I briefly mentioned this in my post about our meal plan but didn’t go into any detail about it. So now I will. As a family, we recently decided to make a change to our meals. Because our kids didn’t eat well. At all. And we wanted to help our kids eat better, not just in quantity (cause they ate practically NOTHING!) but in quality also.
Here is how we used to do things:
I don’t like mornings or waking up so it was cereal for breakfast almost every day. If Austin wanted something else before going to work, he had to fend for himself.
I have a pretty strict rule on the amount of money I will spend on cereal – under $2.00 per box unless it is something special or healthier (or a really big box). This equaled a lot of pretty crappy kind of cereal in our house: Trix, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cocoa Puffs…you get the idea. Those are the cereals that go on sale. Our “healthiest” cereal was usually Cinnamon Life. (This is not a great way to help kids eat better FYI.)
I have always had a great love for cereal and my kids followed suite. Austin put up with it.
For lunch we often ate leftovers from dinner the night before but if there weren’t any, we had to do some rummaging. Laziness usually won out for me and we’d eat PB&J or some other variety of sandwich, Ramen Noodles (yeah, I know…), or odds and ends like cheese and crackers and pickles.
Dinner was the one meal I actually tried on. We had a dinner meal plan in place for two years and I typically followed it so we had one good, solid, cooked meal per day.
Here is how our children behaved at meal times:
Casey, the oldest, LOVED breakfast! He woke early, trumpeting through the house, “Cereal! Can we eat cereal? Is it time for cereal?” After some time, he got big enough to get the flavor he wanted from the cupboard and usually had it picked out before waking us up to pour it for him. Such excitement! He typically ate more than I did at breakfast.
Simeon, the youngest, hated breakfast. I usually added some other foods to his morning to balance things out for him (being 1 and all). His problem was that he wanted the cereal most but didn’t have enough teeth to really eat it well. My other offerings were typically rejected because he wanted to eat the same things we ate, but he couldn’t munch his way through enough cereal to fill up so within an hour he was rummaging through cupboards, pulling out any food he could find while my back was turned and dumping it out so he could eat it.
No one liked lunch. Probably the most stressful time of our day. Austin came home from working hard all morning. The boys were pretty hungry after their breakfast had worn off. Some days I gave them a snack – then they didn’t want to eat lunch and threw fits when we tried to get them to. Some days I didn’t give them a snack – then they got horribly mean and angry and wanted to throw fits…and often food, at lunchtime. I hated trying to come up with something to eat while all these meltdowns were happening.
Dinner typically went ok but Casey often just wanted to drink milk and dink around while Simeon shoveled food in like his life depended on it. Mostly we ate quite a lot at this meal which equaled sleeping on a pretty full stomach and all the problems that come with that.
Here is what we did to change things.
I made a commitment to change. And it was not an easy commitment to make! It had to start with me though. I decided I would wake up at 7:00 (I know to so many of you this is ridiculous) every morning and get up and cook breakfast. I created a breakfast meal plan we could rotate through.
I also made a meal plan for a few weeks worth of lunches in case we didn’t have any leftovers (we still eat those first so as not to be wasteful). Every day, I get lunch ready so Austin doesn’t have to.
I adjusted and rearranged our dinner meal plan. I incorporated a few meatless nights. I increased the amount of healthy foods involved in these meals, I even researched “most bang for your buck foods” to find out what foods have the best filling power and the most nutrients for the cheapest and found ways to incorporate the ones we like.
Here are the results.
Breakfast always happens. Lest we break a young boy’s hearts, I allow cereal once a week. I am not typically stoked to crawl out of bed to cook first thing every morning but I do it. And the boys eat it. And love it. Austin loves it. If I’m being honest, I think I even prefer it over my beloved cereal. No one is starving by lunch. No one gets hangry. No one crashes off a sugar high by 10:00 in the morning. Not every breakfast I cook is “healthy” (syrup anyone?) but at least we know what is going in our bodies now. Plus, even waffles or pancakes (with syrup) have less sugar and more staying power for my kids than bowls of puffed up sugar cereals.
Lunch = no stress. And I mean none. It might actually be our best time of day now. Wow. Never thought I’d say that! We get filled so, again, no one is grouchy by dinner. We are all rested and ready for the day and able to talk to each other and focus on how glad we are that dad gets to come home for lunch!
I honestly didn’t expect much of a change here but I’ve seen a significant one. Casey now eats a solid, balanced dinner. The rest of us don’t eat nearly so much most days because we’ve gotten appropriate calories during the rest of the day. The increase in vegetables has significantly improved our overall feeling of well-being also.
Our sweet tooth cravings are WAY down from before so I even make fewer treats throughout the week and we rarely break into the candy drawer anymore. Snacking has practically been eliminated and no one misses it. If the boys are acting a little hungry before a meal I don’t try to starve them though. Some days are just hungry days and so a small snack still occasionally happens.
My kids eat better! My kids eat better foods and better amounts at meal times, consistently! And I believe starting this change in your home could help your kids eat better too. It isn’t always easy or fun to cook every meal but it means my kids eat better and therefore act better, and honestly, dealing with unhappy children isn’t easy or fun either.
Want to hear the most unforeseen benefit of all of this?
We spend WAY less on groceries. In a typical month, for our family of 4 (with the kids only being 3 and 1) we spent pretty much every dollar of our $340 budget. (This includes household items and diapers and such as well.) I usually make one big grocery trip to one of the cities 2 hours away for a huge stock up near the beginning of the month and spend at least $200. I then use the rest at our small town grocer to get their sale items and anything we run out of before my next trip. This month, our big trip’s total was only $136! And I believe I won’t be needing anything for the rest of the month. Maybe a little produce and a gallon or two of milk but I usually need much more than that during the remainder of the month.
We bought a month or more (still experimenting on the amounts we go through with our new meal plan) worth of everything we could need that won’t go bad – tortillas, baking supplies, sour cream, cheese, canned goods (although most of these I get during case lot sales), chicken and other frozen products… I was absolutely shocked at the total. We had a huge amount of food in our cart. Our entire trunk was full. I didn’t even hit up any sales or use a single coupon. We went to Winco, did the fastest shopping trip (20 minutes) of my life and left with a total like that! I was way more stoked to cook breakfast after that check out!
Now, I will still go to our store here in town to pick up anything on sale that we use because why pay full price when you can stock up on sales? But I could feed our whole family for the rest of the month, with healthy foods, with the food I got from that one shopping trip.
And they will be happier about it!
So while it may not be the easiest change I’ve ever made, this meal plan for ALL meals is one that is well worth it for helping kids eat better.
What changes have you made to help your kids eat better? What do you do to save money on groceries? I’m always looking to improve!