From the Kitchen

The Joys of Meal Planning with Kids

I am currently experiencing two issues with my daughter that I’m sure many parents can relate to. #1: She HATES going grocery shopping with me. This is pretty annoying seeing as how she HAS to go grocery shopping with me, unless leaving a 4-year-old home alone is kosher nowadays? I didn’t think so. #2: She only eats about half of the dinners that I prepare. I know this is a universal parenting challenge…getting your kids to eat!

The other morning I was chatting with some moms at soccer. One of them mentioned that her 9-year-old daughter had planned their meals that week and that it had gone very well. A light bulb went off in my head. I just need to get Cate involved with the meal planning! I don’t know why this light bulb didn’t light up sooner…I mean, I do have a meal planning website, you think this would have crossed my mind at some point.

cate writing her shopping list web

Last week I gave my new plan a try. One morning I called Cate into the kitchen and asked her if she would help me plan our meals and our grocery shopping list. I had two pieces of paper and two pens ready to go so we could each jot things down. She was all over it! She came up with some great ideas for dinner and was super excited about her ‘list.’ We got dressed and headed to the store. She helped me pick out the food we needed and I kept her involved with the shopping.

cate at the store

The following is TRUE. I will swear on the Bible, the Koran and all seven Harry Potter books if you need me to. As we were driving home from the store, out of the blue Cate said, “That was so fun!” This is major. I don’t think the word ‘hate’ describes well enough Cate’s previous feelings about grocery shopping.  I considered Cate’s statement a huge victory!

And as for eating dinner…so far, Cate has eaten the meals that she helped plan. We’re still in the honeymoon phase, but I really believe that we are on to something here!

Of course, I’m always open to more ideas! Please share your own tips for involving your kids in meal planning and/or food preparation.

Jane Maynard, writer and founder of This Week for Dinner, is a wife, mother to two beautiful girls and freelance graphic designer.  Jane loves eating, which comes in handy for a food blog. Chocolate, cannoli, and H&H Bagels are her top foods of choice.


  1. Oh, this is such a great idea! Not only to help picky eaters, but also for beginning writing and just bonding with Mom. (or Dad if he does the shopping/cooking) I’ll have to try this. I’ve let the girls pick out new veges and fruits to try at the market and they loved that, so hopefully this would go over well, too.

  2. This is a great idea. My kids love helping in the kitchen (but not grocery shopping), so we decided to do a food blog about cooking with kids. They are more willing to try something new if they were part of the choosing and cooking process. Growing a garden together is another great way to get them involved.

  3. That is just brilliant! I am going to copy that idea with my four year old…she can only be bribed with the single serving string cheese in the cheese section for so long. Happy SITS Day!

  4. Greetings from SITS! This is SUCH a great idea! I recently started getting better about meal planning but hadn’t thought of including the kids. I’m going to try it! Thanks!

  5. Jane – This is genius! Thanks for a great article. I’m going to get my girl involved in our meal planning. She does the same thing in terms of leaving half of her plate empty. Speaking of – I’ve been trying to get my act together to do better meal planning and share them on your site each week.

  6. no, not at all! it’s hard to balance it all…and sometimes kids just won’t eat, no matter what! :) I totally get the trying to balance everything in life thing…for me, honestly, planning ahead is the only reason we ever get dinner on the table, so it works for me…and if I can get cate involved, then that’s a bonus. the hardest part for me isn’t just the planning…but actually getting to the store. it’s tricky…but don’t lose heart! and don’t feel bad when it doesn’t all work out perfectly! :)

  7. I guess I need to try harder. My girls (5 & 2 y.o.) help occassionally in the cooking/planning/shopping dept, but it seems to have no impact on what they actually eat. Even if I say “Yum, it’s from Trader Joes!” Planning any meals in advance is hard when you work full-time, pick up 2 kids @ 2 schools, and husband works on weekends so you have no one to share the meal-planning/shopping time with. Am I the only one with this problem?

  8. GREAT idea!!! I just need to wait until my 21 month old is older and can actually communicate what she wants to eat!!!!

  9. I second everything you said. Every time my daughter has helped plan/cook meals, she is excited to eat. Also, gardening helped her to be a veggie lover. I know she eats as well as she does because she helped with the veggie garden from the time she could walk. Great post, thank you for reminding me it is worth the extra effort to get her involved.

  10. Great idea. And I hear you on the ‘ah-ha’moment, when you have a blog committed to planning. I’m the same way. My daughter will often come up to me as I’m planning and add her often very valid contributions to the grocery/costco list. I do think meal planning is next for her:)

  11. I recently had a night where my boys were complaining about what I was making for dinner (pumpkin soup). I told them that it was my night to pick what I wanted for dinner & that they could each have a night that week to choose what was for dinner. They loved to pick and then help with the meal prep on “their night”. Of course, like you say, you have to sometimes sway them in a particular direction or it would be the same meal every night, but I definitely think the involvement is good for everyone.

  12. megan – I definitely try to sway some of the items…so we don’t just have cheese pizza every day! I definitely make suggestions, and while she’s involved, I still get final say! :) she mostly doesn’t realize I’m still in charge though because it feels like teamwork.

    alli – I’m the same way, have to force myself to slow down and get her involved. but it seems to be paying off, so I’m going to keep me reminding myself as well! :)

  13. Because I tend to want to “get in and get out” I am bad about involving my 5 year old, mainly because it slows us down. BUT when I make a list for grocery shopping, go over it with my 5 year old, and involve him in crossing off the items, the trip is much more successful. I needed that reminder. Thanks!

  14. It may be a 4-year-old thing… because your Kate sounds like my Hannah! I’m loving this idea, BUT I enjoy meal planning & giving us a big variety. Did you let her just choose out random things or did you give some suggestions (such as chicken, or mexican, etc) to help her?

  15. I second the pictures comment. Many of the Home Daycare Providers I know do this, and laminate them, too. The kids like picking out meals on “their” day. It’s also a good way to teach nutrition and colors. And if you want to introduce something out of the norm, allow the child to pick which day to sample the new food. It works when they feel they have a little control to choose their food and how much to eat. Mom still gets to decide the when to eat and how it’s prepared.

  16. as always, love all your comments! thank you!

    soybeanlover…cate is not quite literate herself, so that’s a great idea! her list was literally scribbly lines, which was pretty darn cute…but I bet she’d love finding pictures.

  17. My sister does something similar, but since her kids aren’t litterate yet, she has them cut out pictures from the mailers the grocery stores send out. Then they glue them on paper and use that as a visual list. I need to try this more often.

  18. I have been using this method with my 12 year old for some time now. I have found that when she helps me cook she is definitely more likely to eat something that she helped to make than something she had nothing to do with. I am glad to hear of your success with the grocery shopping!

  19. My kids love to cook. Next time we are going to the grocery store I am going to give them each their own grocery list. I am hoping that will help prevent the gimmes.

  20. Jane,

    I’ve heard that from every parent of a picky eater I’ve ever met. Once you get the kids involved in the planning and prep they’re all over it. This has been true of my own two kids as well.

    Reverse psychology? Reverse something.

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