Home Health Family Meal Planning Series (Part 2): How to Uncover Easy & Healthy...

Family Meal Planning Series (Part 2): How to Uncover Easy & Healthy Meals

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There are plenty of online services that provide family meal plans, recipes and grocery lists. And while I think this can work for some people, I just find it odd being told what meals to make and what ingredients to use. I mean, beef stroganoff on Wednesday — really?

I could devote this series to healthy family meals you “should” make but that would be of little help. Only you know your own cooking abilities, family’s taste preferences and comfort using certain ingredients. So when it comes to finding rewarding meals for your family, you are the best judge!

In part one of Raise Healthy Eaters’ family meal planning series, we talked about overcoming barriers to getting healthy meals on the table. In part 2, we are focusing on how to find meals that are perfect for your family.

-Create a home for recipes:Your most cherished recipes and meal ideas need a home. I’ve started to use this recipe book that I got for Christmas a couple of years ago. The idea is to try out a recipe and if it turns out well, add it to the recipe book. For example, if I add a recipe from a cookbook I write the page number down in my recipe book so it’s easy to find. And when I print recipes off the internet, I store them in a red folder and write “red folder” in the recipe book (see examples below – sorry about the second picture, I had the choice of retaking it or going to bed).

As parents, our brains are in overuse mode already. By putting all of your favorite meals in one spot, you won’t have to rely on yourself to remember what they are.

-Become a Recipe Collector: I recently spoke to a friend who doesn’t use recipes. She says she starts dinner sautéing garlic and olive oil and just throws in different items. I, on the other hand, need the framework of a recipe to function in the kitchen. The idea is to find recipes or meal ideas you feel comfortable making. If you are a beginner cook, for example, simple slow cooker recipes might be good for you. But if you are more advanced, you might only use a recipe for inspiration.

You can find recipes anywhere — cookbooks, the internet and magazines. The internet makes it so easy to find – and store — recipes. Some of my favorites are All Recipes,My Recipes, and Cooks which allow you to see how the meals are rated and the comments people have. You’ll also get your share of easy and healthy recipes here.

-Look for a variety of recipes that are nutritious and taste good: In my recipe book I separate recipes into categories such as Mexican, Italian, Meat, Beans, Veggies and Fish. So if you don’t have any fish meals, for example, look for recipes that sound good and try it one night. The key is to collect a variety of meals.

When it comes to nutrition, aim for meals that are made with unsaturated fats such as olive oil, canola oil, nuts and avocados. Also make sure to include lean meats, whole grains, fruit and vegetables. I use saturated fats less often but will sometimes cook with butter and we love cheese around here. It’s not about getting it perfect every time. Some of our meals are higher in fat but I’ll serve them less often. Others might be high in sodium, but again, this isn’t an every night occurrence. It’s all about balancing nutrition, taste and ease of preparation.

-Practice, practice, practice: I absolutely hate when a new meal is disappointing. I know when my husband asks, “where did you get this recipe?” I’m in trouble. But I’ve learned that the failures are part of discovering which meals work for my family.

How do you know when a new meal passes the test? If I waited for my daughter’s approval we’d be eating burritos, meatballs and bean soup every night. So the verdict falls on whether or not my husband and I like it and it’s kid-friendly. This means it’s easy to chew, has a nice flavor and isn’t super-spicy.

So if you haven’t been doing this already, make a nice home for your recipes and continually add to it. If you haven’t had much success you might be choosing the wrong types of recipes for you.

What are you doing right now? Do you have a system for storing recipes that works well? Any cookbooks or websites you recommend?

Next: 5 Secrets to the Perfect Weekly Meal Plan

Previous: Top 5 Barriers to Making Meals Happen