Nutrition is an important topic in our house. We incorporate nutrition as part of our everyday conversation, and occasionally work it into our STEM activities. Meal planning with kids should equip them to make healthy eating choices throughout life, whether at home or when eating out.
My goal is to provide my kids with the tools they need to make healthy eating choices.
One of the best ways to do this is to allow your children to help plan meals. Research suggests that children who help prepare meals are less likely to be picky eaters and healthier throughout life.
How can you do this? Try meal planning with kids!
Meal Planning with Kids Activity
Most kids don’t realize the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods. They just eat whatever they love best, which is usually junk food and desserts. If you gave my kids the choice, they would eat candy and pizza all day long.
Bo, at 3, is too young to be in charge of her eating habits, but Monkey, at almost 10, is certainly ready to take charge of some of her own eating habits. I created this simple meal planning printable to help elementary kids realize what goes into a healthy meal.
The Basics of a Healthy Diet
Before working through the printable together, explain what a healthy diet does for the body.
Explain that the right balance of nutrients fuels the body and helps prevent illness. Without proper nutrition, our bodies cannot function properly and we end up with a host of physical and mental health problems.
According to the new dietary recommendations created by the USDA, MyPlate, a healthy diet consists of a large helping of vegetables, a smaller portion of fruit, a medium-sized serving of protein and grains, and a small amount of dairy daily (for individuals without allergies).
Sugar and junk food are not healthy choices. Before creating your meal plan, take some time to explore the MyPlate website and learn about why the USDA created the modern dietary recommendations.
Some families will likely have slightly different dietary choices, which you can explain during this period of the study. For example, our family doesn’t shun saturated fat, but instead, tries to avoid frying oils and trans fats as much as possible.
Create a List of Healthy Foods
On the first worksheet, have your child(ren) write down foods that qualify for each category on the plate. For dairy, a child might write milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt.
After filling out the worksheet, you can discuss whether the options listed are healthy choices or not. You can also create a healthy snack menu, if your kids eat snacks during the day.
Plan the Menu
Print three copies of the second worksheet (titled “menu”). Create a meal plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Challenge your child to think of menu ideas that include as many of the healthy food groups as possible per meal, remembering that vegetables should be the largest portion in any meal (even breakfast!). After planning the menus, make them over the next few days.
Allow your child to help prepare the meals they planned. You’ll more than likely receive a lot fewer complaints for the meals your children plan and prepare on their own.