Scrounging for dinner ideas or can’t get your kids to eat healthy? Check out these awesome meal planning tips and secrets that make a huge difference!
“I’m pregnant. And there’s more. It’s twins!”
The tears came and three of us friends celebrated Amy’s good news in shock and amazement. Amy and I had both had a long road to pregnancy, and now all three of us present were pregnant at the same time. Not to mention, all of our husbands would be deploying soon with the Navy.
From delivering her twin boys while her husband was across the world, to today as a rock-star mom of now three boys, Amy is a dear friend and inspirational military wife.
I have learned a lot from her. Plus, amidst it all, she’s always the one bringing the fancy + delicious cupcakes or beautifully laid out party food to every occasion. I couldn’t help but think, who better than Amy to ask about feeding a busy house of energetic kids and making it all look easy?
An Interview About Meal Planning Tips
So today I set out to interview Amy about feeding her three young boys, ages 5 and 3. These meal planning tips will help you simplify dinnertime and encourage your kids to eat more healthy options.
That sounds like a win in my book! Here you’ll discover what is meal planning in Amy’s household and you’ll get her thoughts on getting kids to eat (and eat well)!
How much time do you put into meal/grocery planning? When do you do it?
When I say “meal planning,” I use this term loosely! We rotate about 4 meals during the week, leaving space for eating out and getting creative with leftovers.
The more time I think about or put into meal planning, the more it gets pushed aside and doesn’t get completed, so I keep it simple! We rotate about 4 meals a week and try to have 3 main food groups: protein, fruit, veggie. The less dishes I have to wash, the better! So, I use 1 sheet pan for oven roasted dinners and the InstantPot very often.
Over the weekend, after reviewing what items I already have in stock, I jot down grocery items in the notes section of my phone so that I can check off/delete items as I find them at the store. I also know the stores that I shop in well, so I organize the items on which sections they’re in the stores.
Time is money to me at this stage in life, and this saves time!
Do you have any go-to websites that you use for meal planning tips or inspiration?
I enjoy getting inspiration from Pinterest when I’m feeling fancy! I also love blogs like Love & Zest. Kristina is a Registered Dietician who has little ones of her own. She puts a healthy spin on meals, snacks and nutritious smoothies.
Another favorite blog I love to get healthy snack ideas from is Clean Eats & Treats – her powerballs are BOMB and they’re packed with nutrition and protein. My boys call them cookie balls!
How do you deal with picky eaters, if you’ve had to?
We have a rule that you always take “thank you bites” depending on how old you are. Mikey is 3, so he takes 3 thank-you bites. The twins take 5. Sometimes it’s just a teeny tiny taste, but we want to get them in the habit of trying new things and showing gratitude for those who serve and prepare food for them.
I don’t make separate meals, but I also don’t require them to clean their plates.
We constantly talk about which foods are good for building strong bodies and which foods are yummy but don’t serve our bodies well. They are little sponges and we hope to educate them on how to choose nutrient-dense food as they become more independent – not because we’ve told them to eat them but because they’ve learned how they can take care of their bodies.
What If They’re Still Hungry?
Heather: I love the idea of thank you bites. If they take their thank you bites but are still hungry, do you give them different food? Or they have to eat more of the dinner you made even if they don’t like it? (We are dealing with this!)
Amy: We typically have about 3 items for dinner, so there’s usually something they like from that. So no, I don’t make anything different. They will just have more of the item they like.
For example: chicken, broccoli and Mac and cheese. They don’t like broccoli but have to take thank you bites. They will probably want more Mac and cheese or chicken.
Believe me, we still battle with it but this is our hard and fast rule. However, I will modify what we are eating.
For example: tacos. The 3-year-old has meat and cheese, but he likes salad so he has salad on the side. My husband and I have meat/cheese/ lettuce/tomato on our tacos. One twin (age 5) likes raw broccoli, but not cooked. So when I cook it, I put cheese on it for the other two boys and I keep a few raw for him.
So you can have them choose their veggie and how they want it. That way, I’m modifying but not cooking separate meals.
How do you manage the shopping with three energetic boys? Any tricks/tips?
I’m all about shopping for groceries online and scheduling a pickup. My typical routine is to get major items at Costco in bulk (snacks/meat/prepared meals). Walmart and Fred Meyer (aka Kroger, Ralphs) have a great grocery pick-up service that I don’t even have to get out of the car for. This is a lifesaver!
Heather: And when mom has the kitchen stocked with groceries, everyone eats better!
What are your fav meals (or types of meals) to cook as a busy mom?
Every child loves tacos, right? I will add in black beans to the meat to make it go further and add in more protein, as well as other frozen veggies if I have them on hand. We also have a simple salad or raw veggie to go with.
Another favorite is sheet-pan dinners. I will roast veggies with chicken sausages all on one pan, that way it is super easy to clean up. InstantPot is also another favorite, and soups with added veggies go a long way in our house.
Get a free Trader Joe’s grocery checklist with all my favorite items, plus room to add your favorites! Click this button to download:
Anything else you want to add?
Don’t stress the small stuff! Keeping mealtime simple is the best advice I can give.
If you have little ones older than 3, I highly recommend giving them their own set of kid-safe nylon knives and encourage them to be a part of the dinner prep! This is a great fine motor exercise, as well as teaching them the ropes in the kitchen. They love to be a part of it all!
About Amy Melquist
Amy is a military wife, mom of 3 boys and business owner of The Essential Story. Her family lives in the Pacific Northwest where they love to explore in the woods, play in the water and simply enjoy being outdoors. And if she could pick one celebrity to sit down for lunch with, it would most definitely be Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman! You can find Amy on Instagram and Facebook @theessentialstory