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Does anyone else think of the few years you have left with your teen at home and start to panic? Surely I’m not alone here. There are so many things I feel like I need to cram into the 2 years before my daughter turns 18. If she chooses to fly across the country in pursuit of a college degree, I want to know she can fend for herself in every area necessary. Some things, like when you teach teens how to meal plan for themselves, tend to be overlooked if you’re not careful!
Over the last few months, we’ve been working hard on helping our daughter understand the importance of a meal plan and how it can not only impact your health but also your finances.
Today, I’m sharing 10+ easy tips and ideas to teach teens how to meal plan like a pro!
Set an Example:
Kids learn best by what they see you do. Make it a point to include your kids in your meal planning as soon as possible. I like to ask each family member to suggest one meal each week, as I’m planning our menu. This shows them that it only takes a few minutes to come up with a plan for the week that allows you to waste less food and save more money.
Just like anything else, teaching teens to meal plan has a learning curve. They’re used to having Mom do it for them and can quickly feel overwhelmed. It’s best to start with a few meals that your teen feels comfortable making. Spaghetti, tacos, grilled cheese with soup or casseroles make a great starting point. If your teen plans meals that are intimidating to them, they won’t use the meal plan at all, so keep it simple!
Make a List:
With the ever-growing amount of delicious recipes available on the internet, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when deciding what you want to eat. When you’re teaching your teen to meal plan, provide them with a list of family favorites. I keep a list of every single recipe we eat in my bullet journal. When I am stumped on what meals to plan, I look there and quickly find an answer. Provide your teen with a list of easy go-to meals and it’ll help get the ball rolling.
Use What You Have:
One of the benefits of teaching teens to meal plan is that it allows them to save money when needed. Look at what kind of food you already have on-hand and base your meals off of that. For instance, we recently purchased 20 pounds of breaded, seasoned chicken strips for just 40¢ a pound. For that price, we couldn’t pass it up but it didn’t take us long to get sick of eating chicken strips and fries. So we got creative and ate chicken salads, wraps, chicken strips sandwiches and parmesan chicken spaghetti.
Plan for Leftovers:
It took me years to realize how much money we were tossing out with our leftovers each week. We’d eat dinner then stick the leftovers in the fridge, to be forgotten. Each week, I was throwing away huge amounts of leftovers, simply because I hadn’t planned a time to eat them. Instead of tossing out your food, plan an evening specifically to eat leftovers. Best of all, you won’t need to do a ton of cooking on this night. 😉
Make it a Challenge:
Teens love a challenge so make meal planning fun for them! Challenge them to see if they can stick to their meal plan for a week, then a month, then three months, etc. Teach them that it’s okay to detour from it but pick back up where they left off and use the food on hand.
Once they’re on their own, you can create a little competition to see who sticks with their meal plan the longest. Just give yourself one point for each planned meal that you stick to!
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Make it a Tradition:
When you teach your teen to meal plan, be sure to keep it as simple as possible. My teen was struggling to come up with meals, so we decided to break it down for her. This made the process much easier for her to choose a meal for each day.
Sunday: Self-Serve Sunday
Scrounge up something for yourself! Cereal. Leftovers. Ramen Noodles. PB&J. I don’t care but Mom’s off duty!
Monday: Meatless Monday
Soups, sandwiches, waffles. This is the day to eat whatever meals you love that don’t require meat.
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday
It doesn’t have to be tacos, but stick with a mexican theme. It can be fajitas, quesadillas, burritos or whatever your family loves most.
We’re Gonna Try That Wednesday:
Wednesday is the day I schedule all of our new recipes. When you teach your teen to meal plan, use this day to teach them how to cook a new meal. Sure, we’ve all ate lasagna and it’s a family favorite but does your teen know how to cook it? This is the time to teach them something new.
Throw it Together Thursday:
Since most of our family volunteers at a food bank on Thursdays, we’re usually tired by dinner time. That’s why we cook meals that are a breeze for us then. Burgers and fries, goulash, grilled chicken with mac and cheese. These meals are all quick and easy and require very little prep time.
Family Favorites Friday:
By the time Friday rolls around, I’m pooped. We usually play board games, watch movies and spend the evening relaxing. We keep dinner simple of Fridays, with meals like frozen pizzas or hotdogs with potato chips. It’s easy, cheap and the kids love them!
Our Saturdays are usually packed full of family and friends. It’s our busiest day of the week and we often eat at friends’ houses or head out to dinner. Keeping one night a week available for restaurants or those last minute get togethers keeps us from having too many groceries and not enough wiggle room in the meal plan.
You don’t need to always stick to the day’s theme but it definitely helps to make the decision of what to eat easier when you break it down like this!
Set a Budget for Each Meal:
Teaching your teen how to meal plan isn’t just about eating at home. It’s teaching them a vital life skill, money management. Set a budget for your meal plan and stick with it. If you want to eat steak for dinner on Monday, know that you’ll be eating something cheap, like spaghetti on another day.
Make a Few Extras:
A meal plan only works if you work it. But you should always expect life to happen and when it does, you need to be ready. When you’ve had a busy week and don’t feel like cooking, you can still eat at home. The secret is to have a few frozen meals on hand for when you need them. Our favorite freezer meals include lasagna, stew and shepherd’s pie. By keeping these ready to go, you’ll save yourself from ordering overpriced takeout.
Use a Service to Help You:
There are so many services out there to help you save time and money. We’ve tried a few different ones and have found we like these ones best:
- Home Chef
- Blue Apron
- Hello Fresh
Meal delivery services are my go-to savior when I feel like we’re eating the same meals, time and time again. I sign up for a few weeks, enjoy their meals then add the ones we especially liked to our next round of meal plans. This way, I know I’m not forgetting any ingredients when I’m shopping for our new meals. I also love that I don’t need to go out and buy spices and ingredients that we’ll never use again, if we don’t like the meal.
Add One New Recipe a Week:
When you teach your teen to meal plan, there are tons of areas to learn. By trying one new recipe each week, you’ll teach them new cooking terminology, inspire them to try new things and help them understand that dinner can be as simple or complex as you make it. Keep your teen out of a rut by encouraging them to add one new meal to their meal plan each week.
Teaching teens how to meal plan doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it’s a great chance to bond with your teen, while teaching them life skills that will last a lifetime. Soon, they’ll be on their own and knowing how to meal plan will be a crucial skill.