Tuesday, March 10, 2009


The other day, I got my kids together and asked them all what they'd like to have for dinner this week. The idea was to make a meal plan, so that at least I'd know what was for dinner each night. Yes, even after 5 children, I wing it most days. Whatever sounds good... whatever I feel like cooking... whatever I can thaw quickly... that's for dinner. But I wanted to try something different, so I gathered the troops and asked.

The first unanimous response was, "Pizza Hut pizza!" After I explained that I meant to choose things we would *cook* at home, here are the answers I got:

sloppy joes
"normal" spaghetti (i.e., not whole grain) with "real" sausages (i.e., not turkey sausages) and "burger" in it, but "no chunks" in the sauce (i.e., no vegetables)
waffles with bacon
steak and mashed potatoes
corn on the cob

"How about chicken? Some kind of chicken?" I asked. I was met with blank stares. "Maybe some fish? How about salmon... you guys like salmon." "Nah, Mom, we already gave you enough ideas. If you get Pizza Hut one night then that is a whole week of dinners!"


Well, they like beef... we've established that. And actually, they like some chicken dishes and fish but those are not their first choices.

So I decided to go ahead with some of their menu requests *this* week, and then ask again next week and see what they come up with. But this whole planning thing, it throws me. I am 39 years old. I have, all these years, never had meal plans. I'm going to give it a shot and see if it improves anything in our lives. But today, my meal plan went south.

Planned breakfast: chai tea, whole grain waffle with natural almond butter and fresh blueberries, a few strawberries, and green tea
Actual breakfast: chai tea, and then I actually forgot to eat until I was racing out the door to an appointment with my daughter. I didn't eat anything until lunch. *This is totally rare. I actually eat a healthy breakfast every day. I do not do well with no food!*

Planned lunch: big salad, pretty much like yesterday's
Actual lunch: got home from appointment and shopping, and was FAMISHED. Had a mini bagel with deli turkey and spinach and mustard on it, with a handful of baby carrots, a serving of hummus, 3 strawberries, and half a banana.

Planned snacks: fruit, roasted kale, almonds
Actual snacks: After lunch, I was COLD. I made a nice hot cup of Chai tea and it was sooo soothing and good. Later, I got hungry, so I made a pan of kale roasted in olive oil spray until crisp. It was really good! Around 4PM, I started getting... snacky. Pacing the kitchen a bit. I told myself to have an apple, but instead grabbed a brownie (we had 3 leftover from earlier this week). After I ate it, I wanted a big plate of cheese and crackers. But I said to myself, Self, knock it off. And I had a light string cheese instead.

Planned dinner: 4 oz flat iron steak, mashed potatoes (1/3 c made with skim milk), and a ton of roasted broccoli
Actual dinner: I forgot to thaw the steaks, so I went with the sloppy joes instead. Will do the steaks another night. Dinner was great! I always make my sloppy joes with extra lean beef, and I add beans to them. I had a huge plate of bagged romaine/mix salad with baby carrots, and out about 4-5 oz of sloppy joe meat over the top and a bit of light Ranch. I love eating my sloppy joes this way! It tastes so good on a salad, saves calories by not eating buns, doesn't set me off wanting a ton of bread, and fits in the veggies.

Total calories for today: 1263
Drank 9 glasses of water.

I will be biking for 30 minutes tonight while I watch Biggest Loser, and I may have a nice hot cup of tea after that.

So, the meals didn't go as planned today, but I'll plan tomorrow to eat the plan I made for today. (Make sense?)

I'm off to bike!


Andra said...

I plan our supper meals and shopping lists probably two weeks ahead of time so I'm never caught with nothing to eat. Take out is *not* an option. If I'm eating a meal out with friend's it's set up in advance so I can eat accordingly in the days around the "planned indulgence" to minimize the impact of food that I have not prepared myself.

I've posted this on my blog before, my husband's favorite saying that I adopted is "prior preparation prevents piss poor performance." Planning, like most everything, takes practice to get comfortable with it. Keep at it.

Vickie said...

We are in the process of planning too - this started formatting in my mind as I have read your posts this past week. I mentioned it to the oldest today on the phone - talking about his being home this summer and (his) learning to cook more. I mentioned this to the youngest too - believe it or not - at age 11 she can cook nearly anything that i can. She has been cooking since she was a preschooler and it just comes naturally to her. both of these children are more flexible with food.

My middle child is my most challenging eater and I started the actual list/planning with her so that she was invested in the process.

I said (to her) - the hardest part of dinner (for me and most moms) is thinking of what to make and having a wide variety.

I said - I would like to plan 30(or so) days worth of meals that we can use/go thru and then just start over the next month.

I said - please think of 7 (one for each day of the week) categories of carbs and then we can list about 4 meals under each category and build from there.

Her categories were potatoes, tortilla shells, noodles, bread, beans, corn, rice.

And then she started filling in carb dishes (tacos, twice baked potatoes, etc) under each heading.

Any thing that she can come up with - I will be able to find a healthy recipe (most of them I already know - and it will be fun to fine tune and look for others to fill in any holes) and for the things that are pretty dense carbs - we will just be very careful what we pair with that carb dish.

I think the next step will be to list all the veggies and start to fill them in so that there is at least one with each meal that she will eat.

And then we will work on adding any protein that is needed.

I am working with her first - because if I can get a couple things at each meal that are 'hers' then it will be easy to fill in things for the other kids. they will like all her choices and can 'help' by thinking of other things.

As easily as she filled in the starting grid - we might easily come up with 45-60 days worth of meals.

Everyone does not have to like everything - there just has to be a couple things for each person at each meal.

many of the things that she listed - I do not eat. But that is not an issue - because there will be other things at each meal that I do eat.

I was amazed at how easily she came up with the categories - we were in the car together - she was able to think of most of them herself. (these kids are really understanding food groups).

the category that made me cringe the most was bread. But, I am perfectly willing to have 4 meals a month be bread based (her ideas so far are french bread, texas toast, sub sandwiches, waffles/breakfast for dinner).

If these are all homemade I can get the fat/calorie content down to a reasonable level.

These are all things that I would not eat - but we will probably pair with some type of salad and I will just add beans to mine.

I will keep you posted as we progress. And I have to admit - looking forward to 'fleshing' this out - we are doing this via e-mail with the oldest (he is at college) so it will roll into a posting as we finish.

LOVED the "prior preparation prevents piss poor performance."

Vickie said...

And my kids started out turning up their nose at whole grains and the like too - where we are now - is not at all where we were last year at this time. And where we were last year at this time - is not at all where we were the year before at this time.

I cautioned the oldest that he was going to have to take into account that the rest of us no longer eat beef or pork as we worked on the meals list. And he was okay with that.

Anonymous said...

Great job! It's sort of impossible to plan everything when you have kids, so I think you did pretty good. Sounds like you had a decent day. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I hardly ever eat beef anymore, only once in a while. Instead I substitute ground turkey for anything I would normally use beef in: hamburgers, tacos, sloppy joes, etc. I think it tastes fine in those recipes because there are so many other flavors along with the turkey that I can't tell much of a difference and I don't miss the beef. Maybe you could start substituting ground turkey in some of the recipes you use beef in, even if you do half turkey and half beef until your kids get used to it. Just a thought.


~ugly girl with a beautiful heart~ said...

If the kids like beef and you're looking for something a little healthier, swap it up for bison. I really can't taste a difference in tacos, spaghetti, etc.; but the it's soooo much leaner! I love it!

I have problems planning meals, I always forget something or get to the till with a couple week's worth of meals and cringe at the cost. If I don't shop all at once it just doesn't seem as bad lol.

jae said...

How about giving the kids what they want for a meal or two and then replacing the others with ground turkey in place of beef or pureeing some veggies in the spaghetti sauce? Sneak health in. For Pizza Hut pizza? (my fave!!!) Buy two smalls: One really bad for you and one really good for you. Teach them balance and hopefully one day they'll come around. :)

Vickie said...


just remembered a pizza hut recipe at discovery health - link is above.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lyn
I really hesitate to offer advice as I'm not a parent, am overweight, and am not the best planner .... Err, so I hope you will think of this as a suggestion rather than advice. A friend with children has a "cafe menu" on her refrigerator with a selection of meals they can choose from. There are maybe ten meals with simple, healthy ingredients which are always on hand and which can be prepared easily. Maybe it would be possible to try something like that to start off with? Limiting the choice to start with and then building up from there?

Best of luck.


Karen said...

I know this might seem silly, and maybe it's unworkable given the amount of people you need to cook for, but my husband and I almost NEVER eat the same thing for dinner -- I'm vegetarian and much more conscious about eating healthfully than he is -- so I just make two dinners, one for him and one for myself (and I usually make two servings of my dinner and have the second half for lunch at work the next day). I know you're basically feeding an army compared to me, but it might be worth to just say "screw it I don't want sausage!" and make yourself a small piece of salmon with some vegetables while you make your kids what they want.

When my husband first came to live with me (he was living in Italy for the beginning portion of our relationship), I tried to make dinners that we both could eat so we wound up eating an insane amount of pasta, pizza, etc. vegetarian dinners that are fine occasionally but have little nutritional value and aren't meant for every night of the week. We both gained weight and since then, I found it MUCH easier to just cook what I want for me and cook what he wants for him. But then, my dinners are always very low tech and uncomplicated even though I use mostly fresh ingredients (I work full time, go to grad school full time and exercise each day, I'm not going to be making my own bechamel sauce at 8pm on a Tuesday).

He still gets the pasta and meat he likes I can eat all the tofu I want and we split the vegetable side.

Trish said...

I have 3 children ages 14, 10 and 5. My youngest has been raised on whole foods becasue we were forced to due to a weird condition he had as a baby(has since outgrown)and toddler that we had to be really cautious as to what he ate, he had a lot of restrictions on what he could eat and it meant we too had to change what was even brought into the house. He does well, loves healthy foods, not so much with my older 2. BUT I will say I am seeing differences. I will not allow a lot of junk in the house, once ina while I will buy or make some cookies, but mostly it is cheese or fruit or muffins for snacks and more and more I am seeing them make healthier choices when we go out. It takes time but the more we offer healthier choices, the more apt they will be to choose them and after all healthier options do not have to taste "healthier", just do not tell them they are healthy. Also remeber to take baby steps with them. Eating healthy is a good option for everyone, not just those of us who are on the weight loss battle front.

Ria said...

LOL - your kids' list sounds pretty yummy . . . "normal" spaghetti and "real" sausages is one of my all-time favorites, although I love "chunks" in the form of peppers and onions.

Congratulations on a great day - you really know how to improvise, girl!

Lidian said...

I have 2 girls and this is familiar to me from when they were younger...But the thing is I had to keep telling myself that I am in charge of the food. And I love the idea already posted about them choosing 1 or 2 meals but you choose the rest.

We used to eat Kraft Dinner and spaghetti with meat sauce pretty much all the time when they were younger but this was not great for me or them...Slowly we adjusted to beans and rice, chili with tons of beans, roast veggie pita pizza, tofu veggie stir-fries etc - and the default is that if someone does not like it, they have soup/sandwich and just TRY a little. They don't starve, of course, but they have what you plan, mostly.

I know how hard it is, believe me; and I wish you all the best

Anonymous said...

I have to plan. HAVE to. It just keeps me sane.

I think maybe you should try making a pizza at home. You could buy the crust and turkey pepperoni or other veggies and have them help in the meal prep. It would be cool.

I often make myself mini pizzas with low carb wraps. I smear some Tomato Paste with Italian Herbs, my desired toppings and bake. I think it would be cool...

Min said...

Ive been reading your blog for a lil bit and have to say, your definatly an inspiration.

As for your current Planning, some suggestions i have:
with the spaghetti, if you cook the pasta and sausage on the stove..your already there..so maybe break out a couple extra pans and make yourself the WW pasta and Turkey sausage while cooking the kids stuff.

If you buy your meat in bulk and portion to freeze (like i do) and the kids want steak, but you'd prefer a lean Chicken breast, portion the kids steak and pair it with (a separatly wrapped ) breast.

If your like me and forever forgetting to pull the meat out of the freezer, you can so a couple things i do, like cook a whole extra large pack of extra lean ground beef, and portion it into tupperwear and freeze.
With that i can take a frozen container of meat and dump it into the crockpot with canned tomatoes around noon, and its all thawed by 4 to add chili ingredients, or pasta sauce. You can also put frozen pork chops in a crockpot with apple juice or water and seasonings to make super tender pork chops.

A fish filet can be baked in the stove while fixing the kids dinner...

with getting my head around a plan, look in the frezzer for what we have, and then write the meal plan out on the kitchen calendar..that way i know what im making, and the kids know whats coming, and can groan about it before i make it.

But biggest trick is prep work... if things are already cut up, or cooked, it goes much faster. Having a container of pre cooked lean chicken breast enables you to fix yourself a nice chicken salad while the kids have their...Chicken fingers, or whatever they are wanting that is outside your personal plan...KWIM??

But all in all, i must say you are a very amazing and insightful woman, and i sincerely admire your dedication and strength.

Twix said...

Lol, don't feel bad. I don't plan our meals as often as I should or would like to. And when I do it all seems to fall apart - to quickly. And when I ask my 5 what they want, pizza tops there list too followed shortly by fried chicken...eeeeek!!! :D

Lyn said...

Thanks for all the *great* food suggestions, guys!

I *love* bison. If it ever goes on sale I am going to stock up, but right now it is $5.99/lb... crazy! I keep ground turkey in the fridge. I can usually get away with using it half and half with beef in most dishes). Whenever I make something too "calorie dense" for me to eat much of, I serve it over a ton of veggies: spaghetti sauce over sauteed squash and mushrooms is fantastic, and then everyone is happy :)

I am saving the food suggestions in a file for future use as we plan more menus!

Karyn said...

Planning works great - especially when you have a family to feed!

Hey! That is awesome that you were able to talk yourself out of a plate of cheese and crackers! What progress!

You're doing great!

Karyn said...

BTW....in my experience, it is easier to do the planning without asking the kids. I always tried to have one meal a week that catered to their desires, otherwise, I cooked what we could afford and what I felt was a healthy choice.

Plan your meals around your dietary goals - it doesn't hurt the kids to learn to like whole grain pasta, etc. In fact, it is to their advantage. And make one day that is just for them - as a treat.

Twyla said...

I'm sure no expert but my advice to you would be to only give the kids a few choices. Too many options will only have them picking out things that aren't particularly good for you and them. Give just a couple of choices for each night.

One other thing on planning .... plan for your children's future. They may be little now but we all know what happens when they grow up. Teach them the healthy way of living. The last thing we ever want is our children to grow up like us. I sure don't want my son to have a weight problem like me. It's very important to teach them now.

Keep up the good work!

Nicole said...

Ok so I started doing this a year ago and you have to start slowly otherwise it is overwhelming. When I first started I just planned our main dinner dishes for the week. I post the menu on the fridge and as I am preparing that nights dinner, I review the plan for tomorrow night and grab what I need from the freezer to thaw overnight. This is the best habit I have established for keeping on track now with weight loss. I usually ask my son for suggestions, but he either doesn't have any or makes inappropriate ones. I do leave a night for "fun" food like turkey burgers or homemade pizza with whole wheat crust.

I have now branched out and do some freezer meal cooking once a month and do plan for lunches but I generally take leftovers to work so there is little planning involved. I also make a healthy breakfast sandwich that I wrap and freeze on the weekend for my sons breakfast (they microwave in a minute and are better than the junky store bought ones). But I either eat oatmeal or ezekiel english muffins with Better'n'peanut butter and honey and fruit everyday (I know boring, but it is what I like!). If you want more ideas check out orgjunkie.com, bloggers post menus their every week (some even do a month out).

It was time consuming at first, but after you have done a couple of months and post them, you can go back and look through and reshuffle your family favorites. We rarely eat the same meal twice in a month and that makes dinner exciting. Plus my son loves to look at the menu and looks forward to what's for dinner that night. Oh another great source for menus is savingdinner.com.

You are such an inspiration to me, hang in there!!

antgirl said...

I plan two weeks at a time. I couldn't live otherwise. I'd have a meltdown. LOL

I do one big shopping trip at the beginning of that two weeks and then pick up fresh fruits and veggies, things I forgot and things we run out of in a smaller, shorter trip the next week.

It saves me a lot of time and a lot of stress.

Anonymous said...

Please disregard this if this isn't what you do, but are you making one dinner for your children, and then another for yourself? I could understand this if you were on some extreme diet, or on pre-portioned meals on a plan,but your meal plans are YUMMY and full of good fruits and veggies and whole grains... that's not "adult diet food" that's plain, good old food. I guess my concern is, more so than planning the meals, I hope your kids are eating what you're eating. Just because they can eat less healthy now doesn't mean their metabolism won't slow down when they hit puberty, and it's good to foster healthy food cravings in them. I know you're like a super mom with 5 kids, and I love your blog and think you're totally awesome, but feeding kids "kid" food instead of "adult" food is a little bit of a pet peeve of mine. Again, you might not be doing this, just wanted to throw it out there.

Lyn said...


Nope, not doing that. My kids are mostly older teenagers who have hit puberty already and are taller than me (and none are heavy), but they've never been 'catered to' that way. We all eat the same dinner but I make different sides that everyone likes (raw broccoli or baby carrots for them, cooked broccoli or squash for me). When I do something like steak and potatoes, I just eat smaller portions of that and a huge portion of veggies.

Meg said...

Even with your meal plan going "off plan" you still seemed to make amazingly good food choices! Congratz! It also must be super difficult to plan meals when kids are involved, I only have to worry about me and my S.O. (who is lactose intolerant.) Big Props to you!

Sara said...

It sounds like you're doing great!

I agree that bison is a great substitute for beef. Another option is grass-fed beef, which has significantly less saturated fat than grain-fed beef.

Here's a trick to get rid of "chunks" in the spaghetti sauce. Just puree the cooked vegetables in the blender before you add them to the sauce. They'll add flavor, but the texture will be the same as the rest of the sauce.

Instead of planning meals, then going shopping, have you ever tried cooking Iron-Chef-style, with ingredients you already have? I belong to a CSA, a community-supported agriculture program. This means that I get a box of fresh vegetables and fruits delivered to my house once a week. Then I plan my meals around which vegetables I have. I've learned a bunch of basic recipes that can be made with a variety of different vegetables - chilis, curries, soups, pizzas, burritos, frittatas, etc. I find it much easier to be creative within certain limits rather than just sitting there thinking, "What should I make for dinner this week?"