Simplifying Mealtime with an Easy-to-Use Menu Planner and the 5 basic Food Groups

Published by Recently Empty Nested

Making Mealtime Happen-Installment #2

Mealtime is about fueling our bodies and coming together-Pretty simple, right? Well if it is simple in theory shouldn’t it be simple to execute? The good news is that it can be. Start by identifying the basic elements required for a satisfying, well-balanced, healthy meal and then meet those requirements. I see these basic requirements as: Considering the 5 basic food groups, making healthy choices from each group, making it yummy, and sharing it! Simple, right? Let’s get a little more specific.

1. Consider the 5 basic food groups.
We learned them in 1st grade but for some of us they have changed a little. Fruits and veggies used to be in the same group and there was a group for fats and sugars. Today the 5 groups are, say them with me if you know them, Vegetables, Fruits, Dairy, Proteins and Grains. If you look these up they will all be there, but maybe not in that order. I prefer to remember them in order starting with the greatest number of daily servings suggested and working to the fewest. I try to plan meals with menu items in that order too-more veggies and fruit than meat and carbs. This brings me to another change. Back in the days of the food pyramid, suggested daily amounts were given in servings as opposed to measurements like they are today. I suppose that was because it was decided that a serving was not specific enough. I continue to use servings however, because a) it makes my meal planning so much easier and b) it’s what I know. I consider each serving size ½ cup for children under 12 years old and 1 cup for children 12 and older and adults then go from there. If the suggested daily amount for a child is 1 cup then it is 2 servings, 1 cup for an adult is 1 serving, and so on.

2. Create a menu planner.
This is why using servings works better for me-Years ago I made a hand-drawn menu planner and copied it on my scanner to use every week. I planned all 3 meals and 1 snack a day for 2 weeks at a time. My menu planner had an image down the side of each day for each food group totaling the number of suggested servings per day. As I put a serving in one of my meals on my menu I crossed the image out. This way I knew what I had left to serve. I remember it well; the hand drawn images included 6 slices of bread (grains), 4 carrots (veggies), 3 apples (fruits), 2 chicken legs (protein) and 2 milk cartons (dairy). These were based on the suggested daily servings at the time; I have revised it to meet todays suggested requirements (which make a lot more sense). If I were making PB&J’s with a glass of milk for lunch, I crossed out 2 of the slices of bread, ½ and apple (jam) one carton of milk and a chicken leg (peanut butter). If I served spaghetti with meat sauce for dinner and corn and sliced peaches on the side, I crossed out 1 chicken leg (ground beef), 2 carrots (tomatoes in the sauce and the corn), 2 slices of bread (pasta) and an apple (peaches). It’s not a perfect science but it worked and made it so simple! As my children got older, I would sometimes let them help me. It was a good way to teach them about a balanced diet and healthy eating.

Menu planner and example of how to use

3. Use the menu planner.
Make healthy choices from each of the 5 food groups. is a great resource for items in each food group, serving sizes and the healthiest choices in each group. Using a menu planner like the one I use will show us where we might be heavy in some food groups and lacking in others. The menu planner has shown me I tend to be heavy in the grain group-carbs. Of course you can adjust the menu planner to fit the needs of your family. For example, when my boys were running cross country, we added servings to the Grains and Protein groups during the season.

4. Make it yummy!
Not only can our family get tired of eating the same 10 or 15 meals, we can get very tired of preparing the same thing. Ask friends what some of their family’s favorite meals are, check out the recipes on the Kitchola blog or other on-line sources and ask your mother for ideas!-A shameless plug for Mom!- Our mothers are a wealth of knowledge and experience!-Being one myself I can add that we LOVE to be asked!

6. MOST IMPORTANT! Share it!
Eat at the table together! Enjoying a healthy meal is good for the body but enjoying each other? That’s good for the soul!


Download the Menu Planner