Becoming a Planner
No one really wants to obsess over meal planning. There is something about feeling spontaneous with food and meals that makes it taste all the better. But with good planning as a foundation, that spontaneity can come without the cost of poor nutrition choices.
The Art (and Benefit) of Planning Your Week
Let's face it, in today's world, most families fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to meals. Many who are in charge of the family shopping stop by a convenience store every day or so and plan as the days go by.
So how about taking a step back, considering weekly planning, and seeing what it will do not only for providing a good, balanced week of food for your family, but less stress for the shopper and meal planner? Admittedly, it takes time in the beginning, but in time you should have a plan that works for you and your family and makes things easy.
The art of planning a week of meals comes in learning to make decisions ahead of time. As you work toward being a good planner, build up a recipe file of your family's favorite meals and snacks. Then, one evening a week, sit down and plan out your meals, being careful to vary them so your family does not get bored.
From this list will come your shopping list for the week. Check your cabinets for what needs restocking and then do one large shopping trip, which will cut down your convenience store visits and save you cash in the long run.
Be sure to consider your schedule and your family's schedule when making a decision for each day's meals. Will you be rushed on a particular evening? A meal that you can prepare ahead or quickly pull together is your best bet. Will it be a week of fast breakfasts? You'll want to make sure you have plenty handy.
Purchasing in bulk is a great idea for long-lasting staples. You'll save time and money. But for perishable items like celery, you'll end up tossing more away. Be selective about bulk purchases.
Balancing a Week (and Making Room for Extras)
When planning out the week, you'll want to be sure to balance out what your family will be eating. Don't go with red meat every night; rather, vary the main course from meat to chicken to fish to even vegetarian. Such variety will be sure to excite your family and, rather than have them thinking, “They are making me eat all this health stuff” will make them think, “Wow, the food around here is getting positively exotic.” Just be sure to balance it in a way that is doable for the cook(s).
The same goes for school lunches. While it's true that some children love to pack the same lunch day after day (and this is great for a kid with diabetes since you'll know the carb count and exactly how it affects your child's blood sugars), other kids want variety.
In that case, you'll want to plan out the week ahead of time so you have what you need on hand. As for breakfasts, you'll want to plan for and have on hand fast and healthy breakfast choices for harried mornings as well as ingredients for a more sophisticated breakfast on days when you can make that work.
Doubling up a freezable recipe can be a lifesaver for the family cook(s). Usually it is just as easy to make twice as much of something. Freeze half, and you'll have a future night off from cooking without sacrificing a good choice.
And what about the goodies? Plan ahead and bake or cook some special desserts that are healthy yet seem decadent. And let's say there's a special day coming up (report cards or birthdays, for instance). Let the person of honor choose a special menu, from soup to nuts to dessert, a week beforehand. That way you can plan, be ready, and even add some crazy foods for that special day.
While you can match insulin with food at any time, if you are going to have, say, a dinner that's over the top, you may want to choose a lower-carb and healthier lunch and breakfast that day. Or, if you know you'll all want pancakes on a special day, plan on a lighter dinner for that evening. It's all about balance, just as it is for anyone.
Tools You Must Have
We've already talked about the need for plastic containers to store food in bulk and a book of basic carb counts for all foods, but there are more tools to make life easier when planning to cook well for a family and a child with diabetes.
Measuring spoons and cups are a must, and a good food scale is a bonus. You won't need them all forever, but until you get a good feel for what six ounces of beef or a half cup of rice looks like on a plate, you'll want to measure it out so your insulin dose is precise to the amount of food you are serving. And really, in time, you'll come to be able to eye amounts (although your nutritionist will tell you that measuring can never be wrong.)
Most caregivers of kids with diabetes do not measure foods very often. If you are finding that your child is experiencing some unexplained highs, go back to measuring for a week and see if you have simply lost sight of what a serving really is.
Another must is good products for carrying lunch to school. If you want your child to enjoy healthy foods, you need to be sure that the food you pack will stay crisp and fresh. It may be an investment at first, but a good insulated lunch bag and containers that are sturdy but easy to open and close will make your child's meal all the more palatable.
One big item that can really help with your planning is extra freezer space. If you have an older freezer or can afford a small extra one, set it up in your basement or garage to store prepared meals and other items. Having them on hand will make it easier to serve great meals, even on a night when you are late from work, had to stop for an eye exam, and still need to make it to your child's play rehearsal. Preparation and freezing makes you look good.