Meal planning is a family affair at the McCallum household.

Nine-year-old Georgia, ten-year-old Duncan, and mom Wendy choose the menu for the coming week together.

As a nutrition consultant, Wendy McCallum makes family meals a top priority, but an increasing number of Maritimers are opting for fast food rather than home cooked meals.

“I think what happens is, our kids don’t get that natural education about the importance of healthy eating and eating real food when we’re relying more on commercial and processed food,” McCallum told CTV News.

March is nutrition month and this year’s theme is “simply cook and enjoy,” which puts a focus on real, simple food to be prepared and enjoyed together as a family. Research shows kids who participate in family meals do better in school, while teens have lower instances of eating disorders.

McCallum insists anyone can prepare food from scratch, whether or not they’re experienced in the kitchen.

“There are various degrees of home cooking,” she says. “You can be a fancy gourmet home chef, or you can just be back to basics. Cooking some chicken and a couple of vegetables and some brown rice isn’t that tricky.”

Registered dietitian Angela Dufour says the key to successful family meals is being organized.

Having the right tools on hand will save valuable time, and make dinner prep easier. She recommends investing in a good-quality knife, whisk, strainer and grater.

“And you take maybe one day of the week and you schedule it as your preparation day,” advises Dufour. “So make the list, make sure you’ve got all the ingredients on hand, and then prepare maybe in bulk some things for the week that will make the time challenge a little easier to deal with.”

There are plenty of ways to get youngsters involved in the family meal. Younger children can wash vegetables and set the table. Peeling, chopping, and grating are good chores for older kids.

McCallum says the most important thing is to keep it lighthearted and fun.

“For example, you can do little scavenger hunts with them, give them a little list of things they’re supposed to find,” she suggests. “One thing I do with my client families is get them making a rainbow of different colours in the front part of the grocery cart.”

“Challenge each member of the family to pick a recipe of their choice and they make it all through the week and they vote at the end of the week which was the favourite recipe,” says Dufour.

“It introduces some new foods and recipes and you might actually end up with one that’s a family favourite.”