Episode 14 –
Meal Planning for a Busy Family
with Mathea Ford, RD

Episode 14

“Create a 3 week meal plan so you aren’t eating the same stuff each week… take your family’s preferences into account and what you’re doing [each night]. It will take you a couple of hours to work it out, but once [you do it], you have a three week meal plan.”

Stuck on how to meal prep for your busy family? Join us in this episode as Sharon interviews dietitian Mathea Ford on her tricks to making meal prep work. Check out Mathea’s free meal prep guide at www.nutritionexpertspodcast.com/parenting! Thanks for listening!

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Any List App for grocery list planning
Sharon on Mathea’s podcast the Nutrition Experts podcast
MyPlate for planning balanced meals

Click Here to Ready the Full Transcript
Intro: Welcome to the Raiseology podcast with your host, pediatrician and parenting mentor, Sharon Somekh, here to empower parents to raise resilient and independent children. Grab your coffee or your Margarita and let’s get started. This podcast is for informational purposes only and should be used to supplement rather than substitute the care provided by your physician.

Sharon: Before we get into this great episode on Meal Planning, I wanted to remind you guys that the Raiseology parenting course is underway and we’re having a great time in there. You can join the course at any time, so if you want more information, visit Raiseology.com/course. Welcome to this episode of the Raiseology podcast. Today I have with me Mathea Ford. Hi, good morning. How are you doing today?

Mathea: I’m doing great.

Sharon: So I’m really excited about this episode because today we’re going to talk about something that I think most families struggle a bit with cus I know we do some times. Um, and that is meal planning for a busy family and healthy food choices for kids so Mathea care to introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

Mathea: Sure. Um, I’m Mathea Ford. I’m a registered dietitian, nutritionist. I’m licensed in Oklahoma. I have been a Dietitian for 21 years, which seems like a really long time because I don’t feel like it’s gone so fast. Um, but I specialize in kidney disease and I’ve been a kind of on the food service side of dietetics for a long time. I currently work for myself and I have a website, renaldietHQ.com if you’re interested in anything about kidney disease, but I also have two kids and a husband that I help take care of as well. So my kids are 12 and 14. So having two adolescents at home I’m sure can a bit challenging when it comes to meal planning and we can certainly get to that. But what would you say, um, are the best tips you can give for meal planning for young kids and for parents who are both trying to figure out how to meal plan for their kids when their kids are home. But also, uh, if we could talk a little bit about, um, you know, preparing for school lunches and I know that that’s something that a lot of, um, parents have a hard time with.

Mathea: Sure. So when you’re thinking about your kids and thinking about their meals, you want to, of course, make sure you kind of do the myplate variety with a small portion of, you know, two to three ounces of meat for younger children. Um, you know, a small portion of a carbohydrate or a starch and then plenty of fruits and vegetables and you want to make sure that you’re planning the meals that way, because that’s what they’re going to see at school. So you want to encourage them to try different things. But when you’re planning you, you really, if you start out with like a Monday or a Sunday, you can kind of go through the whole week. And even as young as they can tell you their preferences now, you don’t always have to go, you know, with what they want. If they want Mac and cheese every night, you don’t have to go with that. But you certainly at a young age, you know, four or five, they start really having some preferences. So it’s nice to kind of work those in. So to me the top tip is just, you will save a lot of time and a lot of stress and not hearing that. What’s for dinner? question if you start out either Saturday or Sunday and just plan out the week. So what we usually do is I’ll grab my kids and I’ll say, um, what, what do you want? What’s your meal this week? So they kind of get to pick a meal. And then I planned the rest of the meals and then we look at our calendar. So a lot of times we don’t look ahead at the calendar and think, okay, it’s gymnastics and taekwondo night, Wednesday night, that starts at five. We’re not going to be able to eat til seven unless I go through the drive through, so if you know that Wednesday is that night, you plan your meal that night where maybe we’re just going to have sandwiches and we’re just going to be able to make them in the morning and eat them when we get home. And that way we’re not always going through the drive through or always grabbing a quick in not so healthy options.

So Sunday we plan out, we looked through the freezer, what’s in the freezer, we look at what we need to get from the grocery store and we also think about the fact that fruits and vegetables tend to go bad a little bit earlier. So if I have fresh strawberries and peaches, I’m gonna use the strawberries first because the peaches will last probably a few days longer than the strawberries. So that’s just kind of some ideas.

Sharon: Oh that’s really helpful actually. Um, I, I know that I have tried to meal plan and the past and I have friends actually that their way of meal planning is that they eat the same thing every Monday and the same thing every Tuesday. And honestly my husband is not into that. I think I could get away with it with the kids, but he wants a little bit more variety so it’s become a little bit challenging for me to meal plan in that way. But you’re right thinking about it sort of in the beginning of the week or on the weekend is definitely a helpful tip. Would you say that you use any specific, um, grocery shopping apps or anything that you find super helpful?

Mathea: So to go back to your meal, you know, just having the same thing Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. What I find to be really helpful, and this is what I did in the hospital, um, is you have like a three week meal plan. So it’s not the same every Monday, but every fourth Monday is maybe, or every third. Monday is the same meal. And that makes it easy to make a grocery list. So depending on the time of year, you kind of take your family’s preferences and you take into account those things that you’re doing and yes, it will take you a couple of hours to work it out, but once you have that three week meal plan that works for example, the summer for three months. And then when school starts, you know, you can go. Usually you’re getting colder weather, you can use more soups and stock and crockpot stuff. So that’s just an idea that’s maybe a little bit different version of that. Um, I think you’re right, kids tend to like, you know, they’re fine with the same thing over and over. But um, we as adults do like a little variety. And that helps too when you’re thinking about your budget and what you want to buy because you can plan ahead a little bit. If you see things are on sale and you know that you have a roast every couple weeks and you see that the pot roast or the pork shoulder or whatever is on sale, you can buy that, freeze it and then use it. You know, when you’re ready so you can save a little money doing that little bit of planning ahead. Um, what was your other question? I can’t remember the second half.

Sharon: Yeah, sorry about that. Um, if you have any specific, um, grocery lists, apps or anything that you find super helpful for meal planning or for Grocery shopping that you use on a regular basis.

Mathea: I do. We use the any list app and we use it on iOS and it allows me to share the grocery list with my husband and that’s in the free version. I don’t pay for it. And so we’re both adding to the grocery list as we remember things. So if he’s at work and he remembers something, he can add it to the grocery list. I can add things. And then when we’re going through the kitchen, one is looking, one is putting it on the app. And then I use that. I, I order groceries online 90 percent of the time just because that saves me two or three hours in the grocery store. So I use, we have walmart locally and I use the WalmartGrocery.Walmart.com and order. I also like to have them deliver cars in my city. It’s only $10 to have them deliver and our Walmart is like probably a 20 minute drive. So um, it’s nice to have that delivery for just $10 and when you want it. So, um, I use those two things and then even if we’re in the grocery store, we can split up and as you mark things off the list in any list, any list. Um, it’s updates on everybody’s phone so you’re not kind of cross or grabbing extras or whatever. So we love that app. I really just use paper and Pencil for the picking the um, you know, doing the meal plan. But what I have done in the past is when I’ve done my meal plan, I make a grocery list kind of sheet that goes with it and then I can go through and say this week, these are the items I need and then go through, cross off what I don’t need an order, um, that we’re kind of recovering from summer vacation, so we’re getting ready to get back into school so we’re getting ready to get back to a more scheduled environment in day. So we’re going to get ready to do that again.

Sharon: Now let me ask you this. Do you post the meal lists, like, is it on a calendar where people know what they’re, you know, where everybody in the family sort of knows what to expect that day?

Mathea: Yeah. So we put it on the side of the refrigerator. We just have a um, magnet on there. So what’s been awesome about going back to school is now my kids like get up at 5:30 in the morning so I get up with them and while they’re getting themselves together, taking the showers, whatever. I’m getting ready for the day with the dinner. So I’m making sure that my food is out. Like this morning I got up and I cut up the onion and I put the turkey in the crockpot and so it’ll be there when we get home. So that’s nice to even just plan on taking an extra 15 minutes or getting up 15 to 20 minutes early and just making sure that your items are ready for dinner. Um, and even, you know, a lot of times we have frozen foods so we defrost it in the refrigerator so we will put it in the refrigerator the morning before, so it has a full, like 24 to 36 hours to defrost and that way it’s usually thought out by the time we’re ready to cook it. But if I put it in the crockpot then I put it in frozen because that’s not a big deal.

Mathea: So you prep your meals in advance, you don’t cook them, but then you freeze them sometimes and have them ready to go. That’s such a great idea. Well, yes. And so on Sunday when I get the groceries I go through and if I know I need um, carrots and celery and onions and I know they need to be chopped up and everything like that, I either do that or I give it, you know, I’ll tell the kids you need to chop this or you need to put these in Baggies, whatever. So we kind of make little baggies for that day too. So we know we don’t necessarily mix the meat and the vegetables prior to putting them together. But we do know so that way when I get home, if it’s hamburgers and Broccoli, I grabbed the bag of Broccoli that’s already cut off the stems and I can steam it.

Sharon: Cool. And then what, um, what would you recommend for parents who are trying to plan or prepare school lunches?

Mathea: Well, I think even with school lunches you need to try to make sure you have some of those, a little bit of everything. So if your kid really likes chips or it’s real convenient to do chips, buy the baked chips, don’t give them the fried chips but have them as soon as they, as you’re comfortable and they’re comfortable and have them start making their own sandwich. Um, even, you know, if they can put on, squeeze on the Jelly and then you spread it. So to me I also like, so let me go back. You need, you know, whatever you’re going to do, sandwich and then make sure they have a vegetable and a fruit and that starch, if they want it, you can give them some cheese. Those all tend to be good for a couple hours if you have a little freezer pack. Another thing I like to do, my daughter hates to take peanut burns alley because it gets soggy. So we do where it’s almost like a Bento box. But you can do this just with small tupperware containers and kids as long as they can open the tupperware containers, you know, they can make their own sandwich there at school. So if you want them to have chicken salad that day and you want to send a slice of bread and put the Broccoli in another container and a little bit of ranch in another container and then that way at school they can open those, they can make the sandwich, it’s not soggy and it’s fresh and they tend to like that a little better and it gives them that opportunity to plan those, because a lot of times kids can do, you know, they can put the Broccoli in a container, they probably can’t always cut it up but they can put it in there, they can put the baby carrots in there, they can squeeze a little bit of ranch or ketchup or whatever they want for it into those little containers. And it’s like I said, it’s a lot better to me when you’re making it kind of at the lunch table and they tend to have enough time if they’re taking their lunch to sit there and do just a couple, you know, 30, 40 seconds of assembly.

Sharon: That’s great. And then would you say that those Bento boxes, like are there options for making those in advance, maybe creating like three or four days of Bento boxes on Monday morning for the rest of the week?

Mathea: Oh, absolutely. So yeah, you can chop up like my daughter for the longest time liked the chick-fil-a, she likes the grilled nuggets there, but she used to eat the kids box which was just basically a chopped up chicken breast and so you can just chop up a chicken breast for example, and put it in, you know, the little container and that way it’s small enough that they can eat it and chew it and they don’t have to have a knife there and cut it up. But yes, you can make, just like we do with our vegetables at the beginning of the week or our fruit, we’ll prep it, you can prep two or three days in advance.

Sharon: Yeah, that’s great. Um, and I’m sure much healthier in most cases and even buying school lunch. So, um, and I’m sure it saved some money too.

Mathea: Yeah. Actually, school lunches. Um, I actually just did a little talk with another Dietitian who does, has done school nutrition for a long time. They’re actually a lot healthier than we might think because they’re required to have whole wheat or whole grain in almost everything, like everything has to be at least 50 percent whole grain if it’s a, like a bread or a flour or a pizza crust or something and you know, they have to have a certain amount of vegetables. So my kids are just a little bit, my daughter would rather take her lunch than eat the lunch there as long as she’s taking a healthy combination of foods, I’m fine with that. My son will eat school lunch. He’s eaten school lunch forever, but it is, um, they really have lower sodium, lower sugar products. Even their cereals are designed specially for school lunches where they have whole grain and they are school breakfast, I guess whole grain and lower sugar than a standard one you would find in the store. So there’s some specialty companies that make these items just for schools because the guidelines. So I don’t think that’s important just to understand. And even just to talk, if you’re concerned, I would just talk to the food service manager or whoever’s in charge. They have nutrition information for the school lunches and you can just ask if you can see it.

Sharon: Yeah, that’s great. It makes you feel a little bit better if you don’t have time to do all the lunch prep. At least you know, they’re getting a sort of healthy meal.

Mathea: Yeah. And that’s a discussion that as kids get a little older you can look at the school week and say okay, they’re having this, this and this. If the kid is like, I don’t want to eat this day or this day, then helping them to develop that responsibility of okay, we need to remember that you need to make your lunch that day and take it so it can be a good mixture.

Sharon: So my kids was time they get to about first grade or so they do make their own lunches if they feel that they want to take home lunch to school. And um, I agree with you that it’s really important. I think it’s important also to have them involved in that process so that they feel sort of more, I’m excited to eat their lunch and it’s similar to when they help you prepare dinner, how they feel more excited to eat whatever it is that you guys have made together. Then if you made it yourself. Um, and I love that tip of sort of, even if they can’t make the whole lunch to really just let them do what they can and have them help in any way that makes them feel almost more empowered and more independent.

Mathea: Well, as they get older, I know we’re going to talk about this, but as they get older, that’s one of the benefits of having the meal plan and having it posted and everybody kind of knows as they get older they’re able to start doing some of those things when they get home so that you’re not always waiting till, you know, mom or dad gets home at 5:00 and starts. They, if they are home a little bit earlier, they can start some items.

Sharon: Yeah. So how do you manage that with your teenagers? Right. So you have teenagers, I’m sure that they have very busy after school lives and um, and I’m sure that they are probably helping you prepare some of the meals, but you know, as our kids get older, my oldest is about 12 and sometimes I feel like she wants to eat every two hours. How do you make sure that you have sort of everything that they’re going to need and what is that communication like and how do you manage that?

Mathea: So both of them have cell phones and when they get home from school, I’ve usually sent them a text message with a couple things I’d like them to do when they get home from school. And so it’s either empty the dishwasher, feed the dogs, that type of thing. And then for example, for dinnertime, um, they know that they’re responsible to get the plates out, get the knives and forks, make the drinks for everybody. And we let them do some cooking. Like my son loves to cook on the grill, so I tend to let him do that and I’ll make the hamburger patties and hand them over to him and he’ll cook them on the grill and he takes great pride in that. He’s 14. He loves to do it and I’m happy to let him do it. Um, they, you’re, you’re right. They do seem to eat all the time. So that’s where it’s important. What food that you choose to bring it into the house. So I’ve found that if I have pop tarts in the house because somebody stuck them in the cart and we walked, we went out of the grocery store with them. Those are gone very quickly and they tend to be chosen later in the evening if they’re wanting a snack, even though there’s a bowl full of fruit that is always there. And once the pop tarts are gone, the bowl full of fruit gets eaten. So when they come home, if they’re hungry, they know that they can have some fruit or something small to eat, but not eating, you know, like making yourself a pan of eggs and eating that two hours before dinner. So we kind of have those kind of rules in the house that, you know, when you come home, you know, because I understand that they ate lunch, they go to school so early there, lunch tends to be at 11 in the morning and they’re growing and to ask them to go from 11 in the morning till 5:30 or six is kind of a big ask. So I just try to make sure there’s something when they get home at 2:30 for them that is healthy and as far as what they can do. Like I said, we just communicate with texts and reminders and then they know their other job is to do their homework. So for me it’s more important that they do their homework. Then I’m getting, you know, I’ve got most of this stuff prepped ahead of time but we always have like a homework time where we sit down after dinner and finish up homework. But we make a point of eating dinner together. If we’re all home, we all sit down and eat dinner so nobody goes and takes food in their room or anything. So we have a family discussion and we eat together and we talk about what’s for dinner tomorrow, what it, what did you, what do we want to change? And so working together and talking through it at that age, they have a lot of preferences. But um, we had ever since I had you on my podcast, I started doing the No thank you bite and my daughter doesn’t appreciate it but she does it. My son will eat pretty much anything but um, I do have them, they can, they can cook on the stove and sometimes.. for example, next Tuesday they’re off office school and I will leave them at home and they will be responsible to make their own lunch. I’ll make sure this weekend, that’s where the planning ahead comes. I’ll say, okay, we’re off school Monday and Tuesday, we’re going to have this for Monday, lunch, this for Monday dinner. What do you want me to get? So that you can have something for lunch on Tuesday. And I’ve taught them how to make simple things like chicken salad, how to make a grilled cheese and that way they can make those choices instead of skipping meals and then it’s 2:00 in the afternoon and they’re wanting to eat a big thing and then two hours later we’re going to have dinner.

Sharon: I like that idea of really teaching them the few a few things that, you know, they’re completely capable of making and that are healthy for them to make and filling so that they can, um, they can really have some choices and independence there. So I love that idea. And then do you allow them to add stuff to your grocery list app?

Mathea: Oh, absolutely. Yes. Um, so they get a couple, like for some reason they really like salt and vinegar chips. So we get a bag of salt and vinegar chips. They know it has to last the week and they know that they’re supposed to just take an amount, put it in a bowl and put the bag away. So we have some of those sorts of things that they, that they like. Um, but absolutely it starts with that conversation of we’re doing the meals for the week, what do you want for your meal to be and what do you want, my son, want for his meal to be and then if it’s kind of their meal then they’re expected to do a lot more work helping to make it.

Sharon: Oh, I like that idea too. And then do you limit than going out to dinner and um, or do you, do those go out more on the weekends or if you and your husband have a date night in the middle of the week or do you not do those things?

Mathea: Well that’s part of figuring out, okay. Like my son has taekwondo at 6:30 tonight. We know we can eat dinner before that as long as it’s in the crock pot. I put it in the Crockpot this morning. I’ll get home at five. My husband would get home at 5:15. We’ll take it out of there, we’ll eat, we’ll be done by six and then he can go. And that makes it much easier. We love eating out, but it’s really, we’re trying to make it more of a treat instead of like, oh, we forgot to plan ahead, let’s call for pizza or something. We know it’s healthier to eat at home and we know we make healthier food than what the restaurant makes because the restaurant is really an experience and you’re going for a special occasion or you’re going out for an enjoyable family dinner where nobody had to cook because you worked all day. So we try to plan those and usually it is on the weekend and my husband and I’ll do a dinner together and then we’ll take the kids usually to a dinner as well at some point, maybe every two or three weeks. But it’s really, it’s really on the occasion of if I know I didn’t plan that week, then it’s really hectic and I tend to get more takeout food and then that just feeds itself to be not a good week. So the planning ahead definitely helps to make that less often. It does help with money too, but that’s not necessarily my first concern. My first concern is really just the healthy food.

Sharon: Yeah, I guess I have in the past try to meal plan and my biggest challenge when it comes to meal planning is, and I actually interestingly had done it the way that you recommended sort of plan out three weeks in advance. Um, and part of my challenge is making sure it has the right groceries, but the other challenge is say, you know, tomorrow is supposed to be Pasta and meatballs and I don’t feel like eating pasta and meatballs and I think that has been my biggest challenge with meal planning in advance is that sometimes, and it’s not really the kids that are the issue, but I think it’s my husband and I are more the, the challenge and the barrier I would say to successful meal planning is that sometimes what I plan to eat three weeks ago on this day, it just don’t feel like eating on this day.

Mathea: So maybe you have some, um, crockpot meals that are frozen, like frozen crockpot meals that you can put in at the last minute. So if you’re thinking, you know, you can do those freezer prep ahead and you can have, you know, you could have just two or three of those in the freezer, you look the next day and you really don’t feel like meatballs or just don’t feel like meatballs, maybe one of those crockpot meals. So then you have four choices. You can pour it in the crock pot in the morning and easily switched that out without having to go get some food or do something, you know, totally disrupt the whole schedule.

Sharon: No, that’s a great idea too. Thank you. I personally have found this very helpful. I really appreciate all of your tips and I know that you have something that you have available for the audience as well. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

Mathea: Sure. I have a free guide and you’ll, if you go, I have another, I have a podcast that Sharon was on, it’s called nutrition experts podcast. So if you go to nutritionexpertspodcast.com/parenting, then there’s a free guide that is about meal planning, meal prep, meal prep packs, prepping for breakfast, lunch, dinner, that type of thing. So it’ll just be a lot of helpful tips. It’s completely free and you won’t even need to give me your email.

Sharon: That’s awesome. I will certainly link to that in the show notes for this episode and I will definitely be downloading it myself. Um, so I really appreciate that. I so appreciate your time and your taking the time really to answer all these questions for everyone and um, and thank you so much for being here.

Mathea: Yeah, no problem. Glad to be here. I’m glad to help. Thank you.

Outro: Thanks for listening to the Raiseology podcast head over to www.Raiseology.com where you’ll find plenty of, you’ve got this resources for parents and any links or tools mentioned in today’s show. Be sure to hit subscribe on your podcatcher so that you can listen to the next episode, the minute it’s out. Until next time, have an empowered week.

Meet Your Mentor

Sharon is a general pediatrician, loving wife and mother to 4 daughters.

 After a decade of practicing general pediatrics and working with families, she realized there often wasn’t enough time while tending to children’s medical needs to help parents in the way that would be most helpful in shaping their children’s futures.

 The Raiseology Program was developed to teach parents how to raise their children with the love and authority necessary to promote resilience and responsibility.

Sharon’s experience with hundreds of families as well as her own help her meet you where you are on your parenting journey to help you make it what you want it to be.

This site and the information contained therein is for educational purposes only. This site is not a substitute for medical advice, treatment or diagnosis. The use of this site does not create a doctor-patient relationship.

Your privacy is important to us so we want to let you know. This site uses tracking technology, such as cookies and pixels to enhance your user experience and provide social media features. You can find out more here.

Copyright © 2019 Raiseology | Privacy Policy

This site and the information contained therein is for educational purposes only. This site is not a substitute for medical advice, treatment or diagnosis. The use of this site does not create a doctor-patient relationship.

Your privacy is important to us so we want to let you know. This site uses tracking technology, such as cookies and pixels to enhance your user experience and provide social media features. You can find out more here.

Copyright © 2019 Raiseology | Privacy Policy

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