Mealtime 411: Summer Meal Planning Tips


Angie Trueblood is one of our local RVA Moms Blog contributors and owns her own meal planning blog and business, Meal Planning Mama. She spends her time helping busy mamas simplify dinnertime so they can get back to enjoying their time around the table with their family. Lucky for us, she’ll be popping in monthly with a Q+A to help our readers with some of their mealtime challenges.

Happy summer, mamas! You’re in the thick of summertime fun, hopefully.

Likely, you’ve realized that feeding your family in the summer is a bit different than it is during the school year, right? 

Whether you’re packing lunches, snacks and drinks for day long camps, or fending off your hungry little beasts, here are some summer meal planning tips to make an easier go of it.

1. Involve the kids in mealtime planning.

I started involving my kids in planning breakfasts, lunches, and snacks a while ago, and it’s worked wonderfully.

Together, we created a weeklong rotation of those meals and put it on repeat each week. It has virtually eliminated the questions surrounding “What’s for xyz meal?” because the answers to those questions are clearly posted. I’ve also noticed a much lower incidence of complaining about meals because, “HELLO,” they helped plan it!

For the summer, I took the approach one step further; I include everyone in the dinner time planning. Each kiddo gets a night of the week that he or she helps plan by choosing the main dish and sides. So far, the complaining is minimal, and we’re able to enjoy each other more.

Embrace summer with your family.

2. Set some structure around eating hours.

One of my favorite books to recommend to parents struggling with opinionated eaters is It’s Not About the Broccoli: Three Habits to Teach Your Kids for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating. In it, the author, Dina Rose, suggests having “eating zones,” which are times that the kids are allowed to eat. There are times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, of course. But then you also choose two snack times.

I’ve found that by setting some structure around when we eat, we can fend off some of the constant snacking. By choosing the times they are allowed to eat, we’re able to be a bit removed from telling the kiddos, “No, you can’t have a snack now.” Instead, we can just guide them to look forward to the next eating “zone.”

3. Offer DIY snacks for kids that are old enough.

I’ve always been hesitant to offer snack bins for kids to have access to. But when coupled with tip #2, there’s some real beauty in this.

Consider creating a bin in your fridge and pantry of mom-approved snacks that the kids can grab during the snack-time eating zone. The fridge bin might have containers of fresh cut berries, apples, cheese sticks, and/or yogurts, and the pantry bin could have bananas, almonds, pre-portioned trail mix, chips, containers of peanut butter, etc.

By allowing them to choose and get the snack themselves, you take yourself out of the equation and allow them to exert some independence.

Worried they’ll only eat the junky choices? Include a few in each bin, and don’t restock until the bin is empty. So, if they eat the chips and sweetened yogurt on day 1, they have only whole foods the rest of the week. Sneaky, right?

4. Serve the healthy stuff when they’re on the verge of starving.

My kids will sometimes balk at a cucumber or carrot on their lunch plate, even though they regularly eat them. But, when I sit out a random plate of cut up vegetables without saying a word when we get home from the pool…guess what? They eat them. So, I’m working that into our routine more regularly.

When their guard’s down and they’re legitimately hungry or they’re not eating the tenth snack of the day, you’ll be surprised at what they’re willing to eat.

5. Don’t forget to enjoy the time together.

I mean, summer does only come once a year. So, whether you’re an outside-of-the-home working mom, a work-at-home-mom who’s juggling work and her kiddos being home, or a stay-at-home mom, take the time to embrace the inherent fun of summer with your family.

  • Have an evening picnic in the backyard. 
  • Skip dinner one night and grab an ice cream.
  • Throw everything on the grill and eat on the deck.

The joy of mealtime shouldn’t just be in enjoying great food. So much of our quality family time comes when we’re gathered around the dinner table. So, this summer, be sure to do just that.

Have questions that you’d like the Meal Planning Mama to answer in next month’s Q+A? Post them in the comments and we’ll try to include as many as possible.