Life is quite a balancing act for parents these days. Here are some time-saving tips for healthy family meals and bonding experiences that can fit any busy schedule.
Can you be a parent, spouse, AND an achiever? In today’s society, the answer is yes! But can you do it alone, and still keep healthy meals on the table? In most cases, the answer is no.
When it comes to family meals on a busy schedule, getting the family involved is key.
Shopping, prepping, and crafting meals together can make it a meaningful experience, as well as save you some time. Here are a few efficient ways to involve your kids in creating healthful meals.
1. Shop Smart
Kids enjoy making decisions, so let them take part in the “shopping,” while you navigate your families needs. Gauge the amount of (e.g. apples) to buy, while your kids can help determine the what (so long as you give them a guideline). They can choose 2-3 vegetables (i.e. broccoli, carrots, mushrooms), 2-3 fruits (i.e. apples, berries, bananas), and two lean protein sources (including fish). The minimal amount is key because those perishable fruits and vegetables are best used within days. The good news is that your fresh produce can be used in so many ways.
Be sure to complete your list with everything you need, as well as eggs, cheese, and milk which are great versatile choices. Always add some sort of leafy greens to the list. Even if you’re not making a salad or serving a protein-packed dish over a bed of greens, you can always serve it up in a taco or stuff it in sandwich or wrap to get in more veggies.
Tip: Create shopping list template with ingredients you generally buy on a weekly basis and leave blanks for your kids to fill in.
2. Stock Up
Stock your pantry with wholesome choices. You can buy these in bulk to save money and time — and you won’t have to buy these so often. Enlist your kids to take inventory on a timely basis (i.e. once a month). Shelf-stable foods come in handy when you’ve got little time between work, the gym, and getting your kids to their after-school activities. Plus, it’s always nice to have beans and rice on hand when you need a quick protein source for your family meals. Here are some great items to keep on hand:
- seaweed snacks
- dried fruits
- whole grains like brown rice and pasta
- peanut butter
- soup stock or broth
- energy bars
Tip: Create a set list of go-to items for your kids to highlight or circle when quantities are low (or set up a visible kitchen chalkboard).
3. Cook Together
Save time, and bond by cooking together for your family meals. Choose a special day and time that fits into your busy schedule. Let your kids flip through a trusted cookbook or other healthy source to find a fun recipe, and you can slip away for some “me time”. Plan ahead with the tools, set up what you’ll need, and give your kids the tasks they that they love such as mixing, chopping and stirring. Be sure to clean as you go, and encourage that habit with your kids.
Tip: You can set the stage for efficiency by setting up a work space, giving them aprons and towel to wipe spills, and lining up the tools and measured ingredients for the recipe.
4. Let Them Make Lunch
Inspire your kids to build fun, healthy lunches. Remember, timing is key to be more efficient, so when you are cleaning up after dinner, let your kids build their lunch boxes. If you have leftover pasta with meat sauce, that can be their lunch entrée. Your kids can learn to balance their lunch options by adding 1-2 veggies and a fruit.
No leftovers? No problem. Let them make a choice, be it a PB&J (sandwich) or a veggie roll with smoked salmon. Just be sure to include a source of protein to support with their growth and development.
Tip: A bento box is a great tool to help your kids build a balanced lunch. Some simple items to include:
- Clementines are a simple, easy fruit to pack because they come conveniently “wrapped” in their own peel.
- Chopped cucumber (with or without dip) makes a simple veggie choice.
- Remember (healthy) packaged snacks come in handy for snack-time. Seaweed snacks are a convenient grab-n-go choice to include because they stay fresh while sealed.
Lauren O’Connor, MS, RDN, RYT is a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian, yoga teacher, and founder of Nutri Savvy Health. As a health writer, menu developer, and nutritional consultant for companies and national publications, Lauren promotes whole-food nutrition towards making choices that best serve their specific health needs. Learn more about Lauren at Nutri Savvy Health.