quick soup and sandwich or cheese toast is always a crowd pleaser here.  I take a 24 ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes and puree them with fresh basil and a tablespoon or so of balsamic vinegar then bring to a boil and serve with cheese toast. You can add a touch of sour cream or Greek yogurt if you want it to be creamy.

* Let blogs or Pinterest be a place of inspiration, but don’t feel you have to perfectly replicate . . . improvise when you need!  Most chefs use many forms of media for inspiration and then make it completely different by putting their own twist on it.
* Read labels . . . the closer to nature you eat, the easier and better for your body.
* Portion size reminder: children under 8 don’t need more than 2 or 3 ounces of “meat” and no more than about 1 cup of food in general.  Average adults should consume about 4-5 ounces of protein and 1/2 cup of carbs and 1/2 cup of vegetables.
* Don’t feel the need to “over produce” especially if leftovers won’t get eaten.  It is wasteful of time, money and fridge space.
* Rice, beans and pasta double from dry to cooked.  (When you put a cup of rice in a pot, you’ll end up with 2 cups after it’s cooked.)

Here’s to the start of a great year of eating at home!