Meal planning is something I’m pretty new to, and I love it. Before, when I’d try to come up with meals by pulling stuff out of my fridge and just going with it, we’d end up eating less healthy foods that were usually not balanced very well. Plus, I wasted so much food by not really having a guide to go by when I went grocery shopping. I’d buy a bunch of stuff and end up having random things here and there that didn’t fit into meals.
Recently I’ve been using Holistic Squid’s Real Food Meal Plans, and I love them! They give me everything I need… whole food meals that are balanced appropriately with seasonal foods, plus a grocery list and a weekly to-do list that’s laid out simply and nicely! Love it! Plus it’s a great price and so worth it. Now if this sort of thing interests you, but you’d like an even better deal on it, you can get an extra 25% off the price just by being a VGN Premium Club Member… which I am. So on top of saving me time… it saves me money too! Two bonuses!!
But, there are times when I just want to put together my own meal, but I need to make sure it’s not two dimensional but three dimensional… and that I’m balancing our meals correctly so we all get the nutrients we need.
In Wednesday’s post on The 5 Basic Elements Of Children’s Nutrition, I talked about macronutrients and micronutrients as well as what each of these things did in the body. They’re all very important, and they’re not too difficult to get in each meal. Today, I’m going to show you how they work in our foods and why your child needs each one in their meals. This will hopefully give you and I both a good start when it comes to planning our own meals when we’re up to it.
It’s Like A Fire
Balancing meals for our children is like building a fire. To build a proper fire that’s going to last, you need three things.
- A sturdy structure to stabalize and protect your fire
- Some kindling to get your fire going nice and strong
- Big logs to keep it burning hot
Interestingly enough, it’s very similar when it comes to consuming macronutrients in our meals.
Start With A Good Base
Proteins are like the structure of the fire… the base if you will. Most times when you build a fire, you take long sticks and you prop them up together to form a tee-pee looking structure. This helps to stabilize your structure and protect it until it really gets going well.
Well, proteins are very similar. Proteins are the building blocks of the body, and typically they are the base of most meals. That doesn’t mean that they have to be the majority of the meal… it just means that they should be there in some form or another.
Another great thing about this is that no matter what kind of healthy lifestyle you’ve chosen for yourself or your kids, there’s almost always many protein choices to choose from like meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, nuts, and seeds.
Get Your Fire Started With Kindling
Once you’ve got your tee-pee or structure built it’s time to add some kindling inside of the tee-pee so you can light a fire easily and get it going. This means collecting leaves, pine needles, small branches, dried moss, etc. to put inside the tee-pee. This kindling quickly catches fire and burns fast and hot, but it doesn’t last. It’s main purpose is to catch the bigger sticks and logs you’ll have on fire.
When it comes to nutrients that act as kindling for the body, carbohydrates are it. Carbohydrates are used to supply the body with quick energy. If you eat carbs, the body breaks them down into a sugar called glucose. The body then uses what it needs of the glucose for energy and stores the rest either in the liver or muscle tissues in the form of glycogen. If those two areas are full of glycogen, then it’s then stored in fat cells to be used later when the liver and muscle stores are depleted or if other body organs need more glucose.
Here’s the thing with carbs though. We need them, but we don’t need a TON of them. I’m not a carb hater. In fact, I love me some yummy bread! But, as I get older and my metabolism slows, I’ve found that my body doesn’t need as much of this quick energy source as it did when I was younger. If I continue to eat carbs like I always have, my booty continues to grow with my age. Enough said. Even one of my favorite books on nutrition, Nourishing Traditions, says that ingesting large amounts of grain/dairy sources of carbohydrates are not necessary. You can get plenty from vegetables and other sources. Besides, moderation is a good thing!
For all of us, carbs are necessary, but for kids (or for adults with high metabolisms… athletes included) carbs are needed in higher proportions than with the average adult. This quick bursts of energy are needed to help the body do what it needs. We parents know how quickly our kids grow, and we certainly know how much energy they have!
So how does this fit into my meals. Let’s say that I may have one slice of whole grain bread while my kids get two, or my kids may drink more raw milk than I do, or instead of eating making french fries with a meal I’ll opt for sweet potato fries instead. We all get the carbs and foods we need and want… I just get a little less which is normally no big deal.
So some foods that contain carbs are things like fruits, some vegetables more than others, grains, sugars, and dairy. Basically, anywhere there’s sugar… there are carbohydrates.
Keeping Your Fire Going
Now if you built your fire using only your tee-pee structure and your kindling, your fire isn’t going to last as long as it could. But, if you take bigger logs and put them around your tee-pee base, allowing them to lean on that nice structure you started with, they’re eventually going to catch fire from your kindling and tee-pee and give you a nice, long, hot burn.
When it comes to macronutrients that give our bodies some good, long-lasting energy, healthy fats are it. Fats are digested much more slowly than carbs, and they provide a longer, more consistent source of energy. They don’t spike the blood sugar as quickly or as much, and that means our bodies aren’t triggered into storing these fats unnecessarily. Sure we’ll store some, but in the areas we need it… not so much as “extra cushioning”. Healthy fats sustain us.
What are healthy fats? Things like saturated fats in the forms of butter, tropical oils like coconut and palm oil, lard, and tallow (preferably from clean, grass-fed, organic animal sources). Monounsaturated oils used cold or via low temperature cooking like olive and flax seed oils.
Building Our Children’s Meals
Now that we’ve talked about how these macronutirents mimic building a strong fire and about how they work in the body, let’s look at using them appropriately in meals.
First off, each meal should have each of these things in some form or another in order to maintain optimal nutrition. Some protein, some carbohydrates, and some healthy fats. Typically all meals start with the protein base and then they’re either heavier on the carbs or the fats.
Let’s look at some examples.
Spaghetti and Pizza
At the base of these meals, we typically have some form of protein such as ground beef/turkey/venison, chicken, or pork. Then you have pasta noodles and a bread crust. If you go with white, refined products, your carbs will be higher and not give sufficient energy to your child’s body like they will if you use whole grain (preferably soaked or sprouted) flour. For pasta, you can skip the grains altogether and go with rice noodles or vegetable noodles. If that doesn’t sound appealing, maybe go with more sauce and meat with less noodles. The fats in this meal will come from the meats you use and any extra oils you add into your sauce or pasta noodles. You can always add some extra butter on some whole grain sprouted bread along with some garlic for an extra treat!
So there you go. These meals are heavier on the carb side, but if you prepare them properly, they’re a great occasional meal for kids!
Tuna Crackers and Veggies
This is a meal my kids enjoy ever so often. At the base of the meal we have our protein… a good quality tuna mixed with homemade mayo… our fat, and seasoned with herbs and spices. If you use tortilla shells cut up and baked in the oven at a low temperature they make for great dipping crackers and supply your kiddo with some carbs. You can make your own tortilla shells using soaked grains, or you can buy them. The choice is yours. Throw in some veggies on the side… raw or steamed, and you’ve got a great quick lunch idea that is very balanced.
This meal is almost equal in the amounts of fats and carbs included.
Cabbage Rolls and Steamed Mixed Veggies
Now this one is more for me, but the kids like it to. You’ll get your protein from the meat used in the cabbage rolls. You can also use egg in your meat mixture (like you do with meatloaf) to throw in some added protein. Then you’ll also get your fat from your meat as well as the added butter or coconut oil you put on your steamed veggies. Don’t forget the seasonings!! Follow that up with a small piece of sprouted grain bread with some butter and you’ve got some added carbs for quick fuel!
This meal if heavier on the fats and will probably satisfy you and your kids for much longer periods of time.
One Last Piece Of The Puzzle
When planning out meals and trying to balance them… All pieces need to be nutrient dense meaning full of vitamins and minerals. This goes for protiens, fats, and carbs. The less processed, the less refined… the better.
Again, if you’re new to meal planning like I am, then it may be tempting to you to go with a meal planning service like I have for a little while to help you out. This helps me to not only not have to think about the ins and outs of planning our meals, but it helps me to learn how to do it subtly as well. When I’m making our dinners, I can see where each macronutrient is at and how much is included. It’s a great learning tool in my opinion!!
What are your thoughts on meal planning for your family? Do you have a certain way that you do things?