Please welcome my guest today, Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen from the fantastic blog, Raise Healthy Eaters. Maryann is a regular Menu Plan Monday participant and I’m thrilled to have her here today to share some great menu planning tips. She’s also a registered dietitian!
I’m often asked: how does a dietitian plan meals? Well, like most moms, I take into account my family’s food preferences, weekly activities and my cooking abilities. But I also consider nutrition. Not because my kids will eat it all, but I like to expose them to a variety of nutritious foods.
Here are some nutritional pointers to keep in mind every week when planning meals.
1) Vary fruits and veggies: I make sure to provide a variety of fruits and veggies with at least one vitamin-A and C rich fruit or vegetable daily. Vitamin C fruits include orange, strawberries, kiwi, papaya and cantaloupe. Vitamin A-rich vegetables tend to be orange or green (leafy) such as spinach, kale, carrots and sweet potatoes. If your child rejects green vegetables, try vitamin A-rich carrots, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe until their palates come around.
2) Rotate protein options: To get a variety of protein sources, I start with planning two fish (baked fish, tuna, salmon cakes etc.) dishes per week for lunch and dinner. Beans also make an appearance at least twice a week, if not more, as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines. They are rich in protein and deliver a variety of nutrients like fiber and iron. The rest of the meals are filled in with lean sources of protein like chicken and turkey, nuts and nut butters and eggs. Less seldom are foods like hot dogs — but we do eat them!
3) Focus on healthy fats: I cook with healthy fats from plant foods like olive and canola oil. I also serve plenty of avocados and nuts and nut butters. Healthy fats are rich in vitamin E, a vitamin many kids fall short on. I like to add wheat germ — an excellent source of vitamin E — to muffins, pancakes and smoothies.
4) Whole grains and dairy: We eat a lot of whole grains around here — whole grain bread, brown rice and oats, but I still serve some of our favorite refined grains (think graham crackers). Over half of our grains are whole grains as recommended by Dietary Guidelines. And my kids drink milk — about 2 cups a day — and other dairy products like cheese and yogurt. My son, who is three, needs 700 mg (one glass of milk/yogurt/cheese has 300mg) and my daughter, who is five, needs 1000mg. Click here for calcium RDA’s
5) Provide fun foods in moderation: I believe it’s a parent’s job to show kids how to eat all foods — and that includes foods like ice cream and cookies. In our house we have sweets about 3 times a week with some dark chocolate in between. I never make my children eat more “healthy food” to get dessert, as research shows this makes sweets even more desirable. I scale back my offerings at home if there are a lot of outings with sweets. It’s a balancing act for sure!
How does nutrition factor into your meal plans?
For more on kids’ nutrition and feeding, join the Fearless Feeding Community on Facebook where Maryann and her colleague, Jill Castle, dish on the latest research, provide feeding guidance and answer questions.
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD is a mom of two, registered dietitian, and founder and creator of Raise Healthy Eaters, a popular blog about family nutrition.