The Value of a Meal Plan for Homeschoolers
Welcome to Enlightium Academy’s new blog series, Healthy Meal Plans for Homeschoolers! As a public health nutritionist, I want it to be easier for families to be healthy at home and in their communities. Food and nutrition are important components of lifelong health. My goal in this series is to share the tools you need to plan and provide healthy meals for your homeschoolers.
As a public health and nutrition professional, I am often asked, “What is the best diet?” People understand that there is a connection between what you eat and your health. Parents especially are eager to provide the best they can for their growing children. My philosophy is simple. Whatever your family eats should meet your family’s health and nutrition needs, respect your resources (e.g. time, money, energy, and skills), and of course, taste good!
Meal planning is a popular method families use to make sure what they eat is appropriate for their lifestyle. Ideally, meal planning also makes mealtimes less stressful so you can enjoy spending more family time together. In the next sections, we will discuss the basics of meal plans, how you can stick to a meal plan, and what to do when you are tired of eating the same foods over and over. Finally, I will share a simple meal plan to help you get started.
What is a Meal Plan?
If you have ever eaten at a cafeteria, restaurant, or even enjoyed a fancy holiday meal, you have benefited from a meal plan. Meal plans have a few basic components, including the following:
- When and where the meal will occur
- What food and/or drinks will be served
- How many people will be fed
Large institutions, like hospitals and schools, may plan out their meals months in advance so they can pick recipes, order ingredients, and schedule staff. Often the menu is repeated daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly, depending on the organization’s specific needs. The same principles apply when meal planning for homeschoolers. You pick the meals you want to plan, the foods and drinks you want to prepare, and plan for the number of folks you will be feeding.
Ultimately, the purpose of a meal plan is to make your life easier, so you can make meal plans as general or as specific as you want. It’s important to know that meal planning does not mean that you have to make everything from scratch or follow a specific type of diet. You don’t have to turn into a gourmet chef or never eat fast food again. Your meal plan is simply a tool to help you and when you need to adjust it, you can.
How Do You Stick to a Meal Plan?
If you are having trouble sticking to a meal plan, maybe the plan is not right for you. A different plan may be more appropriate for your family. Don’t beat yourself up if the first plan you try doesn’t work! Take it as an opportunity to learn more about your family’s preferences and needs.
When selecting or creating a meal plan for your family, it may be helpful to start out by thinking about what your current habits are around mealtime. Some questions you can ask yourself include:
- What are my family’s favorite foods?
- Are any foods off-limits?
- What do I wish my family ate more of? Less of?
- How often do we eat out?
- If you’ve tried meal plans before, what worked and what didn’t work?
After thinking through these questions, you can start to formulate a framework that works for you. I always recommend starting with small, doable goals. If your breakfast routine is working for you, great! Don’t change what doesn’t need to be fixed. Try starting with 1-2 dinners a week. Pick a meal template (I share a few below) that sounds good to you and try it out for a couple weeks. If it works, you can incorporate that into your regular routine and maybe expand on it when you are ready. If it doesn’t work, think about why it didn’t work and what you could try instead. Ultimately, the best meal plan for homeschoolers is the one that works long-term for your family.
What Do I Eat When I’m Tired of the Same Foods?
Regardless of if you plan meals or not, it is so easy to get stuck in a rut. You know how to prepare a dish your family likes, so you decide that every Monday will be spaghetti and meatballs, every Tuesday will be chicken stir fry, and so on. With this approach, it won’t be long before everyone is tired of eating the same foods. Instead of a strict meal plan, I think a meal template can keep you engaged. It offers a schedule while remaining flexible. Remember, the important thing about meal planning is that it takes some stress out of the process of planning meals for your family.
I first heard about meal templates from The Kitchn, a fantastic website with recipes and information about all things food. The authors of one article propose a simple approach to meal planning. Everyone has heard about “Taco Tuesday,” but there are so many other food themes you can choose. Each day is assigned a theme, like “Pasta” or “Breakfast for dinner” or “Eggs.” That theme can remain consistent week to week, but what kind of pasta, breakfast for dinner, or egg dish changes. You can add variety based on what your family likes, what foods are in season, what you already have on hand, etc. The meal template provides a structured, yet flexible starting point. This allows you to be creative while including family favorites.
A Great Example of the Meal Template
To get started with meal templates, check out this article from The Kitchn. It takes your standard type of meal and provides more flexibility within them. The article provides options for 20 types of meals, including:
- Pasta night
- Chicken night
- Pizza night
Find a dish on the article that pushes your culinary boundaries and try it out. See how your family likes it and start trying new meal templates. There are limitless options for you to try!
In this post, we have talked about the basics of planning meals for homeschoolers and the power of choosing a meal template to add structure and variety to your meal plans. In the next post of this series, we will talk about establishing meal plans and working within your budget.