By: Haley Duscha, RDN, CDN

Do you plan your child’s meals and snacks in advance, or wait till it’s almost time to eat? A little bit of planning can help your whole family choose healthy options, save money, have more home-cooked meals… and not spend all day in the kitchen.

Here are a few tips to kick-start your planning.

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1. Use a grocery list.

Having a grocery list to take to the store (or even shop online with) can be a great way to choose healthy foods for your family. But grocery lists do more than that – they can also be useful tools for sticking to a budget, limiting last-minute store runs and even prevent you from grabbing extra food if shopping while hungry.

Picking up exactly what is on your list can help you maintain your healthy choices and plan the week’s meals more easily. Some families choose to keep a running grocery list, which may be helpful when things are about to run out.

2. Pay attention when your family is out to eat, including takeout.

Most menu’s today have a good amount of nutrition information as well as alternatives that can provide you and your family with a well-balanced meal.

Some things to remember:

  • Try to avoid “all you can eat” or buffets, as these usually lead to larger portions than what your child and other family members might need.
  • Most portions at restaurants are almost twice as big as a correct serving, including from the kids’ menu. Try boxing up half before you even start.
  • Choose healthy beverages, like zero-calorie drinks and water.
  • Teach your child to spot – and avoid – food words that mean more calories. Some examples? Smothered, fried, bottom-less, super-size and mega.
  • Help your child choose food words that mean healthy cooking methods were used. For example: baked, grilled, sautéed, roasted and steamed.

3. Plan and choose healthy recipes to make each week.

Get your child involved in planning meals around new or old healthy recipes – this family activity may even inspire some new favorites.

Ask a dietitian to help you come up with new recipes or healthy twists on family favorites.

4. Encourage your family to enjoy healthy foods wherever they go – including at school (and work!).

Teach your child to enjoy healthy eating outside the home too. This might mean packing a lunch or picking an extra fruit or veggie from the cafeteria. Plan ahead or talk about what they ate at school that day, and set an example in the choices you make for yourself.

> Related: Meal Prep Made Easy: Make Cooking at Home Easier, Healthier and Fun for Kids

5. Consider what you eat while traveling.

Even if you are just driving to grandma and grandpa’s house, your child (and everyone else in the car) might need a snack or drink. Plan ahead to pack and pre-portion healthy snacks, rather than stopping. It’s the best way to prevent a last-minute scramble!