We are a nation of doers. We run from place to place, constantly on the move. It’s no wonder it seems as if the family meal is dead. Many of us are so busy that meals are served mainly on wheels as we rush to get from one event to another.

Recent studies suggest that adults today are more obese than at any other time in recorded history. In fact, over 60 percent of us need to lose weight. The statistics are even worse for children, as this generation is not expected to outlive their parents. This is alarming.

It’s also true that children living on the spectrum often have very specific food preferences and dislikes, in addition to foods they are unable to tolerate. Meal planning can provide you with a sense of control and avoid last minute “thrown together” dinners that might accidentally include an offending food, which could cause serious health challenges or an emotional outburst.

Here are 7 simple tips to make meal planning more enjoyable and eliminate the “Oh no, what can I cook for dinner?” question.

  1. First, do a thorough audit of your pantry, freezer and fridge. You never know what meal starters could be hiding!
  2. If you haven’t cooked creatively in a while, check out your spice rack. Replace them if they look old and only when you have a recipe that calls for that spice. As an alternative, buy fresh herbs if your grocery store offers them or try your hand at growing your favorite herbs (this could be a great project with your child).
  3. Make time each week to do your menu planning. You can begin by designing menus around your family’s favorites. Since you’ve done your audits, you can plan meals that use the food in your freezer and pantry.
  1. If you feel stuck or are tired of your family’s favorites, visit the many online recipe sites such as Epicurious.com, Food.com, FoodNetwork.com, AllRecipes.com, etc. If your family is gluten-free, check glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com, glutenfreechecklist.com, or the magazines Living Without or Gluten Free Living.
  1. Write down what you’re going to have for dinner each day that week, even if you eat out. Don’t forget to include the side dishes and dessert.
  2. Compile your grocery list and adhere to it when shopping. Don’t shop when you’re hungry or you’ll come home with impulse purchases or much more food than you need for the week. Remember to try to stay on the perimeter of the store so that your meals will be healthier.
  3. An optional step – use coupons.

By taking back control of your meals, you’ll not only gain a sense of satisfaction knowing your family is eating better, but you’ll possibly regain that almost-lost aspect of Americana – the time-honored tradition of eating dinner together.