Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Meal-Planning: Breakfast and Lunch Staples

This week I'll be doing a series of posts about meal-planning.  I admit that I'm not an expert in this area but, without much humility, I will admit that this is a definite strong point in my job as the stay-at-home parent.  My goals for this week are to provide you with tips that are:

1.  Quick
2.  Inexpensive
3.  Healthy

First I have to define meal-planning.  Meal-planning, for me, is really only about one meal: dinner.  My kids get the same options every day for breakfast and lunch.  I recommend this because (1) it makes list-making easier and (2) now you only have to plan for one meal a day.

For breakfast William gets either homemade oatmeal or cold cereal.  We never buy the instant oatmeal anymore.  It's expensive and the real stuff is just as quick to make and it's healthier.  Buy the old-fashioned oats (if you buy the quick-cooking kind you'll lose some healthy points) add 1 cup of milk to 1/2 cup oats and microwave for a few minutes.  We add a bit of brown sugar and a few frozen (NOT thawed!) berries to help cool it down faster.

Cold cereal is a real hit in our house and while it's expensive (I'll explain more later how I cut down on costs) it still is a staple.  We rarely buy sugary cereals and my kids don't seem to mind.  If you have a hard time converting your kids from Honey Nut Cheerios to regular Cheerios, for example, try slicing up a banana into the bowl and chances are they won't notice the difference.  This, in fact, is what Lucy gets for breakfast every day.  She's still too young to feed herself cereal and milk from a bowl so instead I just separate it all out: sliced banana on one side, a handful of Cheerios on the other, and a sippy cup of milk.

Next is lunch.  My kids LOVE lunch.  For both of them it's their biggest consumption of food for the day.  Every day they get a peanut butter and honey sandwich, fruit and yogurt.  For bread I only buy Arnold 100% Whole Wheat.  It uses whole wheat flour, contains no high fructose corn syrup and I can usually buy an entire loaf for under $2.  If you were to come to my house on any given day you would find four loaves of this bread in my freezer.

A weakness that I'm fully willing to admit is that I have not been able to convert our family from "regular" peanut butter to the more natural and less sugary kind.  For us, we buy the big 4-pound family size of Jif's creamy peanut butter about once every two months.  If you're able to convert to a healthier version, more power to you but for me, this is one compromise I'm willing to make.

Fruit for lunch is anything fresh that's in season and is never in a can or in pre-packaged cups.  I tend to buy whatever is on sale which is usually what's also in season.  Hands down, Trader Joe's has the very best deals on fresh fruit.  Sometimes I shop there only for the fruit.  Options: Oranges, blueberries, pineapple, apples, strawberries, raspberries, pears, nectarines, etc.  If your kids are picky about fruit then buy only what they like no matter the price.  It's well worth it.  (But don't forget to also keep offering fruits they don't like.  They might just change their mind one day!)

Yogurt is a beloved lunch companion in our home.  Yogurt is a healthy option but the problem with yogurt is that it can go terribly, dreadfully wrong.  In my opinion, people focus too much on if it's organic instead of how much sugar it contains.  Some yogurts contain more sugar than a chocolate bar!  This extremely popular brand is one of the worst sugar offenders.

There are approximately 4.2 grams in 1 teaspoon (not TABLEspoon) of sugar so if you see that a product has 24 grams of sugar, for example, that means it has nearly 6 teaspoons of sugar (24 divided by 4.2).  Try adding that much sugar into your coffee or tea one morning and you'll start to understand just how much sugar that really is.  When shopping for yogurt I try to find cups that have 12 grams or less of sugar.  And if you're really looking for brownie points try buying plain yogurt and adding your own fruit.  I know that it's much, much cheaper to buy yogurt in the big tubs but this is another compromise I'm willing to make because it's just easier to hand out individual cups rather than scooping it into bowls.  Your decision.

One thing you may notice missing from my ramblings is snacks.  I don't do mid-morning or afternoon snacks around here.  I think snacks are debatable and can definitely be done in a healthy way.  It just doesn't work for our family.

Pre-packaged snacks are expensive and they rarely provide any health benefits.  An ideal healthy snack is one of fruits or veggies and most of the time those things require prep time (washing, cutting...).  I, like anyone else, get burned out on the constant revolving routine of preparing, eating, and cleaning up so if I can cut out snacktime, I cut out more work for myself.  I've also found that my kids are more apt to eat all of the healthy options at lunch and dinner if they are hungry enough once that meal time arrives.  (Note: Diets high in fiber will help keep little ones feeling full in between meals.  Think oatmeal or whole wheat bread.)

As for beverages my kids don't drink any juice or soda.  They get whole milk at breakfast and dinner.  They get water at lunch and at any other time during the day that they desire.  We keep the cups accessible to them and water is self-serve.  Believe it or not, water is a huge hit around here.

So, if you're keeping track, my list of grocery store staples includes:


Old-fashioned Oats*

Frozen Berries*


Whole Wheat Bread

Peanut Butter*




Starred items usually last longer and thus don't need to be purchased on every single shopping trip.

If you stick to a few basics for breakfast and lunch it leaves much more space in your budget to focus on variety and creativity in your dinner options.

Next up, making a dinner menu plan and writing a list!

Tell me:  What are you household staples for breakfast and lunch?  And also, do you feed your children snacks?

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