If healthier family meals are on your 2016 agenda, there are tons of meal-planning resources out there to make that goal a reality—even on busy weeknights. I recently had a chance to interview Lesley Baradel and Ann Dunaway Teh, registered dietians and co-founders of My Menu Pal.
What are some of the most common challenges that families face when it comes to healthy eating?
L&A: This can be different for every family based on the ages of the children, but some of the top challenges we hear from our members are:
- Finding time to not only plan the dinner menu but then make the grocery list and shop
- Finding new, healthy ideas that the whole family likes…adding variety so they aren’t eating the same things every week
- Dealing with picky eaters
- Understanding, with so many confusing opinions coming from the media what really is healthy
How does My Menu Pal help people break through those barriers?
- The healthy lifestyle landscape is very confusing. Any blogger or writer can become an overnight nutrition icon without any science behind their opinion, which makes it difficult to know who you can trust. Our members trust us and understand that our menus and blog are based on the latest science.
- We plan our member’s weekly menu and create the grocery list. By us doing these two things, our members are already halfway to the dinner table, which saves time and stress. All they have left to do is shop and cook, and dinner is served!
- We continually plan new and innovative menus that are fresh and healthy so that our members don’t have to search the web for hours looking for new recipes. That’s our job and we LOVE to do it!
- We make sure that each week is balanced by providing a vegetarian, chicken, fish and other (beef, pork, turkey, etc) option. We also make sure the sides are varied, with lots of colors and textures.
- We provide our members with what we call “Healthful Hints”. These include Chef’s Tips to make cooking easier, Simplify It for quick short-cuts, Nutrition Nuggets that may point out a fun fact about the food, Make Ahead suggestions, Kid-Friendly ideas, and Mix It Up suggestions for ideas to jazz up the recipe if they are feeling super-creative.
- We offer kid-friendly healthful hints—tips to make minor modifications to a recipe so kids will try new foods by balancing the new foods with a food they are more comfortable with.
- We provide nutrition analysis for each recipe so that our members understand the caloric content and how much of the various nutrients they get with each meal. Sometimes, we learn a bit ourselves in this procee.
Any tips for how parents can set realistic health-related New Years resolutions for the family?
We really like the concept of SMART goals. Be specific about what you want to achieve and break it down into tiny steps that are easily doable if you go slowly over time. The goal should be measurable, action-oriented, and realistic and include a time element. By following this formula, people are more likely to be successful in making life-long changes.
What are some things people should keep in mind to help them get the most out of a program like My Menu Pal?
If you have not been cooking homemade meals for a while, start off slowly. We don’t want this to be a crash-and-burn plan. We want this to be sustainable over the long term, and it takes time and practice to catch your cooking groove. Don’t feel disappointed if you do not make all four meals the first week. Start by adding one of the meals the first week, two meals the second week, and so on until you get to making all four meals in a week. We like to remind people that there will always be crazy weeks that are so jam-packed you cannot fit them all in—we know, because it happens to us too. Just prepare ahead of time as much as possible. This is also why we release a full month’s worth of meals at a time so people can look ahead if needed.
Also, make sure your family is on board with trying some new foods. [It also helps] to serve one side dish that they like. We do not want your children coming to the table worried about what’s for dinner. Dinner should be a pleasant event to connect with one another, not a food struggle.
I love the way that you focus not just on your philosophy, but on where that philosophy fits into reality! What was the process like of deciding how much of your own families’ experience to share on the “about” page?
One of our goals when we got started was to make a personal connection with our members. We want them to understand that we, too, have picky eaters, feeding challenges, and weeks when we are not able to make all the meals we would like. That’s just reality and we want to share that.
What are some of your family’s favorite My Menu Pal recipes?
This is a tough one! We have so many favorites, but a few are:
- Slow Cooker Mediterranean Salmon
- Broiled Tilapia Parmesan
- Slow Cooker Herb Marinated Pork Loin
- Lemon and Oregano Panko Crusted Chicken
- Easy Broccolini Flounder
- Soy Marinated Flank Steak
- Baked Omelet Roll
- Szechuan Turkey and Snow Peas
Any hilarious kitchen fails during the recipe-testing process you want to share?
Oh yes. Just last week, we were taking pictures while also broiling a dish called Mustard Glazed Salmon. We forgot about the salmon and it was totally burnt. So, we just scraped off the top, made more of the topping and re-broiled the salmon for just a minute. So, it was a little over cooked but you could not tell in the pictures. This is one of Lesley’s new favorite recipes too!!
Do you have any New Years Resolutions for your family this year?