Meal Planning Tips and Tools: Ask the Experts from Brenner FIT

Written by Melissa Dellinger, RD, LDN


Every afternoon, my kids text me asking, "Mom, what's for dinner?" I am tired of having to think of an answer to this question. I know that if I planned meals in advance, no one would have to even ask. Meal planning seems like a good idea, but it is hard to plan with my hectic schedule.


Busy Mom


Dear Busy Mom,

"What's for dinner?" is the dreaded question asked in many families. Parents wrestle with that question at the same time they are helping children balance school, homework, sports and social events. Families find it difficult to get everything done and meal plans are often overlooked. However, planning meals ahead of time can save time and money - and even reduce stress.

When we know what we are going to have for dinner, everyone can relax. No more wasting time wracking our brains about what sounds good for dinner tonight. Also, kids are less worried about dinner when they know what to expect.

When planning for a meal, it is helpful to ask for ideas from everyone in the household. Kids are more likely to come to the table happier if they know there is something they like paired with the meatloaf or chicken. They may not like everything on the table, but they at least know there is something that will satisfy them until the next meal.

Planning meals at a set time of the week allows you to think ahead about what meals you would like to provide. Also, this allows you to review what ingredients you have on hand and what you need to shop for. Setting aside time for planning helps us follow through. Keep your list of quick, favorite family meals ready for easy dinners. Don't be afraid to plan for leftovers or eating out on busy days when cooking may not be possible. 

Meal planning is hard, but the following steps will help you get started in making it a habit.

  1. Make a list of your favorite meals with your family. Cooking familiar meals saves time on a busy day.
  2. Create a menu for a few days at a time or even a week.
  3. Make a grocery list based on the meals you have planned. Check the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator for ingredients you already have.
  4. Post the menu someplace where the family can see it and know what to expect. Some families will write it on a calendar on the refrigerator or on a white board in the kitchen. Maybe an app on your phone works to tell everyone what is on the menu. Find what works best for you and your family.

Meals are meant to be enjoyed. Planning ahead takes the pressure off the cook and helps everyone enjoy meal times together. With a plan in place, the next time you hear, "What's for dinner?" you can confidently respond with, "Check the menu."

Provided by staff who are part of Brenner FIT (Families in Training). Brenner FIT® is a pediatric weight management program at Brenner Children's that helps families create healthier lifestyles together. Brenner FIT offers free cooking, nutrition and parenting classes.