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Meal Planning 101 for Kids – 3 Choices You Get to Make


You know how some kids let loose wails of misery with every scrape, while others will avoid telling their mom about something bothering them physically until it’s practically emergency room time? How there are those who jump in and lead the wild games at a party and others who prefer to sit quietly and color or use their imagination?

Parents learn to work with their kids’ strengths and weaknesses when it comes to discipline and instruction, because life is rarely one size fits all.

Neither is meal planning.

Just like I organize my life into piles while others prefer folders, like some people remember everyone’s name and others forget someone they just met 2 minutes ago, there are many styles of meal planning. Can we say that someone who is creative is worth more than one who loves numbers? That those who embrace meeting new people are right and others who are more reserved are wrong?

No. And we can no more say that there are right or wrong styles of meal planning.

Meal planning is cool, because you can make it fit who you are, and when you find that fit, it’s like an old friend.

Here are some options kids (and adults) have as they begin to learn how to meal plan.


1. Choose a system: Software vs pencil and paper

Tech geeks take note! You can delegate some of your meal planning to the computer. Plan to Eat is one choice in meal planning software, best for those who like to choose their own recipes and have complete control over how everything fits together, but who want some technological efficiency like an automated grocery list, replicable weeks, and prep notes that integrate right into your online calendar so you don’t forget to do something for tomorrow’s meal.

There are other services that do all the planning for you, and you just cook – but then we’re not really learning a life skill, are we?

And there’s nothing wrong with pencil and paper — simply making a list for the week. Some people have columns for meal, side dish, groceries needed, and prep. Others just grab a reused envelope and scratch a list of what they want to make for the week.

Try a few out and see what you like best!

2. Choose a direction: From food to plan or plan to shopping

This is a key difference in how people meal plan, if you ask me.

1. You can either start with the food…

…such as what you have on hand at home, what’s on sale that week, or what came in a CSA box or grew in your garden. From there, you find meals that use up what needs to be used up. This is kind of how I plan, doing some shopping and then making sure I use the most fragile produce first along with meat from the freezer to determine what we eat each day.

It’s kind of like going to the refrigerator and asking, “What’s for dinner today, fridge?” except that you’ll ask, “What’s for dinner this week?” because we’re being good at planning ahead. 😉

2. Or you can start with meals you know you want to eat…

…perhaps favorite recipes or something new you found online and put into your Plan to Eat account. Then you (or your software) makes your grocery list and shops from there. It’s like thinking, “What do I want to eat this week?” and then making it happen.

What fits your personality?

3. Choose to plan one meal at a time or connect them.

In this case, I do think there’s a “right” choice, but my bias is that I value efficiency! I think it’s important to connect meals and use strategies like “COST” – “Cook Once, Serve Twice” – to save time and reduce food waste.

On the other hand, creative, whimsical type folks might say they want to cook what sounds good on that day and can’t possibly choose the meal in advance. See? Different strokes for different folks.

To choose the latter, being prepared for meals means having basic ingredients on hand for LOTS of meals you really like to make, and then you can be creative each day because you still won’t have to run out for single ingredients.

To choose the former, you can get some tips from Becca’s article on using CSA vegetables wisely, such as determining what needs to be used first and organizing from there.

It’s really all about thinking and connecting. You might start with one meal you want to make that you have the ingredients for, and then start to imagine other meals that connect. Here’s an example:

  1. Make this BBQ chicken recipe with rice, but make some extra rice (that doesn’t take any more time or dirty any extra dishes)
  2. The next day, use that extra leftover rice in cheeseburger soup. Step one of the soup is to brown some ground beef – so brown up ½-1 pound extra beef in the same pot and pull it out before adding more ingredients to the soup.
  3. Use the beef the following day on Homemade pizza

Can you see how you could keep connecting meals? It’s almost like a game!

Two of these recipes are included in our My Kid Made This Challenge and they can be accessed directly through your Plan to Eat account:

 Get the recipes!

(The other can be added easily enough using the Recipe Clipper)

My kids know that meals need to have vegetables involved if they’re planning a dinner. Wish your kids would buy into that too? Get them in the kitchen with our 10-minute knife skills & safety class, FREE through the challenge:

FREE Knife Skills Class for Kids

Other Meal Planning Tutorials and Resources:


Katie Kimball wants her 4 kids to be great vegetable eaters, so she teaches them (and thousands of other families around the world) how to use sharp knives. Her greatest recent success is that her husband eats sweet potatoes now after hating them his whole life. Check out her kids cooking class online and increase your family’s veggie intake too!

Let’s have a little fun!

To motivate us parents and celebrate a month of welcoming our kids into the kitchen, Katie has put together 9 easy-to-make recipes that are available through your Plan to Eat account. Make any one of these recipes with your child, post it to our photo contest below, and you could win our $259 prize package!

Join us!

Let’s get our kids into the kitchen and teach the next generation to appreciate healthy food! And as always, if you have any questions, please email us at [email protected].


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