How can you eat healthy, nutritious food while juggling a busy family life?
This is one of the greatest dilemmas of modern parenting. It’s no mean feat getting a balanced dinner on the table straight from a busy day of work; whether you are busy with a career or taking care of your family full-time, there’s always so much to do.
Even if you already know what healthy food should look like (a variety of fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, carbohydrates, oily fish, dairy), finding the time to ensure that the whole family eats like this can seem like an impossible task.
The good news is that your family can eat well even when the time is not your friend. Here are 10 proven tips to try:
1. Plan Ahead:
If you can find an opportunity, sit down once a week and plan a week’s worth of meals, including packed lunches and breakfast and snack options. This has one enormous benefit for your family, aside from helping you budget costs: You can check the nutritional balance of your meals over the week.
Once you’ve completed a draft menu, ask yourself: Does it provide enough lean protein, dairy, servings of fish, and a rainbow of fruit and vegetables over the week? Are you having too many sugary treats or too many fatty foods? Tweak as necessary, then feel confident that you’ve got a week’s worth of good eating already in the bag.
2. Eat Together:
You are your child’s greatest role model, so by eating alongside you, they’re going to learn a great deal. Not only will they learn good table manners, but they’ll also witness you eating and enjoying a variety of healthy foods, which is something they’ll want to emulate themselves.
Families having busy schedules means that it’s not always possible to do this every day, but ensuring it happens as often as it possibly can is so beneficial for your child’s eating habits.
3. Focus on Breakfast:
Lots of families prioritize eating a nutritious evening meal day in, day out. But then often forget how vital a good breakfast is and grab the first thing to hand before rushing out the door for a busy day. Research has shown time and time again how a healthy breakfast is essential for brain performance over the day, and for keeping up energy levels.
Ideally, you should be stocking up on simple, quick-to-prepare but nutritious breakfast items every time you buy groceries. Ideal foods include:
- Wholemeal bread for toast
- Cereals with no added sugar
- A stock of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge
- Plenty of fresh, canned or dried fruit
- Milk and yogurts
- Fresh fruit juice
Eating a combination of these each day is best.
4. … And Lunch!
Many are guilty of skipping lunch to make more time for work and the essential tasks of the day. However, it really is important for keeping energy levels up and ensuring your body gets enough nutrients. A perfect working lunch is one that can be eaten quickly, or in stages.
The classic sandwich is ideal: you can add salad and vegetables to chicken or egg, for example, to make a really quick balanced meal. By cutting it up into smaller portions, you can grab a piece when you have the chance.
5. Pick Your Snacks From the Health Aisle:
When you’re hungry and on the go, it’s very easy to fall foul of convenience and grab chips or candy from vending machines in a hurry.
For a healthy alternative, try looking in the health food aisle for value bags of nut and seed mixes, or dried fruit. These can be divided up into small portions and put into work and school bags or left in the car. If you have time and enjoy baking, you could try baking up some treats using these as ingredients, such as flapjacks and homemade granola bars. These are always appreciated in a kid’s packed lunch.
6. Check the Small Print:
People are creatures of habit, and many cook with the same ingredients over and over again, but they rarely look at nutrition labels on food packaging. Sometimes, you can be in for a nasty surprise and realize that you’re actually consuming a lot more fat, salt or sugar in your everyday foods than you realized.
Fear not: It’s nearly always possible to find a healthier version of something you love. By switching to whole grain pasta, for example, or adding extra vegetables or wholesome proteins to bulk out your go-to meals, you can transform family favourites into healthier fare.
7. Batch Cook:
This isn’t a new concept but is an absolutely failsafe way to ensure you’ve always got a nutritious and delicious family meal up your sleeve and ready to go in a matter of minutes.
Pasta sauces, casseroles, pies, soups, and curries are the ideal types of meals that can be cooked into double or even triple quantities and then frozen into portions ready for another day.
You can use your frozen meal in an emergency or for a well-deserved night off cooking!
8. Grow Your Own:
There’s something particularly delightful about planting a seed, watching the plant grow, and then harvesting its produce. Children adore it, too. Admittedly, many lack the time and space for a full vegetable garden, but with only a little effort, everyone could grow something. Think cress or herbs on a windowsill, a small container of salad leaves, or a tomato or chilli pepper plant.
Not only will your children be learning valuable lessons about food production, but everybody will also be more tempted to eat healthy produce if they’ve been involved in growing it, too.
9. Cook Once, and Once Only!
It’s very easy to give into the fads and phases of picky eating and end up cooking slightly different meals for everyone. You want everyone to have a full tummy and enjoy their meal, right? Go down this road, however, and before you know it, you have become a short order cook and are run off your feet.
The best rule to stick to is that you only cook one meal for everybody, no matter what. Firstly, you’re helping your children to learn that they need to eat a well-rounded meal, and that they can’t always get their first choice foods.
Secondly, as long as you know that everyone is going to get at least one thing they like on their plate, nobody is going to go hungry.
10. Get Everybody Involved, Even the Little Ones:
Lastly, it might seem more hassle than it’s worth at first to involve other people in preparing meals, especially when the time is of the essence. However, it only takes a small investment to teach a few basic skills before your children can actually be really useful in the kitchen. Think washing and chopping salad ingredients, mixing, weighing and measuring for older children.
Not only is it a really fun way to come back together and chat after a busy day at school and work, but it also teaches them incredibly valuable lessons about healthy food preparation which they can take into adult life. They’ll also probably be more ready to try exploring new foods if they’ve helped create them, too.